Muthu Raja, a 29-year-old Thai elephant, returned to Chiang Mai on Sunday after allegations of neglect and abuse led to calls for him to return from Sri Lanka. Also known as Sak Surin in Thailand, the elephant was given as a gift in Sri Lanka almost 20 years ago and put into use in a Buddhist temple.
“He arrived perfectly in Chiang Mai. He traveled five hours and everything is fine, his condition is normal. said Thailand's Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa. "If all goes well, we will move it," referring to Muthu Raja's plans to move to a nearby nature reserve. (VOA)
The elephant had spent the day traveling from Colombo in a specially constructed cage, accompanied by four Thai keepers and a Sri Lankan zookeeper. The theft is estimated to have cost US$700. Along with dedicated travel staff, officials created a special container to safely hold the 000-meter-tall, 2,7-kilogram animal.
The elephant was sent to Sri Lanka in 2001 when it was around 10 years old as a gift from the Thai royal family. He and two other elephants were given and were to be trained as bearers of Buddhist relics for religious ceremonies. While in Sri Lanka, Muthu Raja lived under the care of a Buddhist temple in the south of the country.
Allegations were made that the elephant was forced to work with logging crews inside the temple and that a leg wound was left untreated. The Sri Lankan group Rally for Animal Rights and the Environment (RARE) began lobbying the Thai government last year to intervene after attempts to encourage government aid failed. Sri Lankan.
RARE founder Panchali Panapitiya said Sri Lanka's failure to intervene had brought the country "discredit". (BBC)
RARE officials also organized a Buddhist blessing for Muthu Raja on Friday ahead of his trip.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said in June that he had conveyed his regrets to Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and was able to "restore trust between the two countries". (BBC)
Thailand stopped sending elephants overseas after 2009, and a decision to restart the practice in 2019 was scrapped after protests from environmental groups. Thailand's Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said diplomatic missions would verify the status of all Thai elephants sent overseas.
Currently, 10 elephants from Thailand live overseas. The other two elephants living in Sri Lanka are said to be in good health. There are no plans to repatriate them or any of the other elephants at this time.
Elephants are considered a symbol of wealth and prestige in both countries. In Thailand, they are considered the protectors of the Buddha and the Earth. Sri Lanka fell into an economic crisis in 2019, which was compounded by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Sri Lanka's state religion is Buddhism, with 70,2% of the population of some 20 million people identifying as Theravada Buddhists, according to 2012 census data. Hinduism, with 12,6% of the population, followed by Islam, which represents 9,7% of Sri Lankans, Christianity 7,4% and the others 0,05%.