Activists push to stop practice of elephants at pageants

Animal rights activists are making a push to stop the practice of elephants being used at pageants, including school parades.

A case related to the illegal capture of elephants is also to be heard at the Hulftsdorf court on Tuesday.

Recently, a request from several animal rights activists saw a leading school in Colombo suspending the use of elephants at their school street parade.

While the use of pachyderm adds glamour to any occasion there is a question whether the elephant is being used more as an entertainment object to please amused and interested onlookers.  Since of late, there is a disturbing trend of using elephants in school pageants to add more colour.

Leading Colombo schools have used elephants to dress up their school cycle parades and walks, despite the fact that it is illegal and irrespective of public outcry and appeals from animal welfare organizations and concerned citizens who have begged the schools to abstain from doing so.

Efforts by activists and individuals to protest the activities have always met with aggressive and arrogant attacks on social media from old pupils of the schools, whose ignorance of the subject matter and egos go hand in hand in developing an attitude of denial and dismissiveness.

The only school that was responsible enough to understand the serious implications of parading elephants in their walk last week was St. Joseph’s College, where on receiving appeals from animal welfare associations and concerned individuals, immediately took the decision to remove the elephants from the agenda.

Royal College was also another school that took the elephants off their parade last year at the last minute, after old boys wrote to the school requesting for the principal to intervene.

Apart from entertainment, the question of using elephants in school events implies a question whether the animal is being tortured and harassed to provide entertainment, tied up in chains, the mahouts pricking them with the henduwa. As school parades happen during the daytime, the conditions in which the animals are made to walk are highly abusive – hot sun, tar roads, vehicles, children, etc.

To make matters even worse, schoolchildren in these pageants light up crackers which are harmful to the elephants and also to those around that could frighten the animal. That could end up in damage that endangers the lives of all, should the elephants become aggravated. Are teachers doing a wise thing by encouraging these children to ill treat animals, without teaching them to be compassionate, not to harass or misuse an innocent creature for their own pleasure? Religion itself asks us to be compassionate to all living beings. But are we really being humans to these poor creatures that deserve their freedom and right to live peacefully? From bicycle parades, motorcades and street processions, is the next step going to be elephant parades?

Children should be taught about the suffering these animals go through for our entertainment and educated on the changes that are happening world over rather than being allowed to be a part of the cruelty. Parading elephants is fun for people, but certainly not for the animal.  Recently we have witnessed elephants participating in some school parades, especially during their ‘Big Match’ rivalry.

When using elephants for these parades, there are two aspects of concern – the cruelty caused to the animal and the high public safety risk.

Looking at the cruelty aspect, these majestic animals that are a part of our proud heritage are heavily chained and forced to walk in the scorching sun on hot, burning asphalted roads. This causes great pain and suffering to the animal and is a violation of our Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance. Then, it has to be trained for performances – even parading is a performance. Training methods are often cruel with the elephant being shocked, whipped and beaten with the bull hook.

As for the risk factor, elephants essentially belong to the wilds and according to experts, however well-trained they are, they are unpredictable.  When stressed they can strike back against humans.

Noisy parades with crackers and drums as well as vehicular traffic and crowds can cause this stress and make the animal run amok with tragic consequences both to humans and animals.  During parades, there are no barriers between the animal and the public to prevent such tragedies. In Sri Lanka, in the past, we have seen such tragedies occur during pageants where people have been killed or injured and property damaged.  Such lamentable incidents have occurred elsewhere in the world too. In some countries there are laws that require a licence to parade elephants along public streets. A lesser-known factor is that pachyderms are common carriers of TB and can transmit the disease to humans.

The Sri Lankan government recently decided to overturn its ban on the adoption of baby elephants in a bid to overcome alleged difficulties maintaining the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, although welfare groups and experts in the field claim that the government has no such difficulty.

The cabinet had approved a proposal put forward by Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, which opens the doors for baby elephants to be adopted by individuals and religious places. Individuals who adopt often hire out the elephants to hotels and institutions for entertainment, as a way of profiting off the animals. Private institutions endorsing this are actually aiding criminal activity.

Schools and the public have to be told that having elephants in parades is ILLEGAL according to the elephant permits issued by DWC.

According to the permits issued by DWC for captive elephants, they can be used ONLY for cultural events – i.e. peraheras.  So the use of elephants for tourism and school events is illegal as it violates the conditions of the permit issued.  However, like everything else in Sri Lanka, the issue is not the law but implementation of the law.

Animal rights activist Otara Gunewardene told The Sunday Leader that the people need to understand the immense suffering caused and continue to cause for wild animals which are used for entertainment.

“There is much more global understanding now on the life animals lead for circuses, parades, animal shows and wild animals used for photo opportunities, mainly selfies. There is a process the wild animals go through to make them abide by what they are asked to do. For elephants, their spirit is broken by an extremely cruel crushing process, these immensely social animals are then made to live a life in chains in isolation. They are beaten and prodded with bull hooks so that they do as they are told.  Some of the elephants used have been taken away from their mothers in the wild in a heart breaking process. Elephant mothers and families have extremely close bonds with each other.  This is what the children of today should be taught because education of the heart is as important as education of the mind. What we have been taught to accept as OK in the past does not make it right today. This is not to do only with animals but it has happened with many things from the days of having humans in zoos, to slavery, to women having no rights and more. What if none of these things were ever highlighted? We have evolved and today not only must we become more conscious of the suffering of other beings, but also need to make the effort to understand it,” she said.

Otara Gunewardene anoted that hundreds of elephants are now free in chain free sanctuaries because the day came where people realized they don’t want to be a part of watching an elephant in a circus.

However she notes, sadly, Sri Lanka is still lagging behind in this as well with the refusal to stop the elephant circus in the Dehiwala Zoo.

“We are also lagging behind in not having a chain free sanctuary with Pinnawla. These two facilities should be focused on good animal welfare first, giving compassionate the right education for children and then profit. Sri Lanka is a country that has been known for its compassion from the days of when Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka. It is time to find our compassionate roots again. The time is now to take steps to treat animal welfare as an important part of our government, our laws and our day to day lives.

Progress does not come without this and this will definitely be a major focus that will have negative impact globally, if it is not addressed now,” she said.

Animal rights activist Sharmini Ratnayake told The Sunday Leader that elephants are being used to make money, disregarding their wellbeing.

“Owners give elephants for events for a fee. Earlier there were only a few events for which elephants were used but now you see them being used for almost every event, even by schools,” she said.

She noted that elephants don’t have a voice and so they cannot express the pain they suffer at the hands of humans.


  1. Hope all schools will follow the example of StJosephs Collage, and Royal Collage good of you people to understand the suffering, what children should be taught in all schools is sympathy, God created us all animals first, man was given the responsibility to see that everything went well on earth, but humans are destroying all the good there is on earth maybe it’s time HUMANS were taught a lesson…

  2. Why don’t the main stream newspapers also highlight this shameful practice by schools? I came to know about this after reading this article. I buy the Daily Mirror, the FT and the Sunday Times,and,nowhere can I recall seeing a picture or news item on the use of elephants at big matches or school parades/walks. I guess the old boys of these schools hold high positions in companies, that advertise in the newspapers who therefore dare not write about it for fear of loss of advertising revenue.

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