New measures to protect Pinnawala elephants


The death of a young elephant due to the cruelty of four workers at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage has prompted authorities to introduce measures to ensure safety of the pachyderms. Among the new measures will be the installation of closed-circuit TV cameras that will monitor how elephants are looked after at the orphanage, a world famous tourist attraction.
Other measures, according to outgoing National Zoological Gardens Director Bashwara Gunaratne, include training for mahouts on the latest methods in animal care.

Pinnawala elephants. File photo

“Our aim is to implement the best practices and positive reinforcement programmes for Pinnawala workers and elephants,” he said adding that recently, some 39 mahouts took part in a month-long training programme.“We have also introduced a hotline at Pinnawala. Visitors or employees can use this hotline to complain any unlawful incident at the orphanage,” he said.

Recently, High Court Judge Menaka Jayasundera sentenced three mahouts and an animal conservator to one-year jail term after they were found guilty of causing the death of an elephant at the Pinnawala elephant orphanage. They were also fined Rs. 100,000 each.
The prosecution told court that in January last year, Neelagiri, the 23-year-old elephant, died of wounds which it suffered at the hands of the four employees who tried to control it. An autopsy report showed the elephant had 96 wounds on its body.

Animal rights activist Sagarika Rajakarunanayake said senior officials should also be held accountable if animals in the zoo or Pinnawala die of the wounds inflicted by those who looked after them. “Such incidents have been happening for a long period,” she said.Ms. Rajakarunanayake said the traditional system had failed and mahouts who used primitive methods that could cause fatal injuries to elephants must adopt new methods.

“Some of these mahouts can’t control the animal unless they take liquor. This is a sad situation because the animal is harassed in brutal ways. Sometimes when an elephant doesn’t obey an order the mahouts amuse themselves by inflicting pain on the animal. The higher officials should look into this matter and take action so that these incidents would not recur,” she said.

Young Zoologists Association President Deepangara de Silva said this was not the first time an elephant at the Pinnawala orphanage had died. He charged that the authorities there were not maintaining a record book and therefore many elephant deaths had gone unrecorded.
He said the elephants were tethered in such a manner that the chain causes wounds and the mahouts often used the goad (henduwa) in a wrong way. “The goad should be blunt at its end and elephants shouldn’t be hurt.

The animal understands when the goad is tapped on its pressure points but the goads our mahouts are using are sharp and leave open cut wounds on the elephant’s skin and this can be very painful,” he said.

Mr. de Silva said the cruel end of the elephant had brought disrepute to this world famous elephant orphanage. The newly appointed zoo director, Anura de Silva, declined to comment stating that he had not taken over duties at the zoo yet.

The Pinnawala orphanage was established in 1975. It gives shelter to more than 80 elephants. Some of them were born in captivity while most of them have been brought there after they were isolated by the herds.

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