Sri Lanka readies ailing Thai elephant for flight home
Twice a day carers in Sri Lanka lead Sak Surin, an elephant donated by Thailand more than 20 years ago, into a custom-made crate, where he stands patiently, training for a special six-hour flight to carry him home and recover his health.
The 29-year-old weighs 4,000 kg (8,800 lbs) and stands nine feet (2.7 m) tall, but he suffers from abscesses and a stiff foreleg that makes it tough to walk and stand.
“This is possibly the first time in history we are attempting to fly an elephant this large to a new destination,”
said Madusha Perera, a veterinary surgeon at the national zoo in Colombo.
“But he is very gentle and obedient, which has made it easier to try and get him used to the process.”
The elephant, known to Sri Lankans as “Muthu Raja”, is set to travel on July 1 to the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand’s mountainous north and spend two weeks in quarantine.
“It is hard for him to stand for a long time in the crate, so we take him for a walk around the compound first and then feed him branches of coconut and jackfruit while he waits inside,” Perera added.
Since he was gifted to Sri Lanka in 2001, the elephant, often used to carry Buddhist relics in processions, has spent most of his time at a Buddhist temple in Kalutara, about 75 km (47 miles) from Colombo, the commercial capital.
Some larger temples even maintain stables of the animals.
But he was moved to the zoo last November, after animal welfare activists pushed to remove him from the temple because of his poor health and inadequate facilities.
Perera, who oversees his care, along with a mahout and other staff, said he would probably need hydrotherapy facilities that Sri Lanka lacks to restore full movement.
Vets and mahouts have also visited from Thailand to track his condition. Thailand will pay for the elephant’s journey home, while Sri Lanka has footed the cost of his medical care and food, which runs into about 400 kg (882 lb) a day.
The pachyderm is expected to return to Sri Lanka after treatment, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has said, and animal welfare activists hope he will be sent to a sanctuary.
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