Thailand takes back elephant from Sri Lanka over abuse claim

World Sunday 02/July/2023 15:58 PM
By: DW
Thailand takes back elephant from Sri Lanka over abuse claim

Bangkok: A Thai elephant returned to his home country on Sunday, after being away in Sri Lanka for over two decades. Activists claim the animal had suffered mistreatment.

The 29-year-old Muthu Raja, also known as Sak Surin, spent 22 years abroad. Until last year, the 4-ton elephant was kept at a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, where he is believed to have suffered torture and neglect.

What happened to the elephant?
The elephant was rescued from the temple following a campaign by the Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE) group. RARE has petitioned authorities to prosecute those who it blames for his condition.

The animal was in pain and covered in abscesses when it was extracted from the temple to a zoo at the Sri Lankan capital, according to the Zoo's chief veterinarian.

Animal rights groups say Muthu Raja was forced to work with a logging crew and that his handler inflicted some of the wounds.

The elephant is now due to undergo hydrotherapy in Thailand for further treatment.

RARE organised a Buddhist blessing on Friday to bid the animal farewell.

Sri Lankan PM apologises to Thai king
The elephant's $700,000-journey (roughly €641,000) has strained ties between Thailand and Sri Lanka. Thai authorities revealed the cost of the journey, without clarifying who would pay for it.

Sri Lanka-based wildlife environmentalist Jagath Gunawardana said that when a gift is taken back, it is bound to have a negative effect on both countries' ties.

Sri Lanka considers elephants sacred and protects them by law. However, that does not eliminate the possibility of animals experiencing abuse, which also a  common problem in Thailand.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament last month that he had personally conveyed his country's regrets over the animal's condition to the Thai king.

Thailand has stopped sending its elephants abroad, and is currently checking the conditions of those already overseas, Thai Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said.