Positive Outcome in Court — One Rumbling Step Forward!

CES Stakeholders and Legal Counsel report that their faith in the justice system has been restored as 3 cases filed since 2014 in Kesbeva Magistrate Court culminated with a positive outcome in today’s hearing, 10/11/17.

After 2 years of court attendance and formal support on behalf of illegally captured elephants, today’s decision in support of the Independent Revision filed by CES opened the doorway to justice being served.

Today’s win culminated with the court ruling issued nearly a fortnight ago, withdrawing the Court Order to release an illegally captured baby elephant back to her illegal captor for use in religious festivals. THANK YOU, CES, for persevering!{ruler1}

Formally-rescued elephants returned to their illegal captors

AUGUST 1ST, 2017

We are deeply saddened that the formally-rescued juvenile elephants in the protective custody of the DWC have been returned to their captors. Although it is said to be temporary, most likely for 15 days within the Kandy Perahera, what then? No answers are forthcoming at this time.

Just as grievous is the information that it appears Ganga will also be used in the perahera this August. Once again court documents were deliberately delayed to prevent counter action by the legal counsel fighting for the rights of Ganga, and for all of the illegally-held juvenile elephants.

Court injustice has allowed wildlife crime to intensify, a major setback in Sri Lanka for the illegally captured young elephants in DWC custody. The court battle must continue until natural justice is met on behalf of Sri Lanka’s wildlife!
We stand in support of the relentless work being sustained by stakeholders and legal counsel from CES—truly a voice of reason and compassion in the midst of appalling injustice.

As the fight for what’s right continues in court, please, if you are a visitor to beautiful Sri Lanka this August, please do not support such cruelty with your tourist dollar.

February Full Moon Brings the Nawam Maha Perahera

The February full moon in Colombo sees the return of the annual Nawam Maha Perahera. The procession of captive elephants starts at The Gangaramaya Temple, once home to Ganga, before she was moved down south, to be hidden out of sight as her court case continues, and where over 100 elephants begin their forced march through the packed city streets.  

From Feb 7 through Feb 20, an estimated 10,000 tourists will join locals to line the streets of Colombo to watch the event. The thunderous noise of the drums, the flashing lights, the burning torches, and the spinning and whirling of dancers and acrobats may seen like an exotic and spectacular cultural experience for foreigners and a mystical journey for locals. But, imagine for a moment, being one of those wild- captured  elephants systematically beaten and broken simply to take part in the parade for the enjoyment of your captors. Imagine being torn from your family, captured and confined, and forced to live your nightmare time and time again. As numerous travel companies continue to sell tickets to foreigners online and on the streets of Colombo, it’s time for tourists and locals alike to turn away from a cruel past and turn towards a kinder future, clearly communicating  that bearing witness to abuse is no cause to celebrate.

It’s past time for this practice to shift into the 21st century, as cruelty-free options to honor this long-standing festival DO exist. One only has to take a look at Sri Lankan communities around the world to to see that many now choose to celebrate using creatively constructed, beautifully decorated floats of replicated elephants, engaging in an old tradition but with a new vision of compassion.  

The One and Only Packy

Heart of Ganesh is currently out working in the field in central Sri Lanka, but we are deeply saddened to hear that our “Home” elephant, the world-famous Packy, is no longer among the living.

Packy, the oldest elephant in captivity in the US, was born, lived, and then died at the Oregon Zoo in Portland. Packy was euthanized last week after the zoo reported that his life could not be made better while doing battle with tuberculosis.

However, reports from anonymous zoo keepers and longterm caregivers from the zoo stated that the plan to “put Packy down” was “not based on science, safety or Packy’s best interest” but rather in the self-interest of the zoo to close the book on the increasingly controversial story of keeping Packy in the confines of the Oregon Zoo.

We’re reminded of the last time Heart of Ganesh (along with Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants and many other concerned and compassionate citizens) offered testimony to the Portland Metro City Council about the condition and morality of holding elephants at the Oregon Zoo.

This is a bit of the transcript from what we said that day:

“Like others sitting behind and beside me, I’ve been here many times. We all have. We’ve called, we’ve written, we’ve signed, and we will again and again. We will not just sit and wring our hands in dismay and anger and talk amongst ourselves about how inhumane or unjust your confinement of these sentient beings is.

What’s MISSING from the equation is your Compassion and Leadership. Once again, we are imploring you to become leaders instead of followers, for certainly you know by now that the world is watching.

I invite you to look at the message you embody, the message you give the people of Portland, the message you send to your children, the message you are now sending the world, as you continue to turn away from another’s suffering, turning instead toward the almighty dollar and status quo.

To create lasting change that doesn’t just deal with the symptoms, but digs underneath to what we must do to leave a legacy of kindness, and to do so without preaching or hostility, takes a real conversation, and it’s powerful to know so many people, right here— behind me, beside me, are creating the time to have that conversation”.

After we each spoke, Portland Metro President Tom Hughes looked condescendingly into the audience and stated “…now you have to listen to me, and YOU ARE WRONG.”

Door closed, conversation and communcations stopped, without options. And now, Packy is gone.

Whatever the true story may be, our hearts are with Packy, with all who loved him truly, and with the many other captive elephants living in isolation in cramped conditions around the world.

Advocates everywhere will never give up— we will continue to intervene in this stormy world, to rise up in solidarity and in action for the day when Compassionate Care is the norm and kindness is the legacy we leave behind.


Changing Minds and Opening Hearts Takes Time

In mid-January, I was spreading our Humane Tourism campaign for travelers and our Elephant Love Project for children throughout Cambodia.  One afternoon I was working in a small Khmer cafe in the southern part of the country when a broken and battered elephant pulls up, a wave of emotions overtaking me in no time flat.  I followed the elephant and rider throughout the town, educating and engaging the tourists and locals alike the best I could to the reality of what they were seeing.  It was shaky ground to communicate in a foreign language to locals and especially encouraging the tourists to look past the exoticism of what they were seeing and peer in to the probable lives of both the elephant in captivity and the rider in poverty.

It’s easy to be paralyzed in depression when you see yet another animal’s wounds, to throw harsh words upon locals when you observe them pass their babies under the elephant’s belly in their belief in its’ blessing, and to explode in outrage when you witness tourists paying to take a selfie without seeing what damage their actions perpetuate .

And yet it is consistent education for tourists and locals alike, along with generating sustainable options for the elephants already in captivity, that can break the cruel cycle trapping elephants in tourism and temples.

The work takes far more patience than what comes naturally. Habits and hearts are slow to change, true sanctuaries take time to build, and reforesting elephant habitat or helping elevate rural elephant “owners” up from poverty is usually not what people want to do when they say they want to volunteer to help elephants.

Longterm systemic changes require openminded dialogues with locals, travelers, the wealthy, the poor. It’s easy to spew venom or simply turn away when what lies in front of us seems impossible to change, but with every passing week working across SE Asia, we’re witnessing the power of possibility as people learn the truth, change their minds, and work together for a future that exchanges a past filled with conflict for a future embracing coexistence.

#NotOnMyBucketList: Humane Tourism Campaign

In December we launched our international Humane Tourism campaign #NotOnMyBucketList, empowering people around the world to participate on social media by helping tell, share, and change, the elephant story. Although trekking, circus shows, and temple parades happen year round, December through February is high-season for captive elephants used in the tourist industry throughout all of SE Asia, and is prime time to take action. Every person who participates helps spread the message far and wide that elephant cruelty disguised as entertainment needs to be taken off the Bucket List, enabling every traveler to help create a more humane world for the elephants no longer able to live in the wild.

The response to the campaign has been incredible, with wonderfully creative posts coming in from every corner of the globe. THANK YOU to everyone who has participated! If you haven’t joined in, please reach out your hand for the elephants and help spread the word and change the world! Taking action and speaking up to your friends, families and followers is not always easy to do, but we believe that compassionate action is the only way to move towards change. So thank you for taking a stand. You voices truly matter!#NotOnMyBucketListIt’s not too late to take part! It’s quick, it’s easy, and we need your Helping Hands!

  1. WRITE #NotOnMyBucketList on your hand (or a paper hand) and take a picture.
  2. Share your “hashtag hand” on social media, adding this message: “Elephant Cruelty is #NotOnMyBucketList! Join me in reaching out your hand in Compassion for Elephants!”
  3. TAG Heart of Ganesh in your post, and SHARE far and wide!

On Instagram? Share from there first, and if your account is public and you tag your location, we’ll be able to post your hand to our map. You can check out the map or learn more about #NotOnMyBucketList here:


Teaching Elephant Empathy through Play

Heart of Ganesh is on the road again, spreading Humane Tourism and The Elephant Love Project throughout SE Asia.

Today we had the joy of playing our brand new game “Elephant Love!” with these smart, thoughtful children. We created this game to help break open any language or cultural barriers, knowing play and laughter make the best teachers.elephantloveThe Elephant Love Project encourages empathy and understanding while giving young people a chance to discover for themselves how they feel, and what sort of world they can create when compassion leads the way.

As much as so many of us in the West might want to save elephants, these children live where elephants live, and in the end, it will be up to them.

To Elephant Love!elephantlove2

Witnessing the Kandy Esala Perahera for the first time

It is our pleasure to introduce guest blogger and Heart of Ganesh volunteer Louise Chester who recounts what she felt when she saw, and documented, elephants in perahera for the first time last month in Kandy…. 

As part of my volunteer work for Heart of Ganesh I took photos at the annual “perahera” festival in the city Kandy, Sri Lanka a couple of weeks ago.

During the event, Buddha’s tooth relic is paraded through the city accompanied by drummers and dancers who come from all over Sri Lanka and elephants of all sizes, draped in colourful material and LED lights.Elephants of all sizes take part in the Kandy PeraheraHonestly, it was like watching a nightmare unfold in front of my eyes…. Even if I had seen photos of this festival before online, its just not the same as witnessing it in real life!

Picture the scene…exhausted elephants swaying in chains being shuffled through the streets for 4 hours every day for 10 days, jabbed with bull horns by their “mahout” (their keeper) if they veered off course by a cm or two. Their eyes were wet with tears and filled with fear and their trunks coiled up around their tusks as they endured just another day in the life of a captive elephant in Sri Lanka….Elephant trunk at Kandy PeraheraThe terrible reality is that these elephants are never without their chains. I saw them the next day at the temple, unable to move or even lay down with their ever present mahout and his bull horn lurking a meter or so away, telling unsuspecting tourists that the elephants compulsive sways was quite simply his “happy dance”….Watermarked-temple-3Surely there are ways to honor and celebrate cultural and religious traditions without inflicting such pain and torment on these beautiful creatures??


Thanks to your growing international support and to volunteers like Louise coming together to help us tell, and then alter, the Elephant Story, one day we will look back on what seemed impossible to change—and know that we did.

Find out more about temple elephants and how we can do more to help these wonderful, majestic animals.

An update on Ganga: telling the truth until the truth changes

We would like to extend a big thank you to One Green Planet, for being willing to publish our recent article.

As we tell the story of Ganga, as well as all the other captive elephants in Sri Lanka who live their lives swaying on chains, we shine a light on the cruel practice which continues in the name of cultural pride and religious devotion in this country.

The story of Ganga and other captive elephants has recently taken an unexpected and unthinkable turn. Following months of legal proceedings, over a dozen custody cases had been won, allowing for some of these young elephants to begin their recovery at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH), and prepare for their eventual return to the wild.

And then, the unthinkable happened: claiming there were not enough temple elephants for proper peraheras, robes of white and orange interfered with previous court rulings and initiated opposing legal action. The idea that it is essential to use captive (not domesticated, not tame, but captive, and certainly broken) elephants as a display of cultural pride and religious devoutness is an outdated idea that will not go unchallenged until it is changed.

The crimes being committed are multiplying: stealing innocent calves from the wild, continuing to exploit them at Pinnewela, and worst of all, the recent demands to remove traumatized juveniles from their safekeeping at ETH.

You can read the article in full on One Green Planet’s website here.

Please share it with friends and family and together, we will take steps towards putting an end to this cruel practice.

Chained by two legs on crumbling bricks off the side of a busy city street, Ganga was on display inside temple gates for years as traffic relentlessly moved behind her and people streamed just as endlessly in front of her.

Chained by two legs on crumbling bricks off the side of a busy city street, Ganga was on display inside temple gates for years as traffic relentlessly moved behind her and people streamed just as endlessly in front of her.

Remembering why we do what we do

We look at this snap to remind us daily of the beauty of what we are all working to save.

It’s easy to get lost in the madness and the sadness of any advocacy. But burning out because you get lost in the fear and the fight, or feeling overwhelmed and forgetting to orient yourself first to what is good and right, is easy to succumb to.

Staying centered in the midst of it all and then allowing yourself to be happy along the way? Now that is a worthy practice for committing, for the long haul, to whatever you seek to change, come what may.

Elephant family at meal time