WAN’s Exclusive On Save The Elephant Day With Model Shayne Davis & How One Person Can Make A Difference!

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Model Shayne Davis with an elephant at the Taweechai Elephant Camp

Today Is Save The Elephant Day; a day dedicated to raising awareness about the growing threats to the future of these majestic animals both in Africa and Asia.

From poaching to the ivory trade to the exploitation of the animals in the name of so-called “entertainment,” every day it becomes increasingly important to not only educate people about the plight of the elephants but to do something to help them before they become extinct.

Everyone can make a difference.

WAN talked exclusively with Los Angeles-based model Shayne Davis about his compelling story of realization, regret, and newfound compassion and commitment to elephants.

“When I first entered the camp, I was so completely in awe of the magnificent elephants that I did not notice all of the horrible things that were going on around me,” Davis told WAN while recounting his March 23rd visit to the Taweechai Elephant Camp outside of Kanchanaburi in West Thailand. “I walked up to the desk and asked how I could hang with the elephants.”

According to Davis, the woman behind the desk gave him two options: “ride the elephant or ride the elephant.”

Photo from Taweechai Elephant Camp

While it was not something he cared to do, he did want to hang with elephants so, he bought a ticket and a bag of plantains to feed to them.

“I go to a two-story deck where the staff has a large female elephant waiting for me to hop on. A staff member jumped on her neck while I was on her back,” Davis explained. “The first odd thing I saw was that he had a long stick with a metal hook attached, later I’d find out that this item is called a bullhorn and it is the device that keeps the elephants in fear of their ‘master’.”

“As we were walking, I heard screaming in the distance that made me feel very uneasy. The staff member barely spoke English but I wanted to say to him “hey I don’t know if the elephant is going to like all of that screaming going on past this bend,” he noted. “But, instead, I didn’t say anything.”

As they moved past the bend, Davis revealed to WAN how shocked he was to find out that the screaming “was being done at elephants!”

Sadly, they were also being hit with sticks so that they would spray tourists with water.

“What shocked me even further was that these ‘west world tourists’ were having a blast even with their elephants being antagonized and abused before them,” he said while explaining that at this point he was completely turned off.

“The staff member quickly jumps off and tells me to hop on the neck. Where I immediately started to pet and cuddle the elephant and feed her much deserved plantains which are a banana-like fruit,” Davis continued, “Then to my horror, I realized that there were cuts on her head from the bullhorn. The staff member then started screaming commands at my elephant and whacked her on the legs with the bullhorn before jumping back on her.”

Davis noted that, at this point, it was clear that he had shut down, prompting the staff member to inquire if he was alright.

“Still in the ‘I’m in Thailand having the time of my life and don’t want to acknowledge the horror movie I just entered mode,’” Davis replied, “yea, I’m fine.”

According to Davis, once he jumped off the elephant, it was like all of the abuse hit him at once. He also noticed that many elephants were attached to foot chains no longer than three feet from the ground. “I have seen 50-pound dogs with bigger chains,” he said.

It was when Davis encountered a cute baby elephant that he began to play with that he seemed to feel a little better…but, not for long.

Davis explained that he later learned that this young elephant had not yet gone through phajaan; or as they call it, “the separation of the spirit.”

Basically, as described by Davis, they crush the spirit of the elephants through fear and abuse so they will, in turn, become submissive and follow commands.

As per Thailand Elephant, “the Phajaan has nothing to do with the separation of spirit and everything to do with torturing an elephant until it is so fearful of its human captors that it will do anything to avoid being hurt again.”

The organization further explains that the brutality of training varies throughout the country; largely dependent on the individual elephant, the morals of the camp owners, and the working needs of the elephant.

Tragically, young elephants taken from their mothers in the wild for the tourist trade, such as the one that Davis encountered, are subjected to even harsher training methods and suffering as they are required for a host of unnatural activities including riding, performing tricks, and participating in parades among others.

“I had to leave before I got emotional and on my way out I saw one last thing that I still don’t understand,” noted Davis at the end of the experience. “I saw a giant bull elephant with his feet chained together so he couldn’t walk. I saw him making odd movements with his entire body almost what would appear like a dance. I think he just wanted to walk and it was his rebellious way to keep his spirits up.”

This all is heartbreaking on so many levels!

When WAN inquired what advice he would give others wanting to “hang with the elephants,” he said, “Look up reviews before you visit any animal tourist attractions and don’t be afraid to speak your mind at the moment when things are going wrong.”

He also stated the importance of writing honest reviews of these places afterward, something he was planning on doing later that night.

It is hard to imagine that anyone would ever want to ride on top of an elephant again after reading this!

WAN appreciates the personal, sincere, and vivid way in which Shayne Davis shared his story with us.

We felt it and believe others will as well.

There are many ways to make a difference and commemorate Save The Elephant Day; perhaps not only reading this heartfelt first-hand account but sharing it with others.

Thailand Elephants shares more ways to help as well as some elephant-friendly operators on its website HERE!

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"One Person CAN Make A Difference"