Malnourished elephant forced to take part in Sri Lanka parade dies

Tikiri, 70, was forced to parade several kilometres wearing elaborate attire at an annual pageant at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy last month, but was withdrawn from the finale after a public outcry online. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Tikiri, 70, was forced to parade several kilometres wearing elaborate attire at an annual pageant at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy last month, but was withdrawn from the finale after a public outcry online. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

COLOMBO • An emaciated 70-year-old elephant that caused a social media outcry after being forced to take part in an annual Buddhist pageant in Sri Lanka has died, officials said yesterday.

The government has ordered an autopsy for Tikiri, a domesticated Asian elephant that died on Tuesday night in Kegalle, 80km east of the capital Colombo, a wildlife department official said.

Elephant expert Jayantha Jayewardene said the jumbo had been ill-treated.

"Tikiri was severely undernourished," Mr Jayewardene told Agence France-Presse. "It is a wonder that she lived this long."

The animal was withdrawn from the finale of the annual Temple of the Tooth pageant in Kandy last month after a social media firestorm erupted against parading the feeble animal.

Animal lovers lambasted the authorities for forcing the aged beast to parade several kilometres wearing elaborate attire at the hugely popular night festival.

Ms Lek Chailert, the founder of the Save Elephant Foundation, wrote on social media that spectators did not realise how weak Tikiri was because her condition was not visible under the elaborate costume.

After the public outcry, Wildlife Minister John Amaratunga ordered an investigation into why Tikiri was made to participate in the annual parade despite her failing health, but the outcome was not made known.

The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 elephants.

 
 

Many rich Sri Lankans keep elephants as pets, but there have been numerous complaints of ill-treatment and cruelty.

Guinness World Records says the average age of an Asian elephant is around 60 years, while the oldest on record was Lin Wang, a bull which carried supplies for the Japanese army in what was then Burma during World War II before dying in a Taiwan zoo in 2003 aged 86.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2019, with the headline 'Malnourished elephant forced to take part in Sri Lanka parade dies'. Subscribe