Elephants At The Mercy Of A Monk
By Raisa Wickrematunge and Janith Aranze
The temple down Allen Methiniyarama road has a Grama Niladari at its entrance. Walking past, the temple itself finally appears. What draws the attention, however, is the large takarang shed on the left.
Two elephants can be seen here, placidly eating bamboo shoots. They are surrounded by mahouts and oddly a policeman, who repeatedly says, “No pictures, no pictures.”
The general reaction was one of suspicion. However, eventually the mahouts told us that the large elephant is female and called Sama, and the small one’s name is Mangala. Sama is 22, Mangala just five. They seem calm enough, but neighbours claim that the elephants at this temple are being ill-treated. Animal rights activist Anusha David in an email claimed that the elephants were being beaten and even tortured, such that children in the neighbourhood were traumatised by their screams of pain.
These elephants seemed calm enough, but apparently there were once two others. The mahouts said those elephants had been shifted to other temples, for use in a perahera. They claimed the head priest was not in.
A reliable source who requested anonymity said the elephants had in fact been given to the temple from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It was added that the two missing elephants had been beaten badly, until one had collapsed on its side. They had then been transferred to another temple, and Sama and Mangala had replaced them.
David said that neighbours were afraid to speak out about what was going on due to the vicious character of the head priest. However Janith, a young resident nearby, said that he frequently heard noises and shouting coming from the vicinity of the temple. “I didn’t know what the noises meant. I did wonder whether there were elephants… but I wasn’t sure,” Janith said.
Though the mahouts claimed that the priest wasn’t in, The Sunday Leader encountered the head priest in his rooms at the temple. He denied the allegations, saying, ‘That is a lie. We are a temple. We don’t do such things.’ He said the elephants had been a donation, but did not say from where. He also refused to identify himself. David and others, however, identified the head priest as the Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero.
Although the Thero was quite willing to talk, our presence was regarded with suspicion. Two more policemen materialised during the short interview. When the reporters attempted to speak to neighbours, we were watched by passersby, who instantly went towards the temple, presumably to inform others of our movements.
It appears that the policemen were not dropping in for a short visit, as another animal rights activist who visited the temple that evening said that two policemen were still at the temple.
The Zoological Department’s Director General, Bashwara Senaka Gunaratne, said he would forward a press release answering our questions, but never did so. He was not available for comment at the time of going to print either. However, he had on a previous occasion told this newspaper that the Zoological Department had received Cabinet approval to give away elephants to temples, due to a lack of space. Inside sources however said that no such approval had been granted.