Muthu Raja, a Thai elephant, arrived in Sri Lanka in 2001 as a gift, travelling on a commercial reparation flight. Recently, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has issued an apology to the King of Thailand about the abuse and maltreatment of the elephant for over a decade. Today, Muthu Raja is back home.

The elephant was allegedly placed in a Buddhist temple

The elephant was allegedly placed in a Buddhist temple in the south of the tear drop shaped island nation, where it was forced to work with a logging crew and neglected injuries caused it to develop a permanent stuff leg. The elephant was also covered in abscesses, and it was clear some of the many wounds were inflicted by the handler. While this story was saved from turning into a tragedy, it raises an important question on tourism culture in Sri Lanka and how it affects hundreds of elephants in the nation.

Sri Lanka is a country dependent primarily on tourism for its main form of income, which is why it was so badly affected economic wise when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. People come to Sri Lanka with the appeal of beaches, nature and the local wildlife, famously including elephants as they are considered a sacred animal by the Buddhist locals. It is even more concerning then how the abuse and neglect of these animals has gone unnoticed for so long.

Some of the popular attractions involving elephants include riding them either solo or on a carriage-type contraption. This has been proven by experts time and time again to give permanent back and spine problems to the elephants, as they are not riding animals, and neither is it comfortable for them. The discomfort causes them to act out sometimes, which is why handlers use a long stick with a blade at the end to poke and prod the animal and get to behave, causing injuries that are typically left untreated.

Most Tourists and Locals

These practices have become far too commonplace however, with most tourists and locals not batting and eye to the impacts of the activity on the animal itself. It can not be entirely stopped all of a sudden too, as it is a large place of spending for tourists and for a country crutched to tourism, getting rid of such an important part of it may be detrimental to the economy. This has not stopped individual efforts from citizens who form organizations such as Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE) from campaigning and taking action to end the abusive practices, as they tried to do for Muthu Raja as well.

This includes locals and foreigners banding together to create shelters for abused elephants, and tourism agencies refusing to take visitors to facilities where these practices are employed upon elephants. However, the elephant issue has never been a problem for Sri Lanka’s international reputation before.

The wildlife minister of Sri Lanka, Pavithra Wanniarachchi said that Thailand had been pressing for the return of the elephant since they found it in poor condition, as elephants are held as sacred in Thailand as well. The founder of RARE is also pushing for prosecution for those involved in the mishandling of Muthu Raja. This puts the burden on the Sri Lankan government now, to change the status quo for their beloved animals before even more of the horrors come to attention of the internet and their tourism industry begins to collapse even more than it would if the elephant industry was taken down.

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