Gluay Hom spent years chained up inside a barren enclosure in Thailand
August 12 is World Elephant Day! And this year Gluay Hom, a young elephant from Thailand, is celebrating unchained.
For years, the long-suffering animal was exploited for the sake of wildlife tourism, and was forced to live in a barren enclosure under the performance stadium at Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo outside Bangkok, Thailand, in chains that left his legs bent and swollen, according to National Geographic.
Gluay Hom’s plight was just one of the revealing stories documented by journalist Natasha Daly and photographer Kirsten Luce in their investigation for National Geographic into the “dark truth behind wildlife tourism.”
Even though Daly and Luce had encountered dozens of neglected animals during their investigation into wildlife tourism, Gluay Hom’s circumstances stood out.
“He was one of six elephants chained up in stalls but I noticed him immediately; he was very small and emaciated and had a gaping, bloody sore at his temple from lying on the hard ground. He also had a bent, swollen leg that he couldn’t put weight on,” Daly told PEOPLE. “By that point, photographer Kirsten Luce and I had seen hundreds of elephants all over the country. He was in the worst shape we’d seen. We reported his situation to contacts we had on the ground so they could alert Thai authorities.”
Daly was not the only one “haunted” by what she had documented. The journalist says that she “received an absolutely overwhelming outpouring of responses from readers. People were horrified, devastated, and incensed by the situations depicted in our story. Gluay Hom in particular seemed to strike a chord with readers. People wanted help for him.”
After Daly and Luce’s investigation was published, animal lovers around the world organized to help the elephant: calling Thai authorities, contacting rescue groups that could take Gluay Hom in, and starting a petition for the animal’s release that amassed over 70,000 signatures.
This devoted focus worked!
“Many readers contacted the Save Elephant Foundation, which works to rescue and rehabilitate abused elephants in Thailand. The group’s founder, Lek Chailert, approached Gluay Hom’s owner, asking to buy the elephant. After a series of negotiations, she struck a deal to purchase him,” Daly said. “The Save Elephant Foundation team built a rig for Gluay Hom to travel in the back of their truck and drove him 14 hours to his new home, the foundation’s sanctuary in Chiang Mai.”
Under Thailand’s laws, captive elephants are classified as livestock to be used as the owner sees fit, which makes government intervention on the behalf of neglected elephants rare. In many circumstances, like Gluay Hom’s, rescuers come to an agreement with the animal’s owner to have the elephant released into their care.
While it’s not an ideal situation, it still allows rescuers a way to save animals and provided them with a new life.
According to Daly, Gluay Hom is “currently being kept in a secluded, grassy area at Elephant Nature Park. The transition from being chained up in a tiny, dark stall with a concrete floor to being able to walk freely, throw dirt on his back, and explore grass is quite the change. The Elephant Nature Park staff aim to eventually introduce him to other elephants.”
Gluay Hom, who arrived at Elephant Nature Park on August 7, was “cautious, shy, and traumatized” at first but is making small strides. Daly says that the experts at the facility expect the elephant to get stronger and more confident as time goes on.
Daly is grateful that animal lovers responded to her investigation and have helped give Gluay Hom the World Elephant Day he deserves, but there is still more work to be done.
“I hope this process has also enlightened readers on just how complicated it is to rescue captive elephants in Thailand. Most importantly: there are hundreds of other elephants just like Gluay Hom that are still suffering in the tourism industry today,” she says. “The reality is that they can’t all be purchased and brought to a sanctuary. Real, widespread change will only come if travelers start pay for different, more humane experiences. But there is so much hope.”
To learn more Gluay Hom, his rescue and the effects wildlife tourism had on this innocent animal, visit National Geographic.