NGO demands release of Lasah, the Langkawi elephant

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N Surendran, Latheefa Koya and Eric Paulsen join protesters on Jan 21 demanding the relocation of Lasah, the Asian elephant to Kuala Gandah for rehabilitation.

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian NGO Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (Foto) is 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 ministry of natural resources and environment (NRE) to relocate Lasah to the Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary after photos of the 36-year-old elephant, chained on all four legs, 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 says Lasah has been used in zoos, a logging camp and the entertainment industry, was transferred to Langkawi island in 2006 and is today used by Langkawi Elephant Adventures (LEA) for rides and other activities. He 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.

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“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 said: “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 however blasted LEA for its handling of Lasah, saying the statements they made prove Lasah is better off at Kuala Gandah.

“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 surfaces 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, who has 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 that Lasah is being isolated from other elephants, Lau said 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 however said, “Some bulls (adult male elephants) 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.

“It is true adult males are less social then females, but in the wild they are seldom completely alone, except during musth, and have freedom to move and interact with other elephants.”

Upreshpal is now insisting that Lasah be transferred to Kuala Gandah as he can be rehabilitated there for possible release into the wild.

“At the very least, he can spend the rest of his life with other elephants under the watch of experienced and caring Perhilitan staff at Kuala Gandah,” he added.

Two petitions started for Lasah have 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 NRE asking for minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar to order a transfer of the elephant to Kuala Gandah, while 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,” Upreshpal said.