Elephants were forced to perform tricks on camera so their out-of-job caretakers could earn online donations during the pandemic.
Footage shows the jumbos spinning hoops on their trunks while their caretakers, called mahouts, film them for a YouTube show in Surin, Thailand on February 10.
Viewers watched the performances live and could even choose which fruit to feed the animal once they donated an amount.
Porn Jamreonyai, one of the mahouts who lost their jobs, said they trained 32 elephants to do online shows after the camp closed down.
He said: ‘My employers have no money to pay me and elephants have to eat every day. We have to cover for their food even if we have lost our jobs.’
The mahout added that the donations were used to cover their salaries and the jumbo’s food.
Before the pandemic, the elephant mahouts could earn from tourists visiting them to watch, ride, and feed the animals.
However, the travel restrictions made it hard for local and foreign tourists to come to their camp which forced owners to lay off workers and shut down the operation.
The country has a relatively low Covid-19 case record of 24,104 infections and 80 deaths as of February 12 but the impact on the tourism-dependent economy has been devastating.
An estimated 2,000 elephants are living in the wild in Thailand and a similar number in captivity, where they live in sanctuaries, zoos or work privately for hire at weddings and festivals.
Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have campaigned to end the use of elephants at tourist attractions.
Jason Baker, PETA vice president of international campaigns, said previously that elephants only perform because of the threat of violence.
He said: ‘These elephants are not performing because it’s fun. It’s because they’re scared of the abuse they will get if they don’t. This is evident with the bullhook – a weapon with a sharp hook on one end -being held right next to them.
‘If people knew that their admission tickets were promoting the abuse and kidnapping of elephants, they would surely never enter.’