What to look for
Check the elephants' head for puncture wounds.
Hooks are often misused by heavy handed or inexperienced mahouts. Nails hidden in a closed fist are also common, causing bloodied wounds.
Make sure there is enough food for the elephant. Have a look at the elephants stabling area.
Can you see any grass or fodder? Elephants in the wild forage for up to 20 hrs a day. Captive elephants should have access to clean fresh grass in a clean stable. Often food is thrown on the floor where the elephants also urinate and defecate, which they are obviously unable to eat. There should be an ample supply of food, so check to see if this is readily available.
Check the elephants have access to water and shade from the sun.
Elephants suffer if exposed to too much sun and need up to 100 litres of water each day. In the wild, elephants would naturally shelter under trees in the hottest part of the day.
Check to see if the elephant enclosure is clean. Can you see dung in their stable or is there a strong smell of urine?
Dung should be collected and disposed of, urine regularly washed away. Elephants, like all animals, like to be clean. This is also vital for preventing the spread of disease.
Look at the elephants’ disposition. Is the elephant flapping its ears and swinging its tail?
A healthy elephant is constantly moving. They flap their ears to cool themselves down and swish their tail to keep flies away. If an elephant isn’t moving it is an indicator of ill health or sickness.
Is the elephant swaying frantically from side to side?
Elephants that have been chained for many hours and unable to walk freely often show signs of stereotypical behaviour. They rock from side to side, back and forth, sometimes swinging their legs in a very distressing manner. This is an indicator of stress, boredom and a lack of environmental enrichment.
Check the elephants’ dung.
The dung of a healthy elephant looks like large round solid lumps. They defecate between 6-8 balls each time. If the faeces is runny (diahorrea) the elephant is almost guaranteed to be sick and definitely should not be working.
Is the elephant on a short chain?
Are both front feet chained? When not giving rides, elephants are often on short chains. As explained above, this leads to boredom and stereotypical behaviour.