Images of Emaciated 70-year-old Elephant Forced to Take Part in Religious Festival Spark Anger

An animal rights group has shared shocking images of an old, emaciated elephant forced to take part in a Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka, sparking anger.

The Thailand-based Save Elephant Foundation released several pictures of the 70-year-old female—known as Tikiiri—earlier this week, in which the animal's rib bones are clearly visible through her skin.

"This is Tikiiri, a 70-year-old ailing female. She is one of the 60 elephants who must work in the service of the Perahera Festival in Sri Lanka this year," a description under the photos read. "Tikiiri joins in the parade early every evening until late at night every night for ten consecutive nights, amidst the noise, the fireworks, and smoke. She walks many kilometers every night so that people will feel blessed during the ceremony."

"No one sees her bony body or her weakened condition, because of her costume. No one sees the tears in her eyes, injured by the bright lights that decorate her mask, no one sees her difficulty to step as her legs are short shackled while she walks," the post read. "For a ceremony, all have the right to belief as long as that belief does not disturb or harm another. How can we call this a blessing, or something holy, if we make other lives to suffer?"

Animal rights groups have urged authorities to put an end to the practice of using elephants in the festival.

"Sri Lankan authorities must stop allowing such atrocious cruelty and send this poor elephant to a reputable sanctuary where she can be assessed by veterinarians and, if treatment is viable, live out her remaining years in peace," Elisa Allen, director of animal welfare charity PETA, told CNN.

Some animal rights campaigners even called on tourists to boycott the festival entirely, reported.

As the images were shared around the world, festival organizers eventually gave in to pressure and said Tikiiri would be withdrawn from the closing parade. They also said she would also receive treatment for a medical condition, AFP reported.

At the time of writing, more than 20,000 people have signed a petition aimed at saving Tikiiri from "barbaric abuse."

Many social media users expressed at their shock at the images of Tikiiri that were posted online.

"I am really shocked and very sad that this is possible. I have never seen any elephant in such a terrible condition," one Facebook user, Lucy Winter, commented. "Please, can you help Tikiiri?"

"This is a disgraceful act of utter cruelty and neglect!" another user, Diane Jackson, wrote.

Recently, international non-profit World Animal Protection slammed "top zoos" that force animals to take part in demeaning and unnatural performances for the entertainment of visitors in a new report.

Tikiiri, elephant
An image of Tikiiri shared by the Save Elephant Foundation. Save Elephant Foundation