Tikiri, the malnourished 70-year-old female elephant in Sri Lanka, whose plight captured global headlines in August, died on Tuesday, just weeks after shocking images of her condition led to a social media outcry.*
The Thailand-based Save Elephant Foundation, which first drew attention to Tikiri’s plight, shared the news of her passing through a Facebook post on Tuesday that stated:
The sad news is just out tonight that Tikiri passed away this evening. There is both sorrow and relief here. To think of her brings such pain to my heart.
That hard service was her life, and not freedom, carries for me a commitment to others who yet suffer. That we could not help her before her eyes would shut forever fosters a renewed courage, and bears a responsibility for us to find safe refuges for all of the captive Giants born under the yoke of Man. What we wished for Tikiri, even a few days of freedom with love and care, we will demand for others. . . .
Tikiri’s suffering has ended, her soul is now free. No more harm can come to her.
RIP dear Tikiri. Never look back to this world so cruel toward you and your friends.
The Save Elephant Foundation, headed by “elephant whisperer” and founder Lek Chailert, works to protect Asian elephants in Thailand and across the region, operating a variety of projects, including the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary near the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
Tikiri reportedly collapsed in August after being forced to walk many kilometers during nightly parades for the Buddhist festival Esala Perahera while wearing an elaborate costume. Media reports indicated that she was just one of some 60 elephants taking part in the celebrations.*
Esala Perahera is celebrated annually with a series of colorful processions in veneration of a sacred relic, believed to be a tooth of the historical Buddha, enshrined in Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, in Kandy. Normally held according to the lunar calendar in July–August, this year Esala Perahera ran from 1–15 August. Alongside traditional cultural performances, the processions traditionally feature numerous elephants adorned with ornate garments and decorations.
Following an outcry by activists, Tikiri was eventually returned to her keeper in the village of Rambukkana, but she was too weakened by her ordeal to survive.
“Yes, she died this afternoon,” her keeper was quoted as saying on Tuesday. “A vet from the hospital is coming tomorrow to investigate and do a postmortem.” (Metro)
Following the social media storm, Sri Lankan Wildlife Minister John Amaratunga ordered an inquiry into why Tikiri had been forced to participate in the Esala Perahera parades, but the results of the investigation have not been publicized.
Sri Lankan Elephant expert Jayantha Jayewardene confirmed that Tikiri had been mistreated: “Tikiri was severely undernourished,” he said. “It is a wonder that she lived this long.” (NDTV)
Elephant ownership has long been a symbol of prestige and status among Sri Lanka’s wealthy, and a traditional feature of religious ceremonies in this predominantly Buddhist country. Although it is illegal to own elephants without a government permit, at least 40 elephants have been abducted from the island’s national parks in the last decade, according to the Sri Lankan authorities.** While a 2011 census report showed an increase in Sri Lanka’s elephant population, wildlife conservationists remain concerned that deforestation due to urbanization, the use of wild animals as gifts for VIPs, and ownership of elephants as a status symbol could harm the island’s population of wild elephants.
Since 2015, the Sri Lankan government has started clamping down on the illegal ownership of elephants—many of which are poached from the wild. In November 2016, Agence France-Presse reported that under the new regulations, violators could lose their ownership licenses and face a jail term of up to three years. In 2017, Sri Lanka’s government introduced tougher legislation aimed at protecting elephants from exploitation, including banning the use of captive elephants under the age of five and ensuring healthy diets for elephants in captivity.**
* Images from Buddhist Festival Highlight the Plight of Domesticated Elephants in Sri Lanka (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Sri Lanka Clamps Down on Illegal Ownership of Wild Elephants (Buddhistdoor Global)
Sri Lanka Approves New Legislation to Protect Elephants (Buddhistdoor Global)
Sri Lankan elephant Tikiri forced to perform in parades dies (BBC News)
70-Year-Old Frail Elephant In Sri Lanka Whose Photos Sparked Outrage Dies (NDTV)
Emaciated elderly elephant dies after ‘70 years a slave’ (Metro)
Save Elephant Foundation (Facebook)