Thai royal family honours Sri Lankan caretaker of elephant Sak Surin

Image courtesy of Khaosod English, via Facebook

The King and Queen of Thailand have bestowed an honour upon Don Upul Jayarathna Denelpitiyage, a Sri Lankan mahout, in recognition of his unyielding care for the recuperating Thai elephant, Sak Surin. The elephant is currently in a 30-day quarantine in Lampang province, following his flight from Sri Lanka on the second day of July.

Air Marshal Pakdee Saengchuto, serving as the King’s deputy private secretary, represented the royals on Thursday as he presented a gift to Denelpitiyage, who originally hails from Dehiwala Zoo in Sri Lanka. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment announced via its Facebook page yesterday.

The ceremonial presentation was carried out at the premises of the ministry, with both permanent secretary Jatuporn Buruspat and Denelpitiyage in attendance.

Elephant Care
Don Upul Jayarathna Denelpitiyage arrived at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to receive a gift, Image courtesy of Bangkok Post

Denelpitiyage was part of the official Thai delegation that journeyed from Sri Lanka to Thailand, where the task of caring for Sak Surin was taken up by the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre. Denelpitiyage made his return to Sri Lanka yesterday.

The Ministry invested approximately 19 million baht in taking care of the 30 years old Sak Surin and in ensuring his medical repatriation to Thailand.

Sak Surin is one in a trio of elephants that Thailand dispatched to Sri Lanka in a bid to bolster diplomatic ties, following an official request from Sri Lanka for the Thai government to send elephants to participate in special religious ceremonies featuring the Lord Buddha’s relics.

A noted update on Friday from the Thai ambassador to Sri Lanka clarified the circumstances of Pratu Pha, another elephant, presently residing on the island nation. The 49 year old man is said to be living under normal conditions with no plans in place for his repatriation back to Thailand.

Poj Harnpol, the ambassador, endorsed this news with his recent visit to Pratu Pha at the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy City, where the elephant is being nurtured under the watchful care of Pradeep Nilanga Dela Nilame, the temple custodian.

Pratu Pha dwells in an open courtyard with a surface of concrete and soil. His range of movement is limited by ropes that demarcate boundaries. His front legs are tethered to large trees while one of his hind legs is lightly chained, allowing him to move and stand naturally. The animal enjoys a diet of the leaves from kithul trees, grass and sugar cane.

Upon observation for 30 minutes, the ambassador took note of Pratu Pha’s calm demeanour and the mahout’s ability to feed him from a distance.

Harnpol expressed the necessity of an environment upgrade for the elephant, more access to water sources coupled with the addition of more water tanks.

Albeit the elephant’s living conditions were satisfactory, Harnpol noted room for improvement.

“We understand the strides undertaken by the temple and are cognisant of the fact that change cannot occur overnight. We plan to work in the direction of better care.”

In an interview with Sri Lankan media, Harnpol confirmed that there were no forthcoming plans to repatriate Pratu Pha, widely known as Thai Raja, to Thailand. Thai Raja was gifted to Sri Lanka 37 years prior while Sak Surin and Sri Narong, another male elephant, were presented as goodwill gifts 22 years ago, reported Bangkok Post.

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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