11 July 2024

“Sak Surin”, an elephant donated to Sri Lanka more than two decades ago, is expected to be brought back to Thailand in June to receive medical treatment as he is ill and has poor living conditions.

Natural Resources and Environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa said the timeframe for Sak Surin to come home has been developed in a series of meetings and after a visit by veterinarians to Sri Lanka.

“The team of vets was sent to Sri Lanka to assess the readiness for Sak Surin’s return to Thailand. After compiling the information, we plan to bring the elephant home in June,” said Varawut.

Thai authorities learnt about the mistreatment of Sak Surin after concerns were raised by Rally for Animal Rights & Environment (RARE), a non-governmental organisation for the protection of animal rights in Sri Lanka.

It said the male elephant is in urgent need of the medical treatment.

Varawut said his ministry initially planned to bring the elephant home early this year and experts said, considering the pachyderm’s condition, air travel would be safer than by sea, which would take much longer.

He said, however, that a suitable cage would not fit into a C-130 aircraft, so the ministry is looking for suitable aircraft and will construct new cage for the safety of the animal.

Sak Surin is one of three elephants donated to the Sri Lankan government, which transferred ownership to Kande Vihara Temple to perform its duty as the carrier of the holy relics during the annual Buddhist parades.

Thai Foreign Ministry, upon learning of Sak Surin’s plight, discussed the issue with Varawut’s ministry and asked the Royal Thai Embassy in Colombo to investigate the matter.

In August last year, the Thai Embassy in Colombo conducted a primary investigation and found that the animal was not in good health and was being kept in poor living conditions.

Thai experts also recommended that Sak Surin cease participating in parades immediately and be brought back to Thailand for proper medical treatment.

In November, Sak Surin was transferred to Dehiwala Zoo for preliminary treatment and rehabilitation, under the care of both Thai and Sri Lankan experts.

To repatriate Sak Surin, Sri Lanka has to approve and the process must be in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).