Heartbreaking Photographs Show Starving 70-Year-Old Elephant Forced to Perform in Sri Lankan Festival

August 16, 2019 Updated: September 10, 2019

Heartbreaking images of a malnourished 70-year-old elephant forced to perform in a Sri Lankan festival have been circulated online by an animal rights group, as it called for an end to animal exploitation in captivity.

The photographs, which were shared online by the charitable organization Save Elephant Foundation, based in Thailand, show an emaciated elephant collapsed on the floor after performing in Sri Lanka’s annual Esala Perahera Festival.

Lek Chailert, the founder of the group, wrote in a Facebook post on Aug. 13: “This is Tikiri, a 70-year-old ailing female. She is one of the 60 elephants who must work in the service of the Esala Perahera Festival in the Sri Lanka this year.

“Tikiri joins in the parade early every evening until late at night every night for ten consecutive nights, amidst the noise, the fireworks, and smoke.”

The mixed Buddhist-Hindu festival takes place every year in Kandy, Sri Lanka, for 10 days, and features musicians, dancers, jugglers, fire-breathers, and elephants adorned lavishly. The traditional festival this year took place from Aug. 5 to Aug. 15, according to its official site.

The modern 10-day festival dates back to the reign of the King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747–1781 AD) when the Kandyan King combined the Buddhist Dalada Perehara (procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic) with the Hindu Devalas Peraheras in honor of four Hindu deities to appease visiting Thai clerics, according to the Sacred Tooth Relic temple website. In addition to the mixed religious meanings, the festival is also a display of traditional Sinhalese culture and customs.

“She walks many kilometers every night so that people will feel blessed during the ceremony. No one sees her bony body or her weakened condition, because of her costume,” the post continued.

Sri Lankan elephant Tikiri, 70, stands at the Temple of the Tooth in the central city of Kandy on Aug. 14, 2019. (LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

“No one sees the tears in her eyes, injured by the bright lights that decorate her mask, no one sees her difficulty to step as her legs are short shackled while she walks.”

Photographs of Tikiri showed embellished robes covering her frail and bony body as she wandered the streets of Kandy.

Chailert added that the group believes that as the elephant is suffering, her participation in the ceremony can not be considered a blessing or “something holy.”

“Today is World Elephant Day. We cannot bring a peaceful world to the elephant if we still think that this image is acceptable,” the charity’s head added.

“To love, to do no harm, to follow a path of kindness and compassion, this is the Way of Buddha. It is time to follow.”

The Save Elephant Foundation urged the public to get in touch with Sri Lanka’s prime minister to take immediate action.

Since the public outcry, the parade’s organizers confirmed that Tikiri did not participate in the event’s closing procession and that she was being “treated”, reported Fox 8.

Elisa Allen, director of animal welfare charity PETA told CNN that Tikiri’s treatment was an example of the “atrocious cruelty” elephants are often subject to at destinations frequented by tourists.

“Sri Lankan authorities must stop allowing such atrocious cruelty and send this poor elephant to a reputable sanctuary where she can be assessed by veterinarians and, if treatment is viable, live out her remaining years in peace,” she said.

In a statement, she urged the public to refuse elephant rides when offered and to avoid “any attraction that offers or endorses elephant rides, keeps the animals chained, or forces them to perform.”

The Sri Lankan elephant is currently endangered, and since the beginning of the 19th century, its numbers have dropped almost 65 percent, with present-day population figures estimated at 2,500 to 4,000, according to World Wild Life.

The animal is protected under Sri Lankan law, and an individual can face the death penalty for killing one.