6 June 2024

Unknown to most Thais, Sak Surin, the ailing Thai elephant in Sri Lanka, has played an important role in the “Esala Perahera”, also known as the Festival of the Tooth, held annually in many Sri Lankan towns, including Kandy.

According to former Thai ambassador to Sri Lanka, Poldej Worachat, Sak Surin took part in more than 30 Esala Perahera processions in various towns each year, as the main tusker elephant, because of its beautiful long tusks and graceful characteristics.

This historical procession pays homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha, which is housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. The festival is believed to restore peace and harmony in cities.

Poldej said that Sri Lanka does not have many tusker elephants for use in the festival and have asked for elephants from Thailand and Myanmar. Three elephants, including Sak Surin, were sent to Sri Lanka as goodwill ambassadors from Thailand.

The first to be sent there was Pratu Pha in 1979, followed by Sak Surin and Sri Narong 22 years later.  All were used in the processions, which take place in July and August.

According to the former ambassador, the festival usually starts at 8pm and ends at about 2am of the next day and this goes on for seven days, with about 150 elephants taking part.

“This means that the elephants have to work very hard from 8pm to 2am and have to carry a lot of decorative items on their back,” said Poldej, adding that conservationists call this practice cruel, while Thailand views this as a goodwill ambassadorship.

For the two other Thai elephants in Sri Lanka, he said if they are treated well, there is no need to have them brought back to Thailand.

He recalled that, about ten years ago, he visited Sak Surin and found it was being fed with coconut leaf stalks at his shelter in the temple, probably because the temple is poor and cannot afford fruit.  He added that the elephant was taken care of by a driver, after the mahout left the temple.

Sak Surin is scheduled to be flown back to Thailand on July 2nd. The chartered flight will land in Chiang Mai and be greeted by Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa.

The Thai government has sent about 20 elephants in gestures of goodwill to Sri Lanka, Denmark, Japan, Sweden and Australia.