Sri Lanka goes ahead with baby elephant separation

August 5, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s president brushed aside protests from animal rights activists Wednesday when he formally gifted two baby elephants separated from their mothers to a Buddhist temple. President Mahinda Rajapakse presented the “guardianship” of the two calves to top Buddhist monks at a ceremony in the central town of Kandy, his office said.

Animal lovers had petitioned the Supreme Court as well as the Court of Appeal demanding that the calves be reunited with their mothers, while the local media carried letters from angry readers complaining of cruelty to animals and an insult to Buddhism.

The two-and-half-year old tuskers were separated from their mothers at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage in central Sri Lanka and sent to the nearby Temple of the Tooth over a week ago.

Critics said the sudden separation had upset the still-suckling calves, and they accused temple workers of using restraining measures that injured the animals.

Animal rights activist Jagath Gunawardene said he hoped the calves would be sent back to the elephant orphanage once their guardianship had been formally handed over to the temple.

However, recreation minister Gamini Lokuge dismissed the