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'Unpreventable Tragedy': Elephant Attacks, Kills Handler

Others say performing elephants' plight makes Thailand incident unsurprising
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2017 7:15 AM CST

(Newser) – In July, World Animal Protection issued a report on the "thousands of elephants exploited for tourism" in Asia, with Thailand listed as a "main concern." One of those elephants, a well-known performer in films and ads, may have rebelled against his own conditions Monday, crushing to death his handler at Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo, AFP reports. Ekasit, a 32-year-old, 5.5-ton elephant who has appeared in nearly 10 films and is contracted as a performer at the zoo until April, had been fed by owner Somsak Riengngen, who then unchained him so that he could drink and bathe, per Khaosod English. That's when, in front of Somsak's wife and others, Ekasit attacked Somsak with his trunk and tusks, an assault that went on for more than five minutes. "The elephant used his trunk to crush him," the zoo's director tells AFP, adding, per Khaosod: "This accident was an unpreventable tragedy."

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But some debate how unpreventable Somsak's death was. The WAP report notes that when they're not performing or giving rides, tourism elephants are often kept in subpar conditions, tethered by short chains, not fed well or given adequate medical care, and constantly surrounded by crowds and loud noise—and that's after they've been torn away from their mothers and put through training meant to "break their spirits and make them submissive." "Is it any wonder that some of these gentle animals eventually become fed up and fight back ... while confined to small enclosures that are a fraction of the size of their natural habitats?" PETA said in a statement. Somsak, said to be in his mid-50s, had worked for about 10 years with Ekasit, who'd never been reported as violent before. (A wildlife park employee was killed by elephants in South Africa earlier this year.)

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