March 4, 2024

Columbus Post

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A happy ending for Zach Surin?

Elephant keepers bathe a sick Thai elephant named Sak Surin.  Photo: EBA/Samila Karunaratne

Elephant keepers bathe a sick Thai elephant named Sak Surin. Photo: EBA/Samila Karunaratne

CHIANG MAI: The media in Thailand is talking about an “odyssey”: after months of preparation, Chak Sur’s elephant has returned from Sri Lanka. Even the Environment Minister came to welcome the stricken animal.

An elephant abused in Sri Lanka has been safely returned to Thailand after a long diplomatic tug-of-war. He is in isolation at a special center in the north of the country, the Bangkok Post newspaper reported on Monday, citing officials. Zach Surin, 29, known especially for his long tusks, flew from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to Chiang Mai on Sunday after months of preparation on a Russian transport plane. The drama about the pachyderm made headlines in both countries. All major media outlets have been covering the case for weeks.

Sak Surin was a gift from Thailand to the Government of Sri Lanka in 2001. Elephants have religious significance in two predominantly Buddhist countries. However, animal rights activists complained that in the former Sri Lanka, he was abused by a mob in a temple (Elephant Leader) and subjected to hard labour. The organization Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE), which drew attention to the case and informed authorities in Thailand, spoke of pus, deep wounds and a permanently stiff leg. Later the government in Bangkok arranged the return transport and provided a special budget for it.

In Thailand, the four-tonne colossus was received by Environment Minister Waraud Silpa-Archa and vets examined it. His condition was so good that, according to the media, he was immediately taken by special transporter and under police guard to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, 70 kilometers away.

According to videos posted on social media, crowds of onlookers flocked to the airport to see the large gray steel box containing the elephant. It took weeks of training to climb into Zach Sur’s box and be quiet for hours. During the flight he was attended to by veterinarians and elephant drivers (mahouts).

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Interest is so high that Zach Chur’s live recordings will continue to be streamed on Facebook in the future. After 30 days of isolation and thorough medical treatment, the bull will be reunited with other elephants, as planned. It is currently unclear whether he will eventually be brought back to Sri Lanka, as the government in Colombo wants.