Thank you to everyone who wrote to the Director of Zoological Gardens and the Minister of Economic Development about the poor elephant Mihiri at the Pinnewala elephant facility (see below for background). The public response clearly had an impact, as the Director sent a response to many of the people who had contacted him. This explained that under normal circumstances ‘in certain occasions animals trained to the chains to separate from the herd’ but that the mahouts had been instructed to ‘maintain the animal without having severe chain cuts during this process’. No specific reason was given for why these animals were being subjected to this training at this time.
However, the Director did say he made a personal visit to the site on 5th and 6th March, where he was reassured by the veterinary surgeon that many of the wounds on Mihiri’s face and trunk were ‘superficial’ and that ‘there are no life-threatening wounds’. He further stated that the ‘wounds are recovering and animals health condition is improving’, and included recent photographs to show this. The letter also explained that the department ‘always condemned this kind of extreme and vicious actions’ and that disciplinary proceedings had been initiated against two mahouts. In order to reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring in the future the Director also announced that a training course would be held for the mahouts at the facility, commencing on 19th March.
We are naturally very pleased to hear that Mihiri’s wounds and health are recovering, and we fully support the decision to hold training for the elephant handlers to address this issue. However, in order to ensure that these initiatives were having an impact on the practices at the site, we spoke to an independent observer who visited the site on 2nd April and was able to see Mihiri. Happily there were no more recent injuries visible and Mihiri’s wounds did seem to be healing well. However, she was not being kept in the company of her mother and the rest of the main Pinnewala herd, but was in a shed with a young male, Mahasen. Both animals were tied on short chains with no access to food or water, and were exhibiting repetitive (stereotypic) behaviours associated with stress in confinement. Mihiri’s body condition was poor – she looked significantly underweight – and it seemed that both animals might still be in training for some ‘domestic’ use.
We would encourage anyone who is still worried about Mihiri’s condition, and her future prospects, to write again to the Director to politely ask for a more detailed explanation of why she is in training and what this training entails.
Whilst our thoughts are still with Mihiri, and her companion Mahesen, we have produced a video from our visit in February/March which shows other issues and individuals at Pinnewala that we are concerned about, which can be viewed below:
A seven year old elephant at the Pinnewala Elephant ‘Orphanage’ in Sri Lanka has recently been seen with multiple wounds to her legs and head, believed to be caused by a brutal training regime. The young female Mihiri was born at the facility in 2005, and has always lived there. Photos taken on Wednesday 29th February show deep open wounds on her legs which appear to have been caused by chaining or use of a sharp tool such as an ankus (known in Sri Lanka as a Henduwa). She also has fresh wounds on the face and head which appear to have been caused by a similar implement.
Elephants at the Pinnewala centre are habituated to people and trained to a basic level required for management at the site. However they are not routinely trained in the traditional mahout system or to the same degree of control as a typical ‘domesticated’ elephant. It is believed that Mihiri is undergoing this kind of intensive training, possibly in preparation for transfer to another site either in Sri Lanka or overseas.
This treatment is clearly causing Mihiri significant pain and distress. It is not an acceptable way for any elephant care facility to treat its animals– let alone one which describes itself as an orphanage or sanctuary. Please help us to save poor Mihiri from this terrible ordeal.
Pinnewala is owned and run by the Government of Sri Lanka, under the same management as the national zoo. Please write politely to the Director of the zoo to express your concern and ask for his assurance that this treatment of Mihiri will stop immediately and the facility will publicly pledge not to attempt such practices on any other animal in their care. Please send a copy of your letter or email to the Ministry for Economic Development (which is responsible for Pinnewala and the zoo).
Mr Bhashwara Senanka Gunarathna (Dear Director)
Director, National Zoological Gardens
Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha,
Honourable Minister Basil Rajapakse (Dear Honourable Minister)
Ministry of Economic Development
464 T B Jaya Mawatha
Tel: +94 11 2688088