There are plenty of places in the world that folks from the Western world can go if they are looking for a tropical vacation. You could head to the Caribbean or French Polynesia, Hawaii, or even the Amalfi Coast. But, without a doubt, one of the most popular and exotic locales in recent years has been, Thailand.
Thailand’s rich culture, delicious cuisine, beautiful flora, and exotic wildlife has made it the go-to affordable locations for adventurous people who don’t want to spend a fortune. Of course, even this picturesque place is not without its perils. As one unfortunate British family learned in 2016…
February had finally come. 36-year-old Gareth Crowe of Scotland was ready to throw up his kilt and head down to Thailand for the once-in-a-lifetime vacation that he and his partner, 42-year-old Catharine Hughes, had been planning for months. They had even planned to take Catharine’s son and 16-year-old daughter with them.
Gareth and Catharine had a number of exotic excursions planned whilst they were in Scotland, including hitting the beach, visiting some of the ruins and temples, and even riding on elephants in Koh Samui, Thailand’s second-largest island. Little did they know that this once-in-a-lifetime vacation would prove to be just that for one of them…
On the day of the incident, Catharine and her son had opted not to accompany Gareth and 16-year-old Eilidh to the elephant trek. Regardless of their absence, however, Gareth and Eilidh were ready to have the time of their lives. They’d heard so many exciting things about these excursions and couldn’t wait.
Taking it All In
The elephant trek through Koh Samui was indeed everything they had hoped for. The jungle was alive with life, the sun was high, and the canopy provided just enough shade to keep everyone, including the animals, happy as they made their way down the well-worn trails. At least, everyone seemed happy enough…
Golf, the elephant who had borne Gareth and Eilidh the whole way, wasn’t exactly pleased with the situation. Still, up until this point, the mahout, his handler, had been able to keep him in line. As soon as the handler stepped down to take photos of the two passengers, however, something inside the elephant snapped.
The mahout noticed the elephant was getting restless but couldn’t seem to calm it and the flash going off on the camera had been the proverbial straw that broke the elephant’s back. Golf ignored his handler’s commands and began shaking to get both of his passengers off his back. That’s when things took an even more violent turn…
The handler began striking the elephant, hitting it from his vantage on the ground and shouting commands at him. Golf was not amused. He’d had enough. He thrust forward at the handler, goring him with one of his tusks. Then, he pulled back and rose up onto two feet as Gareth and Eilidh hung on for dear life.
When he found himself unable to extricate his screaming passengers through this method, Golf shook his body even more angrily. A moment later, he succeeded in violently throwing not just Gareth Crowe but little Eilidh Hughes off his back. They landed with a thud nearby and Golf ran toward Gareth…
Gareth was too dumbstruck to move in time and was soon trampled by the enormous elephant. When it had finished, the pernicious pachyderm ran off into the jungle. Meanwhile, the remaining mahouts and tourists helped contact a medical team for the three injured parties. The mahout and Eilidh survived but were injured. Gareth wasn’t so lucky.
The 16-year-old has been injured pretty badly during her fall and was taken first to be treated at Samui International hospital before she was moved to the island’s Bangkok International hospital later that day. Her mother and brother met her at the facility and had to deliver some very bad news when she woke…
All Catharine had been told was that Gareth Crowe had been killed in an accident with an elephant. She had been told her daughter was injured and accompanied her to the hospital. Now, she was alone, in a strange land, with only a small inkling of what had really gone down that day.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did, in fact, speak out after the incident, saying: “We are offering support to the family of a British national who has sadly died following an incident in Koh Samui, Thailand, and are making contact with the local authorities to seek further information.” The problem is, this isn’t the first time this has happened in recent years…
Take for instance the case of He Yongjie, a 35-year-old Chinese tour guide who himself was trampled to death by another bull elephant while on the job. Just like Golf’s injured mahout, Yongjie had tried to stop the elephant from injuring the tour group and ended up dying in the process. The whole incident happened at an elephant camp near Pattaya, Thailand.
Media reports of the incident place the blame on the other Chinese tourists in the tour group. They say that the elephant was doing fine until one of those said tourists pulled its tail, thereby provoking it to attack. That’s the tale told by the Thai media, that is. The surviving tourists, however, seem to be telling a whole different story…
Gave his Life
“He gave his life to save others,” explained one of the eyewitnesses. She went on to call Yongjie a “true hero.” And as much as they are praising him for saving them, they place the blame on one of his fellow tour guides; the mahout who stuck the elephant prior to the attack. Like Golf, they think the animal had simply had enough of the abuse.
Elephants are intelligent animals, some scientists say even more intelligent than cats or dogs. Indeed, they are one of the only animals on earth who possess a sense of self, meaning, they know that it is them when they look in a mirror. Taking that into consideration, it’s pretty easy to see how an intelligent animal might balk at the idea of being a beast of burden…
If you ask the Thai government about this, though, you’ll be told that this sort of thing happens now and again and that it’s nothing to worry about. Wongsiri Phromchana, the local governor for the Thai province of Koh Samui, has taken a different position. He says that his people are investigating at least five elephant camps on Koh Samui for evidence of abuse.
Not Meant for Riding
Many who believe in animal rights have said that tourists should think very carefully before taking part in any sort of experience like this. These animals, intelligent as they are, are still wild at heart. To them, this incident is just another stark reminder that elephants are not meant to be used in such a way. But who is really to blame here for the deaths of Gareth and Yongjie?
Who’s to Blame?
The elephant’s handler, who has survived the attack, placed the blame on Gareth himself. He says that the tourist teased the animal, causing the aggressive behavior. His stepdaughter, however, has defended Gareth by saying he did nothing to provoke the elephant. Perhaps the elephant itself was truly to blame.
In the end, though, can we really blame an animal for acting like an animal? There is every indication that Golf had been abused from the moment he was brought to the excursion site. Perhaps this is just the price we pay for a chance to taste the exotic or perhaps it’s the price we pay for just being cruel.