Elephants are magnificent creatures. While Western societies are used to seeing the giant mammals as attractions in zoos or carnivals, they actually play an important role in the everyday and religious lives of various Buddhist countries in Asia.
Unfortunately, this cultural and religious significance doesn’t make them immune to neglect or abuse. Proof of this can be found in the saddening photos of a seventy-year-old elephant in Sri Lanka.
Tikiiri is an elephant who is under the care of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Along with another sixty elephants, she was dressed in a fancy costume to participate in the Perahera Festival there.
Also called the Festival of the Tooth, the ten-day celebration is an annual Buddhist festival held to pay tribute to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha which is kept at the temple in Kandy. Aside from the decorated animals, the festival features plenty of traditional dance performances.
However, what most festival-goers did not know is that one of the elephants in the festival was suffering underneath her flashy costume. This little-known fact was revealed in a timely Facebook post by the Save Elephant Foundation while the festival was still going on.
Beneath the surface
In time for World Elephant Day, the organization showed photos of an acutely malnourished Tikiiri, her rib cage clearly showing. They told the harrowing story of her working at the ten-day festival in her old age and concerning condition.
According to the Thailand-based group, Tikiiri was made to parade many miles for ten consecutive evenings for the Buddhist festival and worked late into the night. Even worse, she has to do this amidst the smoke and the noise of fireworks and festival goers.
the Save Elephant Foundation wrote in the post.
“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. How can we call this [the festival] a blessing, or something holy, if we make other lives to suffer?”
Wanting to help Tikiiri, the organization urged people to write to the country’s Prime Minister to address the poor elephant’s condition. They also appealed to the Buddhist teachings of following the paths of compassion and kindness.
Outpouring of concern
Since its original posting, the photos of Tikiiri has caught the attention of people from all around the world.
Many wondered if there was a petition they could sign to help.
A Change.org petition has actually been started for Tikiiri. It was made by Joanna Davidson and called for the saving of the elderly elephant from abuse. The petition has already been signed by 45,500 people and is nearing its goal of 50,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic has told the Metro that the elephant has actually been observed by a veterinarian specializing in elephants and that they care about the animals in the festival.
According to statistics from Cultural Survival, there are an estimated 3,000 elephants living in the wild in Sri Lanka. They mostly live in the country’s national parks. There are many more in captivity.
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