Meet my new friend Ganga.
This sweet little thing is the new temple elephant at a Buddhist temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
We met when I was visiting there last week. I happened to be there on the day of the lunar new year, and therefore had access to areas of that temple that are only open for this one week every year.
Many temples own an elephant. They play important roles in religious ceremonies and festivals. Having an elephant at a temple is meant to bring fortune and good luck. It is also used to draw tourists and locals, who bring money.
Living in a temple doesn’t bring fortune and good luck to the poor elephant, though. They stand for long periods of time on concrete surfaces, chained in one place (notice the chain around both one hind leg and one fore leg) with limited movement. Ganga doesn’t get to run around with other little baby elephants and I’m sure he misses his family. Elephants are very social and emotional creatures, so temple life is very lonely and stressful for them.
See this page about temple elephants on Elemotion’s website for more information.
Elemotion recommends that you not tip the Mahout (the elephant’s caretaker) to feed, be blessed by, or to take a picture with the elephant (but expect them to be unhappy about that – Ganga’s Mahout wasn’t happy about that at all).
The next time we go to Sri Lanka, I will plan to visit the elephant orphanage at Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe National Park. I’m guessing that the baby elephants are a little happier there. You can see a video clip here and see that little Orphan Vibhi can run and play, and splash in water, unlike poor little Ganga: