We’re back in Thailand now after a challenging time working in Myanmar on several deeply saddening elephant situations. The trade of what some may call “elephant parts”, but we call “pieces of the bodies of sentient beings”, with every possible bit of these innocent animals being sold to the highest bidder. It is the most complex movement of illegal trade we’ve seen, and it was heartbreaking, eye opening, and never, ever, what it seemed.
From Myanmar, the main market for the the ivory, and the tail hair and elephant skin, is China. The market for elephant skin in China is huge. And this is, if it’s possible, more tragic than the ivory, as the murdering of entire elephant families and herds is done for skin. For the tusks, you need the big papas. For the skin, any age is a target…
CITES is slated to be held in Sri Lanka at the end of May 2019, and we’ll be there. It’s a bleak time for elephants, but more and more people around the world are fighting for the survival of the remaining wild ones, and for the humane treatment of those held captive. United we stand, in hopes that together, we can reverse the tragedy before it is too late as we fight for what’s right, for a kinder world for us all. We won’t give up, and we know you won’t either.
THE COURT ORDER for Ganga’s release into safe custody from illegal captivity by religious institutions has been openly and flagrantly defied for well over a year. The ruling in favor of moving Ganga into Protective Custody has repeatedly been ignored as her keepers not only deny her compassionate care, but also continue to exploit her in the name of religion and social status in a blatant display of political maneuvering.
NEXT COURT DATE: Ganga’s case will be heard in court, again, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Monday, December 11th, at 10:00 AM..
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1. Send the consistent message, “The World Is Watching. Release Ganga into Protective Custody Now” to the following addresses:
Within the form, click:
Organization Type: Top Government
Organiztion: Presidential Secretariet
Even if you have written to the above people during our past campaigns, please write again (and again and again)over the next couple of weeks.
At great cost in all ways, the Legal Counsel from the Centre for EcoCultural Studies continue to intervene in court on Ganga’s behalf as the depth of governmental corruption continues to be revealed. Ongoing work has become dramatically more challenging as systemic corruption and invasive manipulation of court proceedings continues unabated.
Someone asked me why everyone is “doing all that work for just one elephant”. Yes she is one. One of many hundreds of Temple Elephants, all who need protection from the ways of abject cruelty. She is an innocent sentient being, worthy of kindness for no other reason than that. But if more reasons are necessary, then we see how changing the Story of One can change the Story of Many.
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.
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.Honestly, 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….The 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”….Surely 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.
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.
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.
When I finally found the elephant I had traveled half way around the world to meet, she really wasn’t much of an elephant any more.
That little Temple Elephant swaying and straining against her chains slid into that scarred space behind my heart and would not let me forget what I’d seen.
The first day I met her I got good and lost walking to the temple through the noisy, disorienting city streets of Colombo. The birdsong and soft wild sounds of my previous few weeks in the rural villages of central Sri Lanka were replaced with what I’m pretty sure are the loudest horns on the most buses in the smallest area possible, and I couldn’t imagine how a holy Temple Elephant could live in the cacophony and feel it was holy from her point of view.
I smelled the incense steps before I turned the corner that finally brought me eye to eye with Ganga. Smoke from lanterns reverently lit spiraled upward, and flowers bathed the warm air in breezy sweetness as people on their way to pray for compassion streamed past the head-bobbing, empty-eyed little elephant.
Tourists from all over the world walked past her too, but usually after looking around the courtyard uncomfortably, willing themselves to make sense of the Temple’s reverential beauty juxtaposed against the forlorn little creature on display and the trash and refuse all around her. Not only did the emperor have no clothes on, but the elephant in the room seemed utterly invisible.
What to do?
In the village when I asked about a problem, the soft-spoken women would reply, “What to do?” and for the 3 days I watched people watch Ganga it became a mantra of sorts: What to do? What to do? When you implore “why isn’t anybody doing something about this” and still you don’t turn away, then you realize that “anybody” is you, and into the fire of transformation you go.
What do you do when you can’t turn away? You turn toward. You get off your couch or your cushion or your pew or your knees and you turn toward the very thing you wish you didn’t know.
The push I felt from Ganga was less of a request to “turn toward” and more of a sort of hurtling into the bubbling froth of grassroots activism, nonprofit start-ups, and a tip-to-tail tumbling into the stories about where the lives of people and elephants touch.
It’s a humbling practice as I try to work with a necessary patience that I never, ever feel, knowing each moment of every day she is still there, tied up in cultural servitude.
It’s been over a year now since I first learned about her, and half as long since I watched her repeatedly touch the tip of her trunk to the chain that shackled her front leg as she listlessly swayed toward some refuge in her memory.
Trumpeting and Charging Forward
A friend and I spoke to an enthusiastic group of 4th graders about an elephant at their local zoo who has lived in the exhibit for over 50 years, sharing how it is up to all of us to decide how to care for one another in the most merciful, humane way possible.
As the bell sounded for their next class, they were glowing with excitement, trumpeting and charging about, not unlike the small elephants whose future they had decided they would change. Hugging them and loving their conviction, I assured them “We can do it! We can do it!”
And then as we were leaving, a hopeful 9 year old girl excitedly asked me how many elephants I’ve saved so far. It was all I could do to answer her. Not one.