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Baby Elephant Finally Free From Life in Chains!

baby Asian elephant
Baby Asian Elephant. Image by wal_172619 via Pixabay

A rescue operation was conducted in Laos, a southeast Asian country, to free a baby Asian elephant, barely a year old, from chains. But why was the elephant in chains?


asian elephant steals sugarcane
Female Asian elephant in a tropical rainforest in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. Image via Depositphotos

Unfortunately, thousands of Asian elephants are enslaved in the logging, entertainment, and tourism industries, made to work long days doing hard labor and whipped if non-compliant. 

Read along to see the outcome of the rescue operation. 


elephant workers
Asian elephants used in the Canadian forest industry (1901–1902). Internet Archive Book Images, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not hard to see why elephants are used as laborers and entertainers – they are the largest living land animals. Asian elephants are slightly smaller than African elephants, but still weigh a colossal 6,600–13,200 lb (3,000–6,000 kg) and can carry weights of around 550–770 lb (250–350 kg) using their trunk and tusks. 

Species of Elephants

African Forest Elephants
African Forest Elephants in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Congo. Matt Muir, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are three extant species of elephants, the African bush/savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana), African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). All three of these species are endangered, with the African forest elephants being critically endangered. 

Exploited for Entertainment

elephants circus
Asian Elephants perform at the Royal Hanneford Circus. At the Westchester County Civic Center in Westchester, New York, 2013. Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Elephants have long been spectacles in circuses, particularly because, due to their high intelligence, they can be trained to perform tricks. In fact, the earliest known use of elephants in circuses dates back to Rome in 99 BC, where elephants were made to fight one another. 


Dumbo in Walt Disney’s Dumbo (1941). The Walt Disney Company, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Notably, Disney’s 1941 movie Dumbo showcases how baby elephants are separated from their mothers and subjected to a lifetime of abuse in circuses. 

Tourism Industry

elephant ride
An elephant ride near the palace at Ayutthaya, Thailand. Michael Gunther, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond circuses, elephants are used in the tourism industry to give rides to tourists, participate in parades, and perform tricks in public. What tourists don’t see is that the elephants have to perform under constant threat of being whipped, beaten, and chained up. These social creatures are often locked up in isolation for hours or days on end, not given adequate nutrition, and harmed into submission. 

Enslaved for Labor 

elephant working
An elephant works with wood near the town of Nuwara Eliya in the southwest of Sri Lanka in Asia. Image via Depositphotos

Similarly, elephants are held captive for their use as laborers. Employing elephants as work animals dates back at least 4,500 years to the Indus Valley Civilization, what is now modern-day North Africa and South Asia. Elephants were used then, as they are now, to haul logs and building materials around. These elephants are subjected to the same conditions that those in the entertainment industry are, with the added element of extreme physical labor. 

Population Numbers

asian elephant herd
Asian elephant family drinking water from the river next to the Pinnawala village, Sri Lanka. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Image via Depositphotos

Today, there are fewer than 52,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, and an estimated 15,000 in captivity – of which most are employed in work camps or the tourism industry. But, there is a glimmer of hope for the captive elephants.

Elephant Rights Organizations 

elephant in chains
The chained legs of an enslaved elephant. Image via Depositphotos

There are many organizations dedicated to fighting for animal rights, with several dedicated to fighting for elephant rights. Some of these include the International Elephant Foundation, Elephants Alive, Save Elephant Foundation, and Planting Peace

Their Missions

asian elephants
Asian elephants in a sanctuary. Image by SB Bandera via Unsplash

These organizations function to raise awareness about the threats facing elephants, advocate for support from governments in protecting these gentle creatures, negotiate with handlers to rescue some captive elephants, and provide safe havens for them to live peacefully. 

YouTube video
The heartwarming rescue of Tofu – a baby Asian elephant. Source: YouTube, Uploaded: The Dodo

The Rescue Operation in Laos

Baby Tofu, like so many other Asian elephants, had lived his whole life in chains. Image by The Dodo via YouTube

Planting Peace heard about a baby elephant living chained up in a camp where elephants are reared for tourist rides.

Planting Peace

Aaron Jackson meeting Tofu and negotiating his freedom. Image by The Dodo via YouTube

The organization, founded by animal rights activist Aaron Jackson, negotiated the freedom of the baby elephant, who was subsequently named Tofu.


Tofu was finally freed from chains. He will never be chained up again. Image by The Dodo via YouTube

Tofu was brought to MandaLao, Planting Peace’s elephant sanctuary, where he could be fostered and, one day, returned to the wild, where he belongs. 

How Can You Help?

Tofu meeting the matriarch at MandaLao. Image by The Dodo via YouTube

There is a simple way you can help this cause: please don’t ever ride an elephant. You can also consider showing support for Planting Peace or any one of the incredible organizations dedicated to advocating for elephant rights. 


elephant in forest
Man and his elephant in northern Thailand. Image via Depositphotos

Thanks for reading! Watch the original video here!

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Latest posts by Amy King, BSc Microbiology and Physiology (see all)


Wednesday 26th of June 2024

Excellent presentation of the life of the elephants!!

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