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THURSDAY, October 06, 2022
On World Animal Day, it’s time to end elephant polo

On World Animal Day, it’s time to end elephant polo

WEDNESDAY, October 03, 2018

World Animal Day falls today, October 4, and while it’s hard to know which animal rights issue will go viral over the next few hours, PETA Asia’s efforts to persuade the Minor Hotel Group to stop organising the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Thailand have already garnered worldwide attention.

Our recent expose showing that elephants are abused during the event may have led some to believe that this is a new campaign, but we’ve been trying to discuss the issue with Minor Hotel Group’s management for more than two years.
It appears that rather than carefully considering the opinions and concerns of countless people around the world, the Minor Hotel Group prefers to cling to its entrenched position. What makes its intransigence even more puzzling is that the CEO and chair of Minor International, William Heinecke, likely cares about elephants, as he lived in Thailand for decades. Or perhaps the company is just following an ill-advised business model: caution over action.
There are animals everywhere who need help. PETA Asia and its international affiliates work to rescue and rehabilitate them every day, not just on World Animal Day – from cows to bears to chickens. And, of course, elephants.
Take Maggie, an African elephant who spent decades confined to a concrete stall in the Alaska Zoo. Because of the frigid weather, she got very little exercise, even though elephants are meant to be on the move almost constantly. She repeatedly collapsed, and cranes had to be brought in to raise her to her feet. The zoo refused all appeals from PETA in the US to relocate her. Yet as her health deteriorated and she became more and more emotionally broken, zoo officials had a change of heart. In 2007, she was moved to a lovely sanctuary, and today, she’s flourishing.
Then there’s Gajraj, who was only 12 years old when he was stolen from his family. For more than half a century, his world extended only to the end of the chains that shackled him near popular Indian tourist areas. PETA India’s campaign for his release moved hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide to flood decision-makers with appeals to free him. He’s now thriving in a conservation centre, where he can roam free and enjoy the company of other elephants.
The cruelty inflicted on elephants forced to play polo at the King’s Cup – subjecting them to continual beatings, forcing them to endure the sweltering heat, and leaving them chained in floodwaters – is deeply entrenched. But the Minor Hotel Group can put an end to it – after all, it created and continues to support the event, which perpetuates the abuse and exploitation of elephants for entertainment.
I’ve been travelling to Thailand for 20 years, and during that time, I’ve been happy to see a basic animal-welfare law put in place, but there’s still a long way to go. For example, when I filed a police report about the elephant beatings in the King’s Cup tournament, I was told that they were “standard” and so there was nothing to prosecute.
Even if laws don’t protect elephants, people will continue to oppose abusive practices, so the reality is that elephant polo – like other cruel activities – will soon be a thing of the past. The excuse that elephants must be used in order to bring in money so that humans can provide for their care is no longer valid (if it ever was).
Heinecke can stop the cruel King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. Instead of underwriting the absurd event, his company could purchase land on which rescued elephants could live. The sanctuary could be modelled after a successful one outside Sukhothai, and the company could take pride in making a real difference for elephants – those already in captivity and those who are at risk of being captured in order to supply the entertainment industry. It’s Minor Hotel Group’s responsibility to stop making the use of elephants profitable, because as long as it is, these animals will continue to be smuggled into Myanmar and used for entertainment after having first been taken from their mothers in the wild and smuggled into China, a country that has fewer animal-welfare laws than Thailand, and used there.
People around the world continue to appeal to Heinecke with the message that enough is enough – they want the elephant abuse to stop. If he heeds their call on World Animal Day, what a phenomenal impact it will have on elephants, and what a legacy he will have created.

Jason Baker is PETA Asia’s vice 
president of international campaigns. For more information about the 
organisation’s work in Thailand and throughout Asia, visit