Thai elephant repatriated after alleged mistreatment in Sri Lanka

Muthu Raja, age 29, arrived in Thailand on a commercial flight costing 19 million baht (£425,000; $540,000) on Sunday.

Bangkok demanded the return of the animal following allegations that it was tormented while in the custody of a Buddhist temple.

The prime minister of Sri Lanka stated that he had formally apologized to the Thai monarch.

With four Thai attendants and a Sri Lankan zookeeper, the 4,000kg (8,800 pound) elephant was airlifted to Chiang Mai in a custom-built steel cage.

It will receive hydrotherapy for an injury to its left front limb.

Sri Lanka and Thailand both regard elephants as sacrosanct creatures.

In 2001, the Thai royal family presented Sri Lanka’s government with three elephants, including Muthu Raja, to be trained as carriers of religious relics.

Muthu Raja was entrusted to a temple in the south of the nation.

Animal rights groups claim it was forced to work with a logging crew in the temple and that a long-neglected injury caused it to develop a stiff limb.

Panchali Panapitiya, the founder of the Sri Lankan organization Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE), stated that the group lobbied Thai officials to intervene after months of unsuccessful attempts to get the Sri Lankan government to act.

According to The Independent, Ms. Panapitiya stated that the inaction of Sri Lankan wildlife officials had brought “disrepute” to the country. RARE has also requested that those accountable for the elephant’s neglect be prosecuted.

Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Sri Lanka’s minister of wildlife, told local media that Thailand had been “adamant” in requesting the return of Muthu Raja after its ambassador in Sri Lanka observed the elephant’s poor health during a visit last year.

AFP reported that Muthu Raja was in agony and covered in abscesses when he was removed from the temple in November. Activists assert that its handler caused some of these casualties.

It was temporarily relocated to Sri Lanka’s National Zoological Garden, where the majority of its wounds have since recovered.

In June, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told his country’s parliament that he had apologized to Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn for Muthu Raja’s alleged maltreatment and was able to “restore trust between the two countries.”

Thai environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa said in June that the Thai government ceased exporting elephants about three years ago in response to objections from activists.

The Bangkok department of wildlife stated that it is monitoring the condition of Thai elephants that have already been exported.

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