If peraheras must have elephants, more the reason to see they’re well

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As Muthu Raja is flown to a Thai haven after years of a Lankan hell, were Thai corns trampled after ‘hands off temple elephants’ protest?

As Muthu Raja was flown back by the Thai Government last Sunday, a top veterinarian questioned why the tusker’s keepers had ignored warnings and had not sought specialist advice at any time, these recent years.

Ven Shasthrapathi Narampanawe Ananda Thera

Professor Asoka Dangolla, head of Peradeniya’s Veterinary Department, and official vet of Dalada Maligawa’s elephants, said on Tuesday; ‘When this tusker was going in a perehera it was my deputy who first noticed it was suffering from an ailment and ordered its withdrawal from the Kandy Perehera. Since then, those in charge of this tusker never got back to the Peradeniya University for any medical advice. Not only Peradeniya but I do not think the tusker is registered in the state veterinarian sector at all or with any registered vet.’

This is, perhaps, another instance of concern about the tusker’s visible signs of ill-health that went unheeded by those in charge of its daily welfare. Another glaring instance to add to the dossier compiled by RARE, the animal rights’ activist group whose exposure on the tusker’s neglected and abused state, moved the Thai government to recall the gift, donated as a symbolic and throbbing token to the long historic ties between two Theravada Buddhist countries. 

But Muthu Raja was no ordinary elephant. The tusker was of Royal caste, of noble blood, of elegant deportment, a worthy beast to bear aloft upon its back, the sacred Dalada of the Buddha at the Kandy Perehera. With such a pedigree, such a rare specimen should have been maintained in the purple. Instead, the elephant had been thrown to the wolves. Its’ minders had held the living tusker that the Thais had gifted as if it was some stuffed dead taxidermy mount to be locked up in some spare museum storeroom and brought out, dusted, only for exhibition purposes.

The wildlife officials, under whose care and protection the Thai gifted animal must surely come, have woefully been negligent and grossly failed to supervise the wellbeing of the tusker.  Far better if it had been freed to Yala wilds and left to fend for itself in its jungle habitat, than leaving it chained and abused in a southern temple backyard.

Neranjan Wijeratne: I will sue the Thai government if they take Muthu Raja

The 29-year-old Muthu Raja had been a gift from the Thai Royal Family to Lanka in 2001. But the Thai Government had not relinquished title to its royal gift but had retained life interest in its care and wellbeing. They showed they hadn’t abandoned their concern and, following claims it was suffering from severe abuse, the Thai ambassador requested the Lankan Government to remove the tusker to an animal welfare facility to undergo treatment. A special Thai team was also dispatched to supervise the operation.

Dehiwela Zoo’s chief vet Madusha Perera told AFP news agency that when the tusker arrived at the zoo last year after being rescued from his temple ordeal, ‘it was in pain and covered in abscesses’.

When it became clear that treatment facilities were inadequate, the Thais requested its return. And last Sunday, Muthu Raja flew back to the land of its birth, aboard a Thai chartered Russian cargo plane, large enough to hold the VIP passenger. The whole exercise had cost the Thai Government, a reported US$ 700,000.

Following Muthu Raja’s arrival in Bangkok to a mega star’s welcome, it was transported to an animal welfare sanctuary for recuperation. The Lampang centre issued its medical report which states that the tusker is suffering from a cataract in its right eye, cannot bend its front left leg, has a hip disorder, and has wounds in its nails and soles.

On July 4, two days after Muthu Raja was airlifted to Thailand, the Asgiriya Chapter of the Siam Nikaya — which owes its origins to Thailand, then Siam — blamed NGOs for attempting to publicise the notion that elephants should be removed from the pereheras. What had invoked Thai intervention to save Muthu Raja was NGO RARE’s damning report on its deplorable state.

Abused gift: Thailand recalls ailing tusker

Venerable Shasthrapathi Narampanawe Ananda Thera told the media that Muthu Raja was a well-tamed elephant. He said: ‘This is planned propaganda that NGOs always resort to during every perehera season. Every nation in any country has its own culture. In the Sinhala Buddhist culture, we used to use elephants. In England, horses are used for their royal ceremonies as part of their own culture. Therefore, people should stand against those NGOs to protect our own perehera culture.’

The same day, amidst reports that the Thai Government was planning to recall another gifted elephant, Thai Raja, which is presently recovering from an illness, the former Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeratne vowed to go to court and sue for maintenance costs from the Thai Government.

He said: ‘I requested the then Thai king, King Bhumibol, to gift a baby elephant to the Dalada Maligawa. I did so with the blessings of the then Maha Nayakas. It was as a result of my request that the King and the Royal Family gifted Thai Raja to the temple in 1986. If they now try to take it back, I will sue them in court demanding the cost of its upkeep. Also, it is unethical for the Thai government to demand the return of a gift once given.’

On July 5, the Thai Government whose ambassador had initially expressed a willingness on July 2 to return the elephant once it had recovered, turned adamant in its refusal to do so. The Thai Environmental Minister announced on Wednesday, that ‘Muthu Raja won’t be returning to Lanka. With the Thai king extending royal patronage to Muthu Raja, it was out of the question, it would be sent back.’

Oops! Have we trod on Thai corns? Their genuine concerns about an ailing animal they had gifted, misrepresented and held out as a mercenary motive to get their tusker back? And in the same do-gooder guise, now planning to recover the rest of the grown-up elephants they gifted while still calves, without refunding their food, lodging, basic training costs incurred in their young unproductive years? The insinuation may not have been lost in Bangkok. And may not have been well received, for the warm air suddenly turned chilly.

A brewing diplomatic storm in the hill capital was timely quelled by Thai’s ambassador the following day — July 6 — by visiting Kandy to see the convalescing Thai Raja, and assuring all concerned ‘that the Thai government has not taken any diplomatic-level decisions to reclaim any elephant gifted to Sri Lanka.’

In June, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament, he had conveyed his regret to the Thai king Maha Vajiralongkorn over Muthu Raja’s alleged abuse and was able to “re-establish trust between the two countries”.

Regarding Agiriya Chapter’s stance on perehera elephants, it’s undeniable that elephants are indispensable at pereheras. A convoy bereft of tuskers is no perehera but simply a long tedious file past. The elephants draw the crowds and keep them dazzled. The tuskers are the mega stars, the pageant’s crowd pullers. Without their timed appearances at various stages of the perehera, the colourful parade would otherwise become a drab monotonous streaming drone.

All those involved in holding temple pereheras know that next to the sacred relic casket, it is the richly caparisoned tuskers that steal the show. All the more reason why the health and weal of these magnificent animals, commanding centre stage at temple festivals, must occupy their principal concerns throughout the year, not restrict it to once-a-year affairs when tuskers are brought out from stockades for grand public display.

The people may be called upon to defend their culture but only those behind these cultural pageants can ensure that the wellbeing of its participating elephants who make the culture come alive, is dutifully monitored.  And what of the responsibility of successive Governments, successive wildlife and cultural ministers and officials to keep tabs on these gifted living beings’ welfare at all times. They have dumped them at temples and turned a blind eye thereafter to their sorry fates.

As Mahatma Gandhi observed: The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Sadly the negligence of those directly and indirectly responsible for Muthu raja’s neglect, have shown the nation’s smallness and revealed its moral regression.

Natasha freed after Judge holds ICCPR improperly used

NATASHA: Freedom at last

On May 28, standup comic Natasha was arrested. The arrest was over an April Fool Day crass comment about ‘Suddhodana’s son’. If it was meant to be a joke, it fell flat. She was charged under the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR) Act for posing a threat to religious and national harmony. Until this Wednesday, she had remained remanded. That’s 38 days.

When she was produced before the Fort Magistrate’s Court on July 5, she was further remanded. The Magistrate had no option. Offences under ICCPR are non bailable in a magistrate’s court. That same afternoon her appeal was taken up by the High Court
which is empowered to grant bail.

Colombo High Court Judge Adithya Patabendige held that on the face of it, there was no evidence to show she had incited hostility among her audience. The judge said that the ICCPR Act is currently being implemented outside of the purpose that was introduced to Sri Lanka by the legislature. After six weeks in jail, Natasha was set free on bail.
Certainly a sanity restoring judgement.

Ministers with answers for everything

Ever wondered why chicken is so dear? Forget the gobbledygook dished out by poultry producers that it’s all due to the soaraway dollar? It’s outdated bunkum.

Blame it on fish. That’s according to Minister Mahinda Amaraweera. His theory, propounded in Parliament on Wednesday, is simple. A shortfall in the fish catch has caused fish prices to soar. This has caused an increase in demand for chicken. Supply has not kept pace. Economic laws of demand and supply fixing price apply. Therefore, fish dearth result in chicken price increase. And with more hens killed to meet the demand, less eggs.

Got it?

It’s easy when some erudite body explains to you the ‘ripple effect’. How Earth’s ecosystem is inter-connected. Marine life, leagues under sea, can cause death to land mammals. The wily fish have perhaps learnt from wise eels on land, to keep their traps shut and remain safe in their territories, unlike the jumping rilaw who open their mouths out of folly and take bait.

And why have sweeps been doubled in price with no corresponding doubling of the jackpot?

The Minister of Education Susil Premajayantha has placed his bets on the gamble paying off. He praises the increase and says the increase profits will increase the number of University scholarships.  Fine. Any vice for a good cause. But will the doubling, double the profits, increase the Mahapola grants, sponsored by the Development Lotteries Board (DBL) out of its sweep profits? Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa didn’t think so. He told the Minister that the better way to achieve his Mahapola objective would be to stop the extravagant spending by DLB for its own lavish existence. And not by burdening people more by doubling the stake on their usual flutter.

Worse. The double tax on hope, as the Sunday Punch said last week, will only double the forlorn hopes of a people doomed.

The snag with Education Minister’s Mahapola castles, is that he has begun to build them in the air with the double-priced sweeps still unbought on land.

Are you despaired if we can ever get out of this debt rut? Don’t drown in pessimism’s hell. Not yet, anyway. As long as Diana is not kicked out of Lanka as an illegal immigrant who had deceitfully wriggled her way to become a minister of the government, there will forever be hope that boom time is round the corner.

On Wednesday she told a news conference, she already has eleven foreigners lined up to invest in a ganja export project. ‘It will go forward as a Board of Investment project Diana said, ‘according to my estimates, the project should bring us revenue worth US$ 4-5 billion a year. If anyone doesn’t like it, they should step aside. I can’t be stopped on this one.’

Phew! Five billion dollars per year to make our cash starved coffers dance in ecstasy at the Treasury vault. And this is only for starters. With other billion dollar plans in her bag, just waiting to take off, will Diana make Lanka the new miracle of Asia?

With ‘nothing’s impossible’ Diana around, the President’s 2048 dream of a mega rich Lanka, can even dawn tomorrow. Enough to ditch emigration plans and dig in on home turf. If Diana’s walk matches her talk, the president must wonder why he burns the midnight oil, seeking to restructure both foreign and domestic debt.

Before the courts pack her off to old Blighty, perhaps, the Government will make her and honorary citizen of Lanka; and thus turn England’s loss into Lanka’s permanent gain.

Watch this space in future for even more fantastic theories, brightest ideas and grand proposals put out by the brainy bunch of ministers.


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