– (sighs) Jesus. We came behind the stadium where the elephants perform and we found this juvenile elephant. He had gaping red wounds at his temple. He also has a broken leg. The other one is chained up. He looks totally emaciated. Skin and bones. And this is the worst shape I’ve seen an elephant in in Thailand. (mellow music) All in the name of entertainment. (mellow music) (crowd cheering) (intense orchestral music) Wildlife tourism is a massive industry accounting for 10-20% of the global tourism industry. People go on vacation and pay money to either view or interact with animals. I don’t think we can ignore the role that social media plays. The sheer number of people now not only posting their travel experiences, but consuming others’ travel experiences means that these things are spread in an instant with the click of a button.But the issue with wildlife tourism is most people have absolutely no idea of what goes on behind the scenes. (crowd chattering) I reported this story on wildlife tourism with photographer Kirsten Luce for a year. And we set out knowing that we really had to sort of narrow our focus and go to kind of hot spots around the world where this industry is a massive part of the local economy.But there was nothing that prepared me for what I actually saw in the field. Especially when we went to Thailand. (mellow woodwind music) (tires scraping against road) (cage clanging) This is a place that puts on monkey shows and as you can see behind me, this monkey is in a small metal cage and you can see he’s jumping over and over and this is called zoochosis and animals that are kept in captivity do this when they’re in psychological distress. (cage clanging) (woodwind music) I’m here at a zoo on the top floor of a shopping mall in Bangkok.This kind of place, animals are living in conditions that no living being should be living in. The only gorilla in Thailand is apparently in this zoo. The gorilla was reaching its hand through the cage onto a puddle on the concrete floor scooping up fingerfuls of water. It seemed to be the only way this gorilla could access water. (somber music) We just finished watching the crocodile show which was pretty disturbing and consisted of two trainers dragging crocodiles around by their tails, smacking them on the head with sticks, and then everyone would laugh. It was like all designed as a comedy routine. On most people’s bucket lists for going to Thailand, you’re gonna want to see an elephant. So we went to dozens of elephant experiences all over Thailand. Mahouts, trainers that care for their elephants, used their bull hooks on the elephants to get them to pose to allow tourists to take photos with them. A bull hook is a stick and at the end of the wooden stick is a metal prong or hook.And this is the instrument used to control an elephant. (crowd chattering) I’m here at Maetaman Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai. (elephant trumpeting) I think the most shocking thing was during the actual show. Some of the bull hooks had nails on the end. I witnessed a couple of mahouts that had nails in their hands and they were poking behind the elephant’s ear to get them to perform and do the painting. (crowd chattering) A young elephant named Meena, she’s four years old and she performed in the show. She painted a picture. So she did have a nail in her ear. And after the show we walked over to where she was being kept. (broom scraping against ground) There was a chain around her leg that had spikes in it. The spikes were all the way around, pressing into her skin. She was kind of hovering it in the air, because obviously it hurt to put weight on it and I asked her mahout why and he said it’s because she likes to kick.Her mahout said that he puts it on for a little while to teach her and then he takes it off at night. I decided that I wanted to come back later to see if she actually was on a different chain. With permission of the facility we ended up coming back six hours later and I feel like before I got to her I just knew. (rain hitting structure) It’s about 7:30 PM and you can see it’s getting dark and it’s pouring rain. Meena has had a spiked chain around her ankle since we last left her and her mahout, he told us that at night he removes it. But he hasn’t and it was a lie. So I don’t know how she’s gonna sleep and it’s really, really upsetting to watch. It was the first time I sort of witnessed deception that sort of runs through this industry and I wanted to see for myself where these animals are born, how they’re trained, the economics behind this industry.And if you wanna go to ground zero basically of the elephant industry in Thailand, you have to go to Ban Ta Klang. (mellow music) There are 3,500 captive elephants in the country and half of them are actually sourced to Ban Ta Klang. It’s a place where elephants are bred, trained, and then when they are ready, they’re sold down south to camps around the country. (mellow music) The Thai government actually offers a subsidy to mahouts who care for elephants there. The elephant tourism industry is a massive source of income for the country so they actively fund it, ensuring that the elephant entertainment industry is healthy and that there are always new babies being funneled in and that it is thriving.(motorcycle engine revving) Most people in the town are mahouts, meaning they work with elephants for a living. A young man was happy to be honest with me about how they train their elephants and what tourists don’t realize is that in order for an elephant to be docile enough to stand there and let you touch him safely, that elephant has to be trained in the same way that an elephant throwing darts at a show is trained as a young baby going through abusive fear based training. What usually happens is when a elephant is about two years old the baby is confined and over several days and weeks the baby is slowly trained. This young elephant… he’s kinda freaking out. The first thing they teach the baby is how to sit. He said they use a hook at the back and someone pulls down and then someone uses another hook at the front and the baby’s legs are tied together and they pull the legs front and they do this over and over until the baby learns how to do it.He said to me we have to use the bull hook so the baby will know. (crowd chattering) Knowing that Meena was four years old and elephants live 80 years. They live as old as people do. She was at the beginning of what could be another 60, 65, 70 years of this life. Was very overwhelming to sort of grapple with. So it’s been three days since we were last at Maetaman Camp. We’re returning today just to see what the situation is. And we’ll of course check on Meena and see how she’s being held in her stall when she’s not performing.It’s the spiked chain. Watch her foot, it’s her right foot. (somber music) She was just out posing with tourists. Then her mahout just brought her back to her (mumbles) and put the spiked chain back around her foot and I’m realizing now that this is her chain. This isn’t a chain that he uses sometimes to discipline her. This is her chain. She’s been in it every time we’ve seen her. There’s no other chain in sight that he could possibly be switching out. It’s tethered to the pole. If any tourist sort of thinks, “Is this okay?” “Is this hurting the animal?” Most places are very quick with a response to say, “Oh no, they’re fine.” “It’s just the way the way it is.” “Don’t worry about it.” And that satisfies most people and they say, “Oh okay, they must know what they’re doing.” “They care for the animal.” The system is actually designed to be confusing.Most tourists I really do believe kinda wanna do the right thing. They love animals and they wanna get close to them. It’s simple. It’s understandable. And since 2014 the number of animal selfies that people have posted has grown almost 300%. Part of what often inspires people to go on this trip is because they saw someone else do it and they want that experience for themself.However, social media really does go both ways. I wanted to actually visit a couple of good elephant experiences in Thailand just to see for myself what that looked like and how it differed from places that may call themselves a sanctuary but offer a lot of interaction. So we went to Elephant Valley in Chiang Rai, Thailand. They have elephants that have been rescued from the traditional industry and tourists are not allowed to get close to the elephants. This is probably the only interaction that tourists will get while they’re here. It’s snack time so they’re able to feed each of the elephants some bananas and you can see this barrier is there mostly to prevent people from going into the elephant grounds.It’s totally voluntary. The elephants come for snack time and then they can leave whenever they want. It’s a sustainable option for elephant tourism in the area. Social media can actually be harnessed for good. You can go to an ethical place and you can use social media to sort of educate your own communities on ways that they can be part of the solution. This entire industry is so incredibly entrepreneurial that it can and does change on a dime. So when people decide that they no longer want to give their money to a certain sort of experience, and if enough people do that, then the experiences themselves will shift. You the viewer and reader and traveler and just citizen are at the heart of this story just as much as anyone else is.You have tremendous power as a consumer to change things. (mellow music) .