It is reported that one of the bigger male elephants at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (PEO) has died due to injuries caused by a mahout.
I do not have first-hand information about what has happened but I can comment as follows-
The PEO has never been high on my favorite list. “What could have been a world renowned research facility, and a unique tourism attraction, has today been relegated into a badly managed facility with little or no research or scientific observations being carried out. There are reports that animals are being ill-treated and in kept unhygienic conditions”– I wrote in the Specialist Elephant Magazine- Gajah Edition 30, 2009. In fact some close foreign friends who have visited Sri Lanka on numerous occasions before, commented to me after a visit last year to the PEO, that it is a “Den of Thieves” Therefore, although I am saddened and angry about the incident, I am not surprised. The fact that the mahouts at Pinnawala are a’ law unto themselves’ ( just like the zoo keepers at Dehiwela Zoo) and that they do not really treat the elephants properly is a well-known fact.
The report says that the elephant died of injuries sustained from an ankus used by the mahout. The “ankus” or the elephant goad is used very sparingly and carefully, more as a deterrent than an instrument of punishment, by well experienced mahouts. Initially I thought that inadvertently a mahout had pricked one of the few and very critical nerve centers of the elephant, causing its death. (Elephants have some 100 odd nerve centers which are used by experienced mahouts to get it to obey commands. Amongst them are few critical points which, if pricked by the ankus deep enough, can cause death according to Deraniyagala (1955)
However it now appears that the elephant has been injured by the mahouts a while ago, and has been suffering for some time, and that there has been some sort of cover up that has been going on.
Whatever the cause of this human inflicted death to the elephant maybe, it is quite unacceptable. This facility is called the ‘Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.’ Now the English dictionary defines the word orphanage as a place where children without parents are cared for and protected.’
So, in a facility, which is supposed to look after and care for orphaned elephants (in this case), for such an incident to occur, is unforgivable and sacrilegious. Someone must be held accountable for all this. Like most other serious matters, this incident will also soon be forgotten, to take its place somewhere in the dusty archives, while we Sri Lankans as a Nation, go on with our lives, unashamed of the degradation taking place all around us.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”— Mahatma Gandhi