Sri Lanka’s government is eager to emigrate an elephant to the largest zoo in Armenia, but some activists say Armenia’s climate is not suited for the protected animal – a growing controversy that has landed in the highest court of the South Asian country.

10th birthday anniversary of elephant Grant at Yerevan's Zoo. 

Image: Hrantik (from Wikipedia) awaiting for a ruling by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court on whether he will be joined by a female partner in a controversial Yerevan Zoo

The Sunday Times Online informs that the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka will decide on the transfer in February of 2008.

An elephant has been taken to court, not just any court but the highest in the land, the Supreme Court. Asokamala, born and bred at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, has kicked up dust being in the centre of a controversy over whether she should be “exported” as a gift from Sri Lanka to Armenia.

While animal rights activists battle the authorities in the Supreme Court, in a fundamental rights case, Asokamala, oblivious to being in the eye of the storm is following her routine. Her fate will be decided in February next year.


He compares and contrasts Pinnawela to the elephant shed at Yerevan Zoo. One is like being under ‘house arrest’ and the other in ‘solitary confinement’. Although Asokamala was born in captivity she lives in an open area at Pinnawela, walking on grass under the blue skies with food such as kitul and kos leaves. Under house arrest, the detainee has all the comforts and facilities. But Yerevan will be solitary confinement with all its hardships, the harsh climate and a concrete box. It will be cold and dreary. What will be her fodder?

The Sunday Times understands that elephants need to walk and zoos are found to be unsuitable places for them as their foot pads get thick and crack if they don’t walk enough, and foot rot can set in, with snow aggravating the problem. Adds environmental lawyer Gunawardena: “Male elephants are loners but females are herders. So when they are isolated there could be deviant behaviour due to stress and this brings us back to the question of who ensures the maintenance and wellbeing of an animal as mandatorily required by CITES.”

Didn’t you see all the letters from the Armenian government denying all the allegations made here, Minister Lokuge asked The Sunday Times, while another official source who refused to be identified said that the first requirement for the export of an elephant was that the authority mandated under CITES in the recipient country must initially secure a CITES import permit for the animal.“All requirements have been checked out there,” was the answer of the official when The Sunday Times asked whether Asokamala would be able to bear the winter.

Refuting claims by animal rights activists that there was a confectioner involved in the deal to “gift” Asokamala to Armenia, Minister Lokuge went on to explain that they already have a bull elephant reported to be the offspring of an elephant gifted to Russia by Sri Lanka in the past. “That’s why they wanted a Sri Lanka elephant,” he said adding that talk of heavy winters were not true because the elephant would be living close to the Iranian border which was quite warm.

However, this what an internet search discloses as recorded by Wikipedia: “Winters (in Armenia) are quite cold with plenty of snow, with temperatures ranging between -5° and -10°C. Winter sports enthusiasts enjoy skiing down the hills of Tsakhkadzor, located thirty minutes outside Yerevan.” About the two elephant deaths in Armenia, the Minister claimed the Armenian authorities had said that the animals were killed during unrest in the country.


This is not the first time of an export of elephant controversy involving Armenia.  But others say Hrantik – a male elephant in the Yerevan Zoo of Armenia – needs to get laid.  A lobbying campaign by some activists calls on the Sri Lankan government not to send Asokamala to Hrantik.