Four former All Blacks took part in a charity elephant polo match in Bangkok where animals were beaten with bullhooks - and New Zealand Rugby says it has no official connection with the event or team.
Robin Brooke, Steve McDowall, Olo Brown and Charles Riechelmann took part in the 2018 King's Cup Elephant Polo event in Bangkok last week between Thursday and Sunday, under the name "PWC New Zealand All Blacks", and placed second.
The team, officially called the PWC New Zealand All Blacks team, has a sponsorship deal with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and has been competing in the event for several years.
The event is run as a fundraiser to raise money for animal charities, this year raising more than four million Thai Baht (NZ$175,278) for elephant-related programmes.
Footage from the event shows competitors and animals enjoying themselves, with the elephants even being brought in front of the cameras for a lavish feast of fruit.
However, behind the scenes, PETA members captured footage of elephants being viciously hit by their mahouts - or handlers - with barbed steel rods called bullhooks.
The hooks are used to train and correct elephants using corporal punishment, often during a taming process called "crushing" - the domestication of wild elephants by breaking their spirit.
Following the revelation of the abuse, organisers and main sponsors of the event Anantara Hotels said they have taken immediate steps to stop it.
"We strongly condemn the mistreatment of any elephant at any time," they wrote in a statement.
"Prior to each tournament, all mahouts, who originate from traditional mahout villages in north eastern Thailand, are required to confirm that they will comply with a strict code of conduct when they are selected to participate.
"The mahouts identified in the footage have clearly breached this agreement and have been expelled from the tournament with immediate effect.
"In light of the unacceptable behaviour seen in the video footage, Anantara Hotels and resorts has strictly re-emphasised the policies, procedures and required behaviours directly with all remaining mahouts."
New Zealand Rugby head of corporate services Nicki Nicol told 1 NEWS "the event and any teams in it have no official link to New Zealand Rugby".
FORMER ALL BLACK SAYS CHARITY IS IMPORTANT, BUT DISAPPOINTED WITH ABUSE
Mr McDowall has told the NZ Herald that the team will reconsider their involvement next year if more cases of animal abuse surfaced, but said the event provides valuable support to animal programmes in the country.
"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."
"[If the tournament organisers keep] putting a harder line on the behaviour by the mahouts then we will continue to support it. But if it ever descends then no one would want to be associated with that abuse."
PWC TO RECONSIDER INVOLVEMENT NEXT YEAR BASED ON ACTIONS TAKEN
PricewaterhouseCoopers' Thailand representatives told 1 NEWS in a statement they were "deeply troubled by this incident and are in ongoing discussions with the organisers to try, as much as possible, to eliminate this type of behaviour and indeed any behaviour that results in cruelty to the elephants".
The statement said the event provides "clear benefits" in terms of the funds generated by the event, and that they are "satisfied with the actions that were immediately taken by Anantara".
PricewaterhouseCoopers involvement in the event in future was yet to be decided.
"Our decision to sponsor the event is an annual decision," the statement said.
"Assuming there will be an 2019 event (usually held in March), we will likely be contacted by the organisers around Sept/Oct 2018 ... at that time we will discuss further with them the actions they plan to take to eliminate such incidents.
"At that point we will decide whether or not to sponsor next year's event or find some other ways of providing funding to the very important elephant projects."
WHO ARE BROOKE, MCDOWALL, RIECHELMANN AND BROWN?
Bobin Brooke, brother of Zinzan, played 62 tests as a lock between 1992 and 1999.
Olo Brown played 56 tests as a prop between 1992 and 1998.
Steve McDowall played 46 tests as a prop between 1985 and 1992.
Charles Riechelmann played six tests as a lock, all as a reserve, in 1997.