Sri Lanka mahouts suspended over elephant death

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 17, 2011 14:10 hrs

Sri Lanka's main elephant orphanage Monday suspended two mahouts and a curator following the death of a 23-year-old male pachyderm in their care, a senior official said.

Zoological department director Baashwara Gunaratne said the elephant, named Neelagiri, had died of wounds suffered when its keepers had poked it with sharp implements in November at the Pinnawela orphanage.

"We consider this a very serious matter and we also calling the police to investigate in addition our own internal departmental inquiry," Gunaratne said. "We will take stern action against officials who failed to supervise mahouts."

The orphanage, in a coconut grove about 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of Colombo, is a major tourist attraction.

Formally established in 1975, the orphanage shelters more than 70 elephants, most of them abandoned or separated from their herds when they were babies. Many have also been born in captivity at the premises.

Neelagiri, who died Monday, had been brought to Pinnawela in 1989 when he was thought to be about one year old.

Elephants are considered sacred animals in Sri Lanka and a judicial inquiry is required before one can be buried.

Gunaratne said the centre had assembled a team of a dozen vets to treat Neelagiri while Buddhist monks had also been called in to invoke blessings on the animal in an effort to save his life. "Sadly, we failed," he said.

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