Malaysian NGO Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (Foto) are up in arms over what it claims is continued abuse of an Asian elephant used for tourism purposes on the popular holiday island of Langkawi.
Foto initiated a campaign in July last year to urge the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to move Lasah to the Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary after photos of the 36 year old elephant chained on all four legs behind public eyes were exposed.
“We were shocked to see images of Lasah shackled on all fours and later found out about his tragic past and present fate. It seems to us he has been wrung for financial profit for over 25 years by different individuals,” said Foto director Upreshpal Singh.
The NGO claims Lasah has been used in zoos, a logging camp, the entertainment industry and was transferred to Langkawi island in 2006 and is today used by the Langkawi Elephant Adventures (LEA) for rides and other activities. It is the only elephant in Langkawi. Lasah also appeared in the 1999 film ‘Anna and the King’ featuring stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fatt.
In a report by a local news outlet, LEA director Serene Lau Xiao Woon refuted claims that the park was abusing Lasah and said the elephant was chained to help him recover from wounds on the face and legs, “We were advised by our resident veterinarian to secure the elephant”. Lau added that Lasah was only chained twice a week at night and freed in the mornings.
Lau’s statement was backed by LEA resident vet, Dr Vellayan Subramaniam, who claimed “This is often the procedure we use and I have been caring for Lasah since 2009 when he had the face wounds. The elephant is usually tied for a short period of time to save him from further harm”.
Upreshpal Singh blasted LEA for its handling of Lasah, saying the statements made by LEA further prove Lasah is better off at Kuala Gandah while adding, “Our investigation indicates that Lasah could have developed pressure wounds on his face and legs as a result of having to lie down on hard surface for prolonged periods. Moreover, we are wondering if Lasah is in fact chained on a daily basis after LEA is closed to the public?”
Meanwhile, Carol Buckley, founder of Elephant Aid International and with over 40 years experience of working with captive elephants said, “If the goal of chaining an elephant is to prevent it from lying down, that is counter intuitive and a seriously flawed elephant management practice.
“Lack of sleep and the inability to get off his feet is stress inducing and can compromise his immune system, make him frustrated, aggressive and prone to physical and emotional deterioration.”
Responding to claims Lasah is being isolated from other elephants Lau explained that the social structure is different between male and female elephants, “Males may live in solitude if they are rejected by the alpha male. This was the case with Lasah as he had daily conflicts with other male elephants.”
Upreshpal Singh retorted, saying “Some bulls (adult male elephant) in captivity fail to interact in a healthy manner with other bulls. Fighting can be the result of frustration and fear. Human dominance undermines an elephant’s self esteem and can damage their ability to socialise with other elephants in a healthy manner.
‘In the wild they are seldom completely alone’
“It is true adult males are less social than females, but in the wild they are seldom completely alone, except during musth, and have freedom to move and interact with other elephants”.
Despite months of waiting since July, Upreshpal Singh insists Lasah is transferred to Kuala Gandah, saying “Lasah has been abused and exploited for a very long time and we will continue to ask the ministry to transfer him to the sanctuary where he could be rehabilitated for possible wild release or at least spend the rest of his life with other elephants under the watch of experienced and caring Perhilitan staff at Kuala Gandah.”
Two petitions started for Lasah has garnered over 400,000 signatures while Manchester City FC footballer Yaya Toure has shown support for Lasah through social media. According to Foto, over a thousand supporters from around the world have written to the ministry asking for Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar to order a transfer of the elephant to Kuala Gandah, and 18 NGOs from around the world have asked the minister to do the same.
“Lasah’s case has gotten global attention and we’re afraid if the elephant dies at LEA or another zoo there will be a massive outcry from animal lovers worldwide. Unfortunately we are already hearing of tourists boycotting Malaysia. We will campaign until Lasah is sent to Kuala Gandah”, concluded Upreshpal Singh.
UPRESHPAL SINGH is director of Friends Of The Orangutans (Foto).