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Last updated at 14:02 GMT, Friday, 14 March 2014

Elephant exchange

Summary

14 March 2014

The Sri Lankan government has changed its mind about sending a baby elephant to South Korea as a gift, after realising it was born on what it considers to be an important day. The elephant was originally going to be sent as part of an exchange of wild animals.

Reporter:

Charles Haviland

 A group of Indian elephants drinking from river, Sri Lanka

A baby elephant like one of these was going to be sent to South Korea as a gift

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A minister said President Mahinda Rajapaksa withdrew the young elephant from this gift exchange after learning she was born on 18 May 2009. That is the day the Sri Lankan government ended the civil war by defeating the Tamil Tigers.

The government marks the day every year with a display of military pomp and many Sri Lankans see it as an auspicious date - although many of the Tamil minority see it as a day of mourning as so many of their number were killed.

The minister said the elephant calf, born at an elephant orphanage, was a symbol of the war victory. She would have been sent to South Korea with one other elephant in exchange for a lion and a tiger.

An environmentalist, Pubudu Weeraratne, said he didn't care about her birthdate, but it was wrong to send such young elephants overseas as they still needed their mother's protection and milk. He also said the intended Korean destination was a private safari park and there was no guarantee the animals would be protected from the harsh winters there.

Captive elephants are used in religious ceremonies here or kept as prized pets by some people. There have been recent reports of an underground racket in newly captured elephants even though trapping elephants is now strictly illegal.

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Vocabulary

defeating

winning against someone in a fight, competition or game

marks

celebrates or remembers

pomp

formal, colourful ceremony

auspicious

successful, favourable or important

mourning

expressing sadness about people who have died

guarantee

promise that something will be done or will happen

captive

(related to animals) kept in a place like a park or zoo rather than its natural environment

underground racket

secret and illegal activity that makes money

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