Broken by neglect, Tikiiri the elephant looks close to death as she lies on the ground surrounded by men unwilling, or unable, to help her.
The harrowing image has increased fears for the welfare of the 70-year-old elephant after we told yesterday how she was forced to walk miles in shackles during religious parades in Sri Lanka.
TV and radio presenter Nicky Campbell has joined the chorus of voices calling for Tikiiri to be properly cared for.
Campbell, 58, who campaigns for animal rights, said: “It is sickening that such cruelty can be inflicted on this beautiful, sentient, sensitive, old lady – in the name of religion.
“After all she’s gone through she should be taken out of her misery, given a chance to live out the rest of her days being properly looked after.
“All her life she will have been thinking of her mother and family and why on earth she ended up in this hell. She needs our help – now.”
Amid the outcry, John Amaratunga, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Tourism, said he had instructed vets to visit Tikiiri immediately.
He said: “I have been informed the elephant had collapsed. I sincerely hope that the elephant will recover soon.
“Considering what has transpired, I have ordered officials to initiate an inquiry into this matter to ascertain how and why an elephant in such poor health was used in the perahera [pageant] and to take necessary action against those responsible.”
He was also appointing a team of vets to inspect the health of all elephants in captivity in Sri Lanka.
But when we approached the Sri Lankan High Commission in London we were told Tikiiri was healthy and only appeared to have collapsed because she was struggling to stand up after a nap.
A spokeswoman said: “She had been sleeping the previous night and from the sleep she was unable to stand up.
“Generally, elderly elephants don’t sleep lying down because sometimes they can’t stand up after that. I’m not an expert on elephants but I believe that, as practice, they sleep standing.
“The government is very much committed to animal welfare.”
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In response to the Mirror’s visit, the Sri Lankan government later looked into the case and released a further update, which insisted: “The elephant participated in the pageant only once.”
When the custodians of the Vishnu Devale temple had seen Tikiiri was “unwell” they had taken “immediate action” to remove her from the pageant “in consultation with the owner”.
The statement said: “The elephant was provided with veterinary care and her condition and welfare looked into.
“According to Sri Lankan cultural tradition, the elephant is considered a noble animal, and there is a long-standing symbiotic relationship between elephant and human in Sri Lanka, where the elephant and its well-being is respected by the people.”
According to medics who treated Tikiiri, the elephant had been living around 40km from Kandy, where the Festival of the Tooth parade was held, and worked at a public safari before she was taken to the pageant.
They also confirmed that while her condition may partly be down to old age, she now needs weekly visits from a vet to administer treatment.
Local vet Professor Dangolla said: “With the assistance of the Millennium Elephant Foundation, I contacted the owner and informed them that I am prepared to help in providing medical assistance and advise on the management of Tikiiri and wanted him to think on it and make a request.”
But Tikiiri’s owner had not replied. A petition calling for Tikiiri to get medical care has more than 17,800 signatures.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
YOU can join the campaign to help Tikiiri get the medical attention and the care that she desperately needs.
Sign the petition and join more than 17,800 others who want Tikiiri looked after in her old age.