No animal is as closely identified with Sri Lanka as the elephant – and few other countries offer such a wide range of opportunities to see them both in captivity and in the wild. The kings of Anuradhapura used them to pound down the foundations of their city’s huge religious monuments, while the rulers of Kandy employed them to execute prisoners by trampling them to death. During the Dutch era they helped tow barges and move heavy artillery, and under the British they were set to clearing land for tea plantations – even today, trained elephants are used to move heavy objects in places inaccessible to machinery. Elephants also play an integral role in many of the island’s religious festivals, and remain revered creatures – killing an elephant was formerly a capital offence, while the death of the great Maligawa Tusker Raja in 1998 prompted the government to declare a national day of mourning.

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Sri Lanka features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

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