Festival elephant's skeletal body was hidden with elaborate costume
A charity has released a collection of shocking photographs depicting an emaciated Asian elephant that they claim has been forced to march through the streets against its will in the Sri Lankan city of Kandy, the Daily Mail has reported.
Activists from the Save Elephant Foundation claim that the animal, known as Tikiri, is compelled to perform for 10 consecutive nights, dressed in an ornate costume while being ridden by a local man. The result has been a dramatic deterioration of her condition.
Though the photos are undeniably shocking, campaigners at Save Elephant Foundation stress that the majority of onlookers at the festival have no idea that the animal is suffering. Concealed under an intricately decorated robe, Tikiri’s boney body remains almost entirely hidden from view - giving a false impression that all is well.
According to Lek Chailert, founder of Save Elephant Foundation:
"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.
"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.
"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."
Historically, elephants have always formed a key part of the Esala Perahera festival, a Buddhist tradition that dates back to the third century BCE. Consisting of a celebration replete with dancing, costumes, and fireworks, the ceremony honors the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha and attracts a wide range of participants.
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Ms Chailert stressed that, while she has no issue with anyone celebrating their faith, she believes that faith cannot come at the expense of animal welfare. In a post commemorating Tuesday’s World Elephant Day, she wrote:
"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 suffer?”
"Today is World Elephant Day. We cannot bring a peaceful world to the elephant if we still think that this image is acceptable."
When pressed for comment by reporters from the Metro, the Sacred Tooth Relic temple insisted that they "always care about the animal" and claimed that Tikiri has now been seen by an elephant doctor.