A Thai elephant gifted to Sri Lanka two decades ago arrived back in its birth country on Sunday, following a diplomatic spat over the animal’s alleged mistreatment.
Thai authorities had gifted the 29-year-old Muthu Raja – also known as Sak Surin in its birthplace – to Sri Lanka in 2001.
Muthu Raja was in pain and covered in abscesses when it was rescued from the Buddhist temple last year, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, Madusha Perera, told the AFP news agency.
Animal welfare groups said the elephant had been forced to work with a logging crew and that its wounds, some allegedly inflicted by its handler, had been neglected.
The elephant will undergo hydrotherapy in Thailand to treat a remaining injury on its front left leg, Perera said.
Elephants are considered sacred in Sri Lanka and are protected by law.
The organisation Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE), which led a campaign to rescue Muthu Raja from the temple, expressed its unhappiness over the animal’s departure.
RARE organised a Buddhist blessing for the elephant on Friday ahead of its journey and has petitioned authorities to prosecute those it says are responsible for neglecting the animal.
Sri Lanka’s wildlife minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said Thailand was “adamant” in its demands for the elephant’s return.
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament in June he had personally conveyed Sri Lanka’s regrets to the Thai king over the elephant’s condition.
Thailand has stopped sending elephants abroad, Thai environment minister Varawut said, adding that Bangkok’s diplomatic missions are checking the conditions of elephants already sent overseas.
Source : Aljazeera