Conserving Asian elephants in Sri Lanka is crucial as the elephant population in the country is dwindling drastically due to human activities.

Perahera (procession) is one of the grand and glamorous cultural events in Sri Lanka of which the origination dates back to the times of ancient kings in the island. Although this traditional event with many cultural components attached to it is linked to the Buddha, it is not a feature of Buddhism. The chief Perahera in the country which is known as the festival of the Tooth is held annually in the first two weeks of August in order to pay homage to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha.

Elephants are adorned with splendid garments with electric supply to them during Perahera (pic courtesy internet)

Although the annual Esala Perahera in Kandy draws a slew of tourists from various countries which in fact helps uplift country’s tourism industry and other related trades, the elephant abuse that is associated with this lofty cultural event of Sri Lanka can not be ignored merely because this is a prominent element in the country’s heritage and cultural identity.

Elephants are not domestic animals such as dogs and cats and should be captured in the wilderness, which is their natural habitat by browbeating and torturing into submission. When the wild elephants are captured, they are left in starvation for easy handling and transportation. It is conspicuous that elephants are tortured during the capture.

Hence, capturing and domestication of elephants involve torture and coercion which ruin the animals’ freedom of living in their own habitat and these animals are hectored to adopt to an environment and a lifestyle alien to them.

Elephants are highly intelligent animals after humans and they feel emotions such as sorrow and happiness. When they are separated, captured and brought out of their herd and the natural habitat, they become despondent and frustrated. Since they are helpless, having no one to express their grief and the need of getting back to their own habitat and the herd, they become frustrated and lead the entire life in despair and dejection.

Often, baby elephants are snatched from the mother and taken into the custody of humans depriving the cub of the mother’s love at its tender age. These baby elephants are then owned by people and often they are not properly looked after. When these baby elephants are grown up, they are also trained by coercion to perform in ceremonial activities such as in Perahera.

Elephants are tortured into submission when they are being trained for a particular performance. Similar to circus and tourism industry, elephants are tortured, left to starve and punished during the training period. They are chained and their freedom is restricted. Elephants naturally walk a long distance a day and this is an activity that these animals are naturally created to do. In captivity, elephants are hardly provided with opportunity to walk or move about freely. Their legs are tightly tethered to posts or trees by iron shackles which injure their legs due to friction.

Elephants are often kept shackled. Exposure to the friction between their legs and the shackles for a long time can result in injuries in their legs. If infected and the wound is left unattended, it can be fatal to the animal. (pic courtesy internet)

Nevertheless, Perahera is not the only incident where elephants are abused. Innocent jumbos are abused in many fields and industries such as circus, tourism and logging. (The impact of these industries in which elephants are abused will be discussed separately)

However, some animal rights activists as well as ordinary people with a tinge of humanity still remained in them, argue that Perahera can be conducted without the participation of the elephants.

If elephants are made or are campaigned to be an essential element in Peraheras, as a detrimental result of that, more elephants will have to be captured from the wilderness. Baby elephants will be deplorably deprived of the maternal care, love and the protection. If elephants are left to lead their natural lives in the wilderness, these animals can well be protected and conserved. If the cultural authorities stress that elephants are indispensable in keeping an age-old tradition alive, these jumbos cannot be given an assurance of salvation.

Elephants in the Perahera are employed to carry the casket containing the scared tooth relic of the Buddha. Elephants are also used in Perahera to add glamour to it. Nonetheless, the Buddha has never instructed His enlightened disciples to conduct any religious ritual relating to the doctrine preached by him , by torturing or killing living beings. This is what makes Buddhism distinctive, humanitarian and compassionate in comparison to many other religions that exist today, which advocate the killing or torturing of animals (perhaps humans too) in the name of their religion.

That is to say, Perahera is a cultural event which has many local components and beliefs attached to it, which cannot be attributed to Buddhism. Many Sri Lankan Buddhists exalt this annual Esala Perahera and are of the view that elephants are an integral part of this cultural event. Many perceive that the Perahera will lose its elegance if elephants are withdrawn from it or not included in it.

Elephants do not have a religion and are not pious either. Worshiping temples and statues is not an inherent characteristics of these magnificent beasts. They are trained to perform such activities often by torturing, punishing and coercing (pic courtesy internet)

A large number of Sri Lankans who are proud and appreciative of their distinctive cultural identity, believe that even though elephants are tortured and their freedom is restricted, these magnificent beast must be included in the Perahera to maintain its glamour and splendor.

Animals also feel. They also react to the emotions as humans do.

Conserving Asian elephants in Sri Lanka is crucial as the elephant population in the country is dwindling drastically due to human activities.

However, those who are still of the view that the elephants must be a part of Peraheras, they are invited to witness for themselves how the elephants are tortured and separated from their beloved herd and the natural habitat when they are captured. Also, they should see how the baby elephants are stolen from mother elephants in order to illegally possess them and to use them for human activities.

It is high time that people transform their attitudes in relation to the rights of the voiceless animals and take earnest attempt in conserving and saving them from being extinct.

It is inhumane and uncivilized if humans tend to derive pleasure by torturing animals or attending events of amusement which conspicuously or inconspicuously involve the torturing, harassing and dragooning of the animals in the process of capturing, domesticating and training them.

It should also be noted that no animal can be trained or domesticated without coercion and abuse.

Sadists are known to derive pleasure by torturing others. Wild animals in captivity are often used for amusing humans. Their lives away from their natural habitats is not at all agreeable and they suffer psychologically as well as physically. If humans seek amusement by depriving wild animals of their rights, they can well be called sadists.

It is high time that people eliminate the barbaric and primitive way of thinking that no cultural item can be conducted without elephants participated (and tortured) in it. People should be more civilized and humane for letting those innocent animals live in their own natural habitats which will also help maintain the equilibrium in the eco-system.

Buddhism promotes compassion towards all living beings. Torturing or killing is highly abhorred and discouraged. Before criticizing any religion for depriving animals of their rights, Buddhist must set an example to others by preserving animal rights.

The top most picture of this article shows the ill and aged (70 years old) female elephant named Tikiri which was paraded in the Kandy Esala Perahera, fallen on the ground due to illness after participating in the Perahera. It is reported that this elephant was paraded in Perahera from a tender age of 5 years.

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