Thai elephant Sak Surin safely repatriated after 22 years in Sri Lanka

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

The enduring odyssey of Sak Surin, an elephant initially gifted by Thailand to Sri Lanka, took a homeward trajectory as the elephant touched down in Chiang Mai yesterday, ending a 22 year long overseas sojourn.

Sak Surin’s journey back to Chiang Mai was an elaborate endeavour. Encased within a specially designed cage that was placed in the cargo hold of an Ilyushin IL-76, Sak Surin was accompanied by a team of four veterinarians and two mahouts who had journeyed to Sri Lanka earlier to facilitate the repatriation.

The IL-76 departed Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo, at 7.30am yesterday. Despite the five-hour-long journey, Sak Surin reportedly remained calm throughout the airborne voyage, which concluded with the plane’s touchdown at Chiang Mai Airport at 2.03pm later that day.

Upon landing, Sak Surin was met with a comprehensive health examination by the awaiting veterinarians. The initial prognosis confirmed the elephant’s health seemed to be in good form.

Environment and Natural Resources Minister, Varawut Silpa-archa oversaw post-landing procedures. Sak Surin was then transported via trailer car to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC) in Lampang,an located one-and-a-half-hour drive south of Chiang Mai.

The TECC will play an instrumental role in Sak Surin’s transition back to life in Thailand. For a preliminary period of 30 days, the elephant will be under quarantine in a dedicated section of the centre while receiving additional medical care, a vital first step for the intended reintegration with other resident elephants.

As part of a public awareness initiative, the Ministry of National Resources and Environment has committed to regularly live-stream updates on Sak Surin’s progress via its Facebook page, reported Bangkok Post.

Despite originally being presented to Sri Lanka in 2001 as a goodwill ambassador, Sak Surin’s life took an unfortunate turn. After multiple changes of ownership, the elephant was subsequently stationed at Aluthgama Kande Viharaya in southern Sri Lanka where, as a carrier of holy relics in annual Buddhist parades, his limbs were chained causing considerable injury, as reported by Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE), a Sri Lanka-based animal protection organisation.

In response to RARE’s call for action, the Thai government launched a six-month-long bid to repatriate the pachyderm, a move that would ultimately demand the provision of significant resources. A total of 19.5 million baht, drawn from funds set aside for emergencies, was ultimately spent to ensure Sak Surin’s safe return home.

Thailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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