Viral photos show the moment an apparently emaciated elephant is seen working in a parade during a Sri Lankan festival.
Tikiiri, reportedly a 70-year-old elephant, is among 60 elephants in the Perahera Festival and works every night for ten days while wearing a costume, including a mask, according to the Daily Mail.
After public outcry over the photos, the elephant was pulled from the festival, reported the AFP news agency.
“Tikiri joins in the parade early every evening until late at night every night for 10 consecutive nights, amidst the noise, the fireworks and smoke,” wrote the Save Elephant Foundation in a Facebook post on Aug. 13. “No one sees her bony body or her weakened condition because of her costume. No one sees the tears in her eyes … no one sees her difficulty to step as her legs are short shackled while she walks.”
It added: “For a ceremony, all have the right to belief as long as that belief does not disturb or harm another. How can we call this a blessing, or something holy, if we make other lives to suffer?”
The post was made on World Elephant Day.
After the post went viral, thousands of people blasted the organizers of the Buddhist festival.
“I hate what we continue to do to these beautiful majestic creatures,” one woman wrote.
“This is beyond awful — I have tears in my eyes,” added another woman in the comments section. “This beautiful lady needs a sanctuary to live out her remaining days. This breaks my heart.”
AFP reported on Aug. 14 that Tikiri’s owner removed the elephant from the parade finale after the torrent of backlash. Pradeep Nilanga Dela, chief custodian of the Temple of the Tooth, made the confirmation to the news outlet.
“Tikiri is being treated,” Dela told AFP. He said the elephant has a “medical condition” that the owner plans to address, without elaborating.
And a spokesperson for the Sacred Tooth Relic told The Metro that officials “always care about the animals” during the festivals.
But Jayantha Jayewardene, the operator of Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust in Sri Lanka, told AFP that he is concerned about the pachyderm’s health.
“Obviously, the animal is severely undernourished. It is close to death,” he told AFP after seeing the photos. “This should never have been allowed.”
The Save Elephant Foundation was founded by SangdeTaun Lek Chailert, who has advocated for elephant welfare in Asia amid fears they would become endangered.
“It is our mission to save the Asian elephant from extinction and give domesticated elephants a life worth living by preserving habitat and increasing public awareness on humane treatment practices,” the foundation said, according to the Mail.
Ban Lifted in Botswana
The Environment Ministry issued a statement on the decision, citing a range of reasons for revoking the prohibition, including high levels of conflict between elephants and humans.
The move is apt to anger conservationists, who have in the past reacted with outrage at any move that weakened the protection of elephants in Botswana, which has the world’s largest population of the animals, estimated at some 130,000.
Conservation groups last September denounced moves by Botswana’s government to strip the wildlife department of weapons used for the sometimes dangerous work of thwarting armed poachers.
At the time, President Mokgweetsi Masisi called the reactions “nothing but hysteria.”
Epoch Times reporter Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.