Sri Lanka monk demands capture of wild elephants for temples

COLOMBO, March 26, 2014 (AFP) – A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk led a procession of elephants Wednesday, demanding authorities capture wild pachyderms from the jungle to boost the dwindling number of the animals in temples. Asian elephant expert Jayantha Jayewardene noted many Sri Lankans wanted to own elephants as a symbol of wealth.

“It is prestige. It is a way of showing your wealth” Jayewardene said. “I fear the calls to allow the capture of wild elephants (for temple ceremonies) is just a ruse for people to freely own elephants.”

Sri Lanka considers elephants sacred animals because of their association with Buddhist temple festivities. Pinnawala elephants have been presented as gifts to Buddhist temples as well as to other countries as symbols of friendship.

Elephants are also protected by law and there were fears that their numbers were falling, but a survey in 2011 found that Sri Lanka’s elephant population remained healthy with 7,379 in the wild.

The survey’s results had been a welcome outcome for authorities who had believed the wild elephant population totalled just 5,350.

The country boasted 12,000 elephants in 1900 but their numbers have been depleted by shrinking of habitat as farmers