Officials in Sri Lanka are worried about a dwindling number of “tamed elephants” available in that country to be used in Perahera ceremonies, which date back generations and continue to be hugely significant.
The issue came up recently when the Buddhist Maha Sanga and an elephant owners group brought the “shortage” to the attention of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The indigenous, religious and cultural heritage includes using elephants in the ceremonies and giving them as gifts.
“By the 1980s, the number of tamed elephants in Sri Lanka was between 300 and 350,” the government explained. “About 80 of them are now over 50 years of age.”
The owners of the tamed elephants said it takes three years to train an elephant to take part in these events.
“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that he strongly believes that the country needs a herd of tamed elephants as it is part of our culture of Perahera tradition,” the government said in a statement. “The President also instructed the officials to hold discussions with the owners of the tamed elephants in formulating conditions for the regulation and conservation of tamed elephants.”
The issue may date back to ancients times, but it is now divisive.
Elephants hold symbolic,cultural & economic importance in my motherland🇱🇰☸️.President has taken a very important step to provide more tamed elephants for peraheras. Kandy perahera was one of the best tourist attraction in the country as well as for the locals.Protect elephants 🇱🇰— Ranjit Wickremeratne (@RanjitWickreme2) March 14, 2021
Animal rights groups were outraged.
Exploited, abused, neglected! This pretty much describes the lives of the so called #templeelephants. Behind the veil of culture and religion they are deprived of their most basic necessities, paraded beneath the scorching sun for hours on end!#EndElephantSlavery #FreeTheWild pic.twitter.com/8YLsYzWwFJ— 🐘🐘Voice for Asian 🐘🐘Elephants Society🐘🐘 (@vfaes_org) March 18, 2021
“This is HORRIBLE & moving in the wrong direction,” Voice for Asian Elephants Society posted on Twitter. “We need to focus on the shortage of land & resources for our wild elephants & freeing our enslaved Gentle Giants, not more captivity.”
No, this is HORRIBLE & moving in the wrong direction! We need to focus on the shortage of land & resources for our wild elephants & freeing our enslaved Gentle Giants, not more captivity!— 🐘🐘Voice for Asian 🐘🐘Elephants Society🐘🐘 (@vfaes_org) March 16, 2021
President focuses on shortage of tamed elephants for peraheras https://t.co/qpu4DbdS5Y
As the world progresses, we move away from using elephants & other animals for our entertainment, So @gotabayaR why is Sri Lanka planning to create more ELEPHANT SLAVES? #Regression #NoMoreElephantSlavery #CompassionOverCulture pic.twitter.com/qBBUbGx5tp— jane Wilson (@janeloveseles) March 21, 2021
Sri Lanka betrays their elephants ! In the name of a lucrative business veiled under religious no elephants needs to parade in the name of a religion https://t.co/PsMiawl2ts— Anika 🇨🇦 🇵🇰 (@anikasleem) March 18, 2021
Some have been fighting for years to see the tradition end.
Sri Lankan President @GotabayaR to decide today on gifting more elephants to temples in the name of Buddhist culture and subject them to a lifetime of abuse & torture. 🐘💔😭 @Rohitha_Chichi @PresRajapaksa @sajithpremadasa @otaradel @lek_chailert @cher @NewsfirstSL @bbcsinhala pic.twitter.com/iT078r6gbl— Rally For Animal Rights & Environment- RARE (@RARE_SriLanka) March 12, 2021
Main photo: Voice for Asian Elephants Society/Twitter