Lek Chailert, the founder of Save Elephant Foundation (SEF), confirmed in an Instagram post that an emaciated 70-year-old elephant that was forced to parade the streets of Sri Lanka has died.
Tikiri was one of the 60 elephants forced to march as part of the annual Esala Perahera festival held by a Buddhist Temple in Kandy, so tourists and locals can feel ‘blessed’.
Chailert, when confirming her death, wrote that the news brought both, sorrow and relief. Her suffering has ended and her soul is free.
“RIP dear Tikiri. Never look back to this world so cruel toward you and your friends.”
Earlier, there was a widespread backlash after Save Elephant Foundation (SEF) released images of Tikiri’s heavily emaciated body. Her owners used a parade costume to cover her weak body, but the starved and fragile animal was also photographed on the floor after collapsing from the torture she was subjected to.
Chailert then posted the photos of the tortured elephant, explaining that she was old and weak, but she is she still tied both legs front and back. She also added that she joined in the parade early every evening until late at night every night for 10 consecutive nights, amidst the noise, the fireworks, and smoke.
The poor elephant walked multiple kilometers every night, but due to her costume, no one is aware of her weakened condition and her bony body.
Animal rights groups across the globe were outraged after finding out that Tikiri’s malnourished and emaciated body was hidden beneath a colorful costume during the parades.
Chailert questioned the intention of the religious belief and festival, reminding people that we cannot call a ceremony the event that brings such harm and sufferings, and there is nothing holy in the sorrow and tears in the eyes of the poor animal.
The temple defended the use of Tikiri as part of the procession for the Esala Perahera festival.
A spokesperson for the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple that organizes the festival, reported that the elephant’s owner had ‘specifically requested’ for her to be included in the procession, as according to ancient beliefs, performing Pooja (worship) to gods by sick or weak elephants has healing powers.
The spokesperson claimed Tikiri had suffered from a ‘digestive ailment’ which allegedly prevented her from putting on weight.
Therefore, the owner specially requested the Diyawadana Nilame of the Vishnu Devala (temple chief) to allow her to participate in this year’s procession in the hope of curing her.
The spokesperson added that the request was accepted in terms that she is proved to be fit to take the streets after a thorough examination.
Yet, the photos shared by Save Elephant Foundation led to brutal criticism, so Tikiri was returned to her keeper in Rambukkana, a village close to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
However, the ordeal had taken too much of a toll on her health.
Her death broke the hearts of many, and numerous people expressed their sadness due to the tragic ending of the poor animal.
In her latest post announcing Tikiri’s death, Ms. Chailert, who works to help rescue and care for captive elephants across Asia, described her regret she was unable to help the mammal, but promised that her death would not be in vain:
“What we wished for Tikiri, even a few days of freedom with love and care, we will demand for others.”