Woman in hospital after elephants stampede at pageant in Sri Lanka

Animal rights activists criticise 'cruel' Esala Perahera ceremony for using captive animals

In 2019, at least 17 people were injured by bolting elephants at a Buddhist festival in Kotte, near Colombo. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

One woman was in hospital and many more people were injured during an elephant stampede at a Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka.

Pilgrims were forced to jump into a nearby lake to avoid being trampled when the animals taking part in a parade on Tuesday night bolted, AFP reported.

Police said five young elephants wearing ceremonial decorations ran amok during the Esala Perahera ceremony in Kandy, which draws huge crowds each year to the small town.

The centuries-old celebration, held over several days, has been criticised for animal cruelty, with activists calling for an end to the use of captive elephants.

Animal rights group Rally for Animals and Environment said the elephants were forced to “walk in shackles amid fire and loud noise in searing heat”.

“It's time for Sri Lanka to stop using elephants in this cruel way,” the group's chief Panchali Panapitiya told AFP.

“Elephants don't go to Perahera willingly,” the group said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Perahera elephants is a deathly affair,” it said, calling on the president to end the use of elephants in the parade.

Footage shared on social media shows one of the elephants shaking off its decorative cloak and charging down a street in Kandy with several handlers chasing it.

In 2019, at least 17 people were injured by bolting elephants at a temple festival in Kotte, Colombo.

Three years earlier, a woman was killed when two elephants triggered a stampede at another festival.

Elephants are revered in Sri Lanka but also endangered. Their numbers have dwindled from about 14,000 in the 19th century to 6,000 in 2011, according to the country’s first elephant census.

Last year, several elephants died after eating plastic waste from an open landfill in the east of the country.

They are increasingly vulnerable because of the loss and degradation of their natural habitat.

Many wild elephants venture closer to human settlements in search of food, and some are killed by poachers or farmers angry about damage to their crops.

Updated: August 23, 2023, 12:03 PM