Former All Blacks caught up in elephant abuse scandal

Four former All Blacks have been caught up in an animal abuse scandal after footage emerged showing them competing in an elephant polo tournament where animals were tortured.

Steve McDowall, Olo Brown, Robin Brooke, and Charles Riechelmann participated in Bangkok's King's Cup final on Sunday, NZME reports.

They competed as the 'PWC New Zealand All Blacks'.

However footage has emerged showing several of the elephants being beaten and tormented with bullhooks.

"Breaking eyewitness footage shows elephants who were forced to participate in Thailand's cruel King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament being repeatedly struck and gouged with bullhooks - sharp steel-tipped rods resembling fireplace pokers - and their ears being violently yanked," animal welfare group PETA says.

"One mahout can be seen hitting an elephant on the head approximately 15 times, and blood appears to be visible."

Warning: the footage below contains graphic content.

Mr McDowall says his group wasn't aware of the abuse before the tournament.

"We weren't aware of the abuse and as everyone had said, they were totally against the abuse," Mr McDowall told NZME.

"But that's an individual that has gone out and done that. That's not about the people in the tournament."

Tournament host William Heinecke told local newspaper Khao Sod the elephant trainer had been fired, however the abuse wasn't bad enough to cancel the event.

"We can't destroy all of the good things that we're doing with the other mahouts and the other elephants," Mr Heinecke told Khao Sod.

"Part of our program... is to educate mahouts how better to treat elephants. If anybody's got a better program we'll support it."

PETA argues this isn't good enough, and the elephant polo matches need to be abandoned.

But Mr McDowall disagrees, saying if the mahouts weren't paid for their work during the tournaments more elephants would suffer.

"To be honest if they didn't have that money there would probably be significantly more violence against elephants, elephants being killed more frequently and probably more abused than if the money didn't go into the system to help protect and look after these animals," he told NZME.