An elephant gifted to Sri Lanka by Thailand more than 20 years ago was safely returned to Thailand for medical treatment and rehabilitation following accusations of mistreatment.
Safe return: The male elephant, known in Sri Lanka as Muthu Raja (Pearly King) and Sak Surin (Mighty Surin) in Thailand, arrived in Chiang Mai on Sunday aboard a Russian Ilyushin IL-76 cargo plane, a six-hour trip that reportedly cost the Thai government 19 million baht (approximately $543,000).
Sak Surin’s possible return to Sri Lanka after receiving medical treatment reportedly has yet to be discussed.
Where will he go next: After arriving in Chiang Mai, Sak Surin will reportedly be transported to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang province, where he will spend at least 30 days in quarantine followed by rehabilitation.
A special gift: Sak Surin was one of three elephants given to Sri Lanka by the Thai royal family in 2001, when he was around 10 years old, to be trained as a carrier of religious relics.
Abuse accusation: Sri Lanka-based animal rights group Rally for Animal Rights and Environment alleged in 2020 that Sak Surin, who was reportedly in bad health after years of hard labor and abuse, was in dire need of medical assistance.
The group eventually launched a petition calling for the return of the elephant to Thailand after the Sri Lankan government allegedly ignored their complaints.
In need of help: The Thai Embassy in Sri Lanka conducted its preliminary investigation on Aug. 24, 2022, and concluded that Sak Surin “was not in good health and was in poor living conditions,” the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry wrote in a statement in November 2022.
A report noted that Sak Surin, who was underweight, also had rough skin and difficulty walking or standing due to his stiff left foreleg. He also has abscesses on both hips and thinning foot pads.