When will the Animal Welfare Act be passed? : ‘Owners are paid for parading their elephants’ | Sunday Observer

When will the Animal Welfare Act be passed? : ‘Owners are paid for parading their elephants’

18 August, 2019
The picture of Tikiri showing her emaciated body, that went viral. Pic: Internet
The picture of Tikiri showing her emaciated body, that went viral. Pic: Internet

Tikiri was forced to parade at the Esala Maha Perahera despite the Wildlife Department’s recommendation to let the giant jumbo rest in its annual registration of tuskers’ permits. This was a violation of animal rights, Director Wildlife Tharaka Prasad said, adding that the 70-year-old Tikiri’s custodians have neglected their responsibility of paying attention to the tusker’s deteriorating health.

“The Animal Welfare Act is still at pending stage and needs to be approved soon if we are to act against this type of barbarism against animals,” Prasad said.

Tikiri who was not supposed to work in the services of the Perahera this year was somehow sent to parade in it for ten consecutive nights. However, her custodian was forced to withdraw her from the parade after pictures of her went viral on social media.

“This is extremely savage. It is called over-driving an animal that makes it go beyond its capacities. It is also forcing an animal to do something which it cannot do without undergoing so much pain,” said Jagath Gunewardane, environmental lawyer. “It’s the Wildlife Department that owns these animals. The ones who call themselves owners are just their custodians,” he said.

Gunawardane also said that if external forces did not interfere, the Wildlife Department can be made accountable for animals such as Tikiri.

The annual Esala Maha Perahera draws thousands of tourists from across the world. Addressing Tikiri’s plight Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga said in a statement the tusker collapsed the day after the withdrawal from the perahera.

“I have requested officials of my Ministry to initiate an inquiry to ascertain how and why an elephant in such poor health was used in the perahera and to take necessary action against those responsible ”. According to the statement, Minister Amaratunga had instructed the veterinary surgeons of the Department of Wildlife Conservation to immediately inspect the condition of the elephant and recommend remedial measures.

“No religion demands such devotion, not even from an animal. This is extremely savage. We should use tuskers in sound health for something sacred like this,” said Sumith Papiliyana, a conservationist, emphasizing the essentiality of conserving rights of animals who dedicate more than a half of their lives for the sake of fulfilling religious customs. He mentioned the urgency of bringing out criterion where government veterinarians recommend their parading depending on their health conditions.

Jayantha Jayewardene, Managing Trustee, Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust and a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group said that how this 70-year-old animal got into the parade is still a mystery. “Basically, they train the mahouts too here. These animals are trained by force inflicting fear. They are being hit and chained and their owners get paid by the Temple of the Tooth Relic for offering their elephants for the parade,” said Jayewardene.

Tikiri’s owner had told the media that he put her in the parade for religious reasons. The unnamed man had said she had walked in every parade since she was five. She had been sick and he had spent $9,000 on her medication. He had promised his god that she would walk in the parade if she got better.

At this point, the Save Elephants Foundation based in Thailand has created a petition with a call to boycott Sri Lankan elephant attractions till the Government takes action against animal barbarism. The petition has already got 8,000 signatures.

Early in January this year, inflammatory protests came up demanding the Animal Welfare Bill to be passed in Parliament. But still, the law that prevails is that of 1907 with a maximum fine of 100 rupees for animal cruelty. Even though it was originally drafted in 2006 and was finalized in 2017, as public support remained dormant over the years it still remains a compelling requisite for the sake of the lives of the voiceless animals.