PETALING JAYA: A local wildlife advocacy NGO has called upon Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is also the Langkawi MP, to intervene and allow a 37-year-old Asian elephant named Lasah to be retired to a sanctuary in Cambodia.
The Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (Foto) claims that the ongoing cruel treatment of Lasah in the premises of now-defunct tourism operator Langkawi Elephant Adventures (LEA) is the result of wildlife authorities not only ignoring the elephant's plight but also its failure to enforce wildlife laws.
"LEA has shutdown. All it needs now is the government's approval for Lasah's freedom. Our new Prime Minister can hit the ground running regarding wildlife matters and show Malaysians that the Pakatan Harapan Government not only care about the public but animals too," said Foto director Upreshpal Singh in a statement on Monday (July 23).
In July 2016, photos of the wild-born elephant shackled on four legs went viral and led to global public outcry.
However, Upreshpal said the latest photos that Foto received showed that nothing has changed for the elephant since a campaign was started in 2016.
He added that the welfare of the elephant has further deteriorated.
"The photographs are heartbreaking and Lasah's treatment all these years is immoral to say the least. He was chained beyond LEA's operational hours when not exploited for rides to paying visitors. Now that LEA has closed, nobody knows how long he is chained for," said Upreshpal.
Foto also claimed that Lasah was once forced to work in brutal conditions at a
logging camp in Kelantan and has been used in the tourism and entertainment industry for over 25 years, including in Langkawi.
The statement added that LEA had ceased operations at its Oriental Village Langkawi premises several months ago after using Lasah for rides and other commercial ventures since 2006.
After news and photos of the elephant made headlines two years ago, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) said the department had conducted annual audit checks of the LEA premises and guidelines on the management of the elephant were being followed.
In the same month, said Foto, LEA hit back at the NGO's accusations of abuse and denied any ill-treatment.
According to Upreshpal, zoos which chain elephants when closed do so because they refuse to spend to provide a chain-free environment yet hope the public never finds out.
"It is also common knowledge now that elephants in the tourism industry are exposed to terrible abusive lives and yet Perhilitan continues to turn a blind eye to Lasah's plight," he added.
Commenting on the situation, Dr Chris Draper, head of Animal Welfare and Captivity at British organisation Born Free Foundation said, "Reports of Lasah's situation are extremely concerning: for example, the use of chaining and being kept in social isolation are both likely to be extremely detrimental to his welfare."
"After everything he has been through, Lasah deserves better than this – the eyes of the world are on the Malaysian authorities to ensure the best possible outcome for him," he added.
According to Foto, it sent a proposal to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry in March 2018, then under the previous government's administration, and to Perhilitan, to ask for approval to retire Lasah to a sanctuary in Cambodia which had offered to cover all costs involved in the transfer of the elephant to its permanent home.
"We didn't hear back from the ministry and no news from Perhilitan to this day. He could be living free, happy and with other elephants now but instead he is still in misery," said Upreshpal.