Sak Surin, an ailing male Thai elephant, will be flown home from Sri Lanka for treatment and rehabilitation next month, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) said on Friday.
Attapol Charoenchansa, the department’s acting director-general, said the timeline was based on the latest estimates made by a veterinarian team dispatched to Sri Lanka to assess the animal’s health and readiness to travel.
An Ilyushin IL-76 transport aircraft will be sent to Sri Lanka to bring the elephant back.
Once in Thailand, the elephant will be cared for at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Mr Attapol said.
Originally gifted with two other Thai elephants to Sri Lanka in 2001 as a goodwill ambassador, Sak Surin, also known in Sri Lanka as Muthu Raja, had been mistreated for years, according to a complaint made by Rally for Animal Rights & Environment (Rare).
The elephant had been overworked and was not properly cared for, and subsequently became very thin and sick, said the Sri Lanka-based animal rights group.
The elephant has also sustained some serious injuries, which made it unable to bend its left forelimb for eight years, Rare said.
The group said the Sri Lankan government had transferred ownership of Sak Surin to the Kande Vihara Temple, where it was a carrier of holy relics during annual Buddhist parades.
“Two highly experienced mahouts have been selected and assigned to travel along with a new DNP team to Sri Lanka on Tuesday to help take care of the elephant and prepare it for the journey back home,” said Mr Attapol.
The two mahouts are Thorachaisit Siri, 38, who has been handling elephants with aggressive behaviour for more than a decade, and Supphachai Bunkoet, 26, who has been working with elephants for nine years.
Mr Supphachai also works as a veterinarian assistant at the Lampang elephant hospital.