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Elephants At Pageants: Activists Push For Change

  • Colombo school withdraws elephants from street parade

by our Environmental Correspondent

Otara Gunewardene

Animal rights activists are making a push to stop the practice of elephants being used at pageants, including school parades.

A case related to the illegal capture of elephants is also to be heard at the Hulftsdorf court on Tuesday.

Recently, a request from several animal rights activists saw a leading school in Colombo suspending the use of elephants at their school street parade.

While the use of pachyderm adds glamour to any occasion there is a question whether the elephant is being used more as an entertainment object to please amused and interested onlookers.  Since of late, there is a disturbing trend of using elephants in school pageants to add more colour.

Leading Colombo schools have used elephants to dress up their school cycle parades and walks, despite the fact that it is illegal and irrespective of public outcry and appeals from animal welfare organizations and concerned citizens who have begged the schools to abstain from doing so.

Efforts by activists and individuals to protest the activities have always met with aggressive and arrogant attacks on social media from old pupils of the schools, whose ignorance of the subject matter and egos go hand in hand in developing an attitude of denial and dismissiveness.

The only school that was responsible enough to understand the serious implications of parading elephants in their walk last week was St. Joseph’s College, where on receiving appeals from animal welfare associations and concerned individuals, immediately took the decision to remove the elephants from the agenda.

Royal College was also another school that took the elephants off their parade last year at the last minute, after old boys wrote to the school requesting for the principal to intervene.

Apart from entertainment, the question of using elephants in school events implies a question whether the animal is being tortured and harassed to provide entertainment, tied up in chains, the mahouts pricking them with the henduwa. As school parades happen during the daytime, the conditions in which the animals are made to walk are highly abusive – hot sun, tar roads, vehicles, children, etc.

To make matters even worse, schoolchildren in these pageants light up crackers which are harmful to the elephants and also to those around that could frighten the animal. That could end up in damage that endangers the lives of all, should the elephants become aggravated. Are teachers doing a wise thing by encouraging these children to ill treat animals, without teaching them to be compassionate, not to harass or misuse an innocent creature for their own pleasure? Religion itself asks us to be compassionate to all living beings. But are we really being humans to these poor creatures that deserve their freedom and right to live peacefully? From bicycle parades, motorcades and street processions, is the next step going to be elephant parades?

Children should be taught about the suffering these animals go through for our entertainment and educated on the changes that are happening world over rather than being allowed to be a part of the cruelty. Parading elephants is fun for people, but certainly not for the animal.  Recently we have witnessed elephants participating in some school parades, especially during their ‘Big Match’ rivalry.

When using elephants for these parades, there are two aspects of concern – the cruelty caused to the animal and the high public safety risk.

Looking at the cruelty aspect, these majestic animals that are a part of our proud heritage are heavily chained and forced to walk in the scorching sun on hot, burning asphalted roads. This causes great pain and suffering to the animal and is a violation of our Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance. Then, it has to be trained for performances – even parading is a performance. Training methods are often cruel with the elephant being shocked, whipped and beaten with the bull hook.

As for the risk factor, elephants essentially belong to the wilds and according to experts, however well-trained they are, they are unpredictable.  When stressed they can strike back against humans.

Noisy parades with crackers and drums as well as vehicular traffic and crowds can cause this stress and make the animal run amok with tragic consequences both to humans and animals.  During parades, there are no barriers between the animal and the public to prevent such tragedies. In Sri Lanka, in the past, we have seen such tragedies occur during pageants where people have been killed or injured and property damaged.  Such lamentable incidents have occurred elsewhere in the world too. In some countries there are laws that require a licence to parade elephants along public streets. A lesser-known factor is that pachyderms are common carriers of TB and can transmit the disease to humans.

The Sri Lankan government recently decided to overturn its ban on the adoption of baby elephants in a bid to overcome alleged difficulties maintaining the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, although welfare groups and experts in the field claim that the government has no such difficulty.

The cabinet had approved a proposal put forward by Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, which opens the doors for baby elephants to be adopted by individuals and religious places. Individuals who adopt often hire out the elephants to hotels and institutions for entertainment, as a way of profiting off the animals. Private institutions endorsing this are actually aiding criminal activity.

Schools and the public have to be told that having elephants in parades is ILLEGAL according to the elephant permits issued by DWC.

According to the permits issued by DWC for captive elephants, they can be used ONLY for cultural events – i.e. peraheras.  So the use of elephants for tourism and school events is illegal as it violates the conditions of the permit issued.  However, like everything else in Sri Lanka, the issue is not the law but implementation of the law.

Animal rights activist Otara Gunewardene told The Sunday Leader that the people need to understand the immense suffering caused and continue to cause for wild animals which are used for entertainment.

“There is much more global understanding now on the life animals lead for circuses, parades, animal shows and wild animals used for photo opportunities, mainly selfies. There is a process the wild animals go through to make them abide by what they are asked to do. For elephants, their spirit is broken by an extremely cruel crushing process, these immensely social animals are then made to live a life in chains in isolation. They are beaten and prodded with bull hooks so that they do as they are told.  Some of the elephants used have been taken away from their mothers in the wild in a heart breaking process. Elephant mothers and families have extremely close bonds with each other.  This is what the children of today should be taught because education of the heart is as important as education of the mind. What we have been taught to accept as OK in the past does not make it right today. This is not to do only with animals but it has happened with many things from the days of having humans in zoos, to slavery, to women having no rights and more. What if none of these things were ever highlighted? We have evolved and today not only must we become more conscious of the suffering of other beings, but also need to make the effort to understand it,” she said.

Otara Gunewardene anoted that hundreds of elephants are now free in chain free sanctuaries because the day came where people realized they don’t want to be a part of watching an elephant in a circus.

However she notes, sadly, Sri Lanka is still lagging behind in this as well with the refusal to stop the elephant circus in the Dehiwala Zoo.

“We are also lagging behind in not having a chain free sanctuary with Pinnawla. These two facilities should be focused on good animal welfare first, giving compassionate the right education for children and then profit. Sri Lanka is a country that has been known for its compassion from the days of when Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka. It is time to find our compassionate roots again. The time is now to take steps to treat animal welfare as an important part of our government, our laws and our day to day lives.

Progress does not come without this and this will definitely be a major focus that will have negative impact globally, if it is not addressed now,” she said.

Animal rights activist Sharmini Ratnayake told The Sunday Leader that elephants are being used to make money, disregarding their wellbeing.

“Owners give elephants for events for a fee. Earlier there were only a few events for which elephants were used but now you see them being used for almost every event, even by schools,” she said.

She noted that elephants don’t have a voice and so they cannot express the pain they suffer at the hands of humans.

8 Comments for “Elephants At Pageants: Activists Push For Change”

  1. ed

    ONE SHOULD UNDERSTAND THE SRI LANKAN GOVERNMENT HAS GIVEN PERMISSION AND LICENSE TO ITS CITIZENS to own an elephant. WHERE CAN THE ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST DRAW THE LINE? POINT IS THE ELEPHANTS ARE BROUGHT AND GIVEN TO THE TEMPLES (for a fee)TO TAKE PART IN RELIGIOUS PRECESSIONS THIS IS AN ANCIENT PRACTICE IN SRI LANKA. (SPECIALLY AT TEMPLE PERAHERA) THE OWNER EVEN TAKES THE ELEPHANT TO LIFT HEAVY TREE TRUNKS AND LOAD THEM TO THE TRUCKS( for a fee).SAFFARIES (for a fee) . OUR TOP POLITICAL PARTY ALSO USES THE ELEPHANT ON SPECIAL PARADES. IN MOST OF THE ASIAN COUNTRIES THE ELEPHANTS ARE USED FOR ECONOMIC BENEFITS.HOW CAN THE ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST STOP THIS?
    ON THE OTHER HAND ELEPHANTS LEFT IN THE JUNGLE ARE BEING KILLED BY THE PORCHES FOR IVORY. HOW CAN THIS BE STOPPED TOO? NEXT DUE TO CLIMATE CHANGE THE ELEPHANTS IN THE WILD ARE SHORT OF FOOD AND WATER, WHAT CAN THE ACTIVIST DO ON SUCH CASE?JUST IMAGINE HOW COULD THE ACTIVIST SOLVE THIS HUGE ELEPHANT ISSUE??? IF NO ONE TAKES IN CHARGE OF THE WELL BEING THE ELEPHANTS LEGACY WILL END JUST LIKE THE DINOSAURS DISAPPEARANCE FROM THIS PLANET EARTH !!!!! NO WAY FOR THE ELEPHANT TO EXIST IN MARS !!!!

  2. Strictly speaking forcing theses INNOCENT GIANTS to take part in various ceremonial activities connected to the Buddhist culture in this country (such as annual “peraheras” is against the teachings of lord Buddha. Let these innocent animals to live in peace in their natural habitats without harassing them!

  3. indira

    good move.at least the Elephant’s legs should be covered with a piece of leather to protect from chain cuts.

  4. Nihal

    What are you all thinking of cattle, chicken and pigs aren’t they animals, why thousand and thousand of these animals are killed daily. I think you all should focus your attention on killing these animal for human consumption but not on Elephants being taken on perahera. If you have time go and watch these animals when they are taken on parades and find out how they feel about it. And go and watch a slaughter house to decide to which you all should give prominence. If Otara Gunawardena don’t have any work now it is better to keep quite rather then creating another problem in this country.

    • Srimathi

      Exactly what I wanted to say. Animals are killed, killed, killed for human pleasure, carving and profit.. How can you compare elephants on a parade with the suffering of these animals. Otara says that people don’t understand the suffering elephants. Don”t these other animals suffer? Do they enjoy being taken to the slaughter house, being shot at, cut into pieces? , Elephants are taken on parades for a limited period of time. True, they can be made more comfortable and that is the job of veterinary surgeons. Further elephants taken on parades are looked after well by their owners and mahouts though the occasional deviations can be seen. Come on, be truthful. Why this focus on elephants and Buddhist cultural traditions? Do you speak against the slaughtering of animals in the name of religious beliefs. Be a vegetarian first, Popularise vegetarianism if you are so compassionate towards the elephants. All the animals have the right to live, not to be eaten,They deserve your and our unstinted support to live not die.

  5. bala

    Who are mentally sick ? The Elephants or the Humans ?The answer is HUMANS !!!

    • Brian

      I agree Bala. Animals go trough intense pain and suffering so as to keep those onlookers happy.

      I agree with Otara. If a Elephant goes wild at a school parade and some children are killed who is to blame?

  6. Champa

    Elephant is a part and parcel of our culture. There is no justification of taking elephants from pageants other than downgrading and humiliating our traditional cultural practices and festivities.

    Why only elephants, haven’t this organization ever seen bulls pulling carts and water buffaloes being used for agriculture?

    There is an organized plot to attack and destroy Buddhist culture and Sinhalese society. It has now started at school level.

    How about inhuman horse racing? Countries that act as vanguard in protecting human rights annually conduct horse races for thousands years (UK since 1512 and USA since 1868). Unlike elephants who parade in pageants in a composed majestic manner, horses are subjected to severe physical pain as, while carrying the jockey, they have to run as fast as possible in order to win the race too. Have you ever thought how many times a horse is hit with a whip inhumanely to make him run faster during a race?

    Did you ever have the backbone to question the double standard of Western countries?

    Don’t be a slave of NGOO for their money. Taking part in ruining a culture of a nation that has a history over 2600 years is an unforgivable crime.

    Before being a voice for elephants who take part in pageants as a part of our culture, please be the voice for horses as they need your help more than elephants.

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