Famous Thai elephant crushes its owner to death

Elephant Phlai Ekasit killed his 54-year-old owner at a Thai zoo on Monday morning by crushing him to death with his trunk

A famous Thai elephant who starred in films and adverts crushed his owner to death at a Thai zoo as his horrified wife watched on.

Somsak Riangngern, 54, was killed at Chiang Mai Zoo on Monday morning by a 32-year-old male elephant named Phlai Ekasit.

Mr Riangngern had fed Phlai and unchained him so he could bathe and drink when the attack happened.

As Mr Riangngern was walking away from the elephant when the animal struck him with its trunk and tusks before grabbing him with its trunk, Thai newspaper Khaosod reported.

With a handler, or mahout, on its back the animal used its trunk to crush Mr Riangngern in an attack that lasted five minutes until other mahouts could restrain the five-tonne animal. 

 Wuthichai Muangman, acting director of Chiang Mai Zoo, described Somsak as an ‘elephant expert,’ said the animal was in musth when the accident happened.

Musth is a condition which often affects male elephants in the winter and sends their hormone levels spiking, making them unpredictably violent.

It is believed to be linked to mating and establishing dominance among males in a herd, though its exact causes are not well understood. 

Ekasit is well known in Thailand having starred in five films including the popular Ong Bak series starring martial arts expert Tony Jaa.

He was being temporarily housed at the zoo under a contract due to expire in April.

Mr Riangngern was killed by Ekasit (pictured giving rides to tourists at the zoo) in a five-minute attack while his horrified wife watched on

Mr Riangngern was killed by Ekasit (pictured giving rides to tourists at the zoo) in a five-minute attack while his horrified wife watched on

Khaosod reported that Ekasit had been performing in shows for tourists, though Wuthichai denied this, saying the zoo only allows tourists to feed the animals.

Thailand is notorious for an elephant tourism trade that sees the animals performing in circuses, giving rides, or hired out for other forms of entertainment.

A July report by World Animal Protection found that twice as many elephants are pushed into Thailand’s tourism industry as the rest of Asia combined, with most kept in ‘severely inadequate conditions.’

Out of 2,923 elephants documented as working in Asia’s tourism trade, 2,198 were in Thailand. 

Animal rights campaign group PETA said while the keeper’s death was a tragedy, it illustrated the potentially violent consequences of keeping elephants confined.

‘Is it any wonder that some of these gentle animals eventually become fed up and fight back after being chained while confined to small enclosures that are a fraction of the size of their natural habitats?’ a statement said. 

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