Tikiri, an ailing 70-year-old elephant whose pictures triggered outrage on social media after she was forced to participate in an annual Buddhist pageant in Sri Lanka, has died, officials told AFP on Wednesday. The animal’s participation in the annual Temple of the Tooth event in Sri Lanka’s city of Kandy was withdrawn last month after pictures of the feeble elephant started doing the rounds on social media.
The Sri Lankan government has now ordered an autopsy of Tikiri, who died on Tuesday night in Kegalle, 80 km east of Colombo, a wildlife department official said. “Tikiri was severely undernourished,” elephant expert Jayantha Jayewardene said. “It is a wonder that she lived this long.”
Founder of Save Elephant Foundation Lek Chailert took to Instagram after the elephant’s death. “That hard service was her life, and not freedom, carries for me a commitment to others who yet suffer,” Chailert said. “That we could not help her before her eyes would shut forever fosters a renewed courage, and bears a responsibility for us to find safe refuges for all of the captive Giants born under the yoke of Man.”
Tikiri was among 60 other elephants who are annually forced to march at the Perahera festival in Kandy. In August, the foundation had posted pictures of the animal, pointing to her mistreatment. The pictures showed her weak body covered with a colourful costume.
A spokesperson of the Buddhist temple that organised the event claimed that her illness had not “affected her strength and abilities”. Sri Lanka’s tourism minister had later told BBC that her participation would be withdrawn. Tikiri was finally handed over to her keeper.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said that elephants in Sri Lanka faced similar or worse treatment “in service to an exploitative and abusive tourism industry”. Last month, PETA Director Elisa Allen told CNN that tourists who visit the country could help the elephants by refusing to ride them and avoiding any activities that involved mistreatment to the animals.
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