Elephant from Thailand flown home following alleged abuse in Sri Lanka

Muthu Raja, a Thai elephant, enters the flight cage before taking off for Thailand

After a diplomatic dispute over its alleged mistreatment, a Thai elephant given to Sri Lanka in 2001 has returned to its country of origin.

On a commercial return flight worth 19 million baht (£425,000; $540,000), Muthu Raja, 29, arrived in Thailand on Sunday.

Following allegations that the animal had been tortured while being kept at a Buddhist temple, Bangkok had demanded its return.

The prime minister of Sri Lanka claimed he had officially apologized to the king of Thailand.

The specially constructed steel cage housing the 4,000 kg (8,800 lb) elephant was airlifted to Chiang Mai along with four Thai handlers and a Sri Lankan zookeeper.

Hydrotherapy will be used to treat a left front leg injury.

Elephants are revered in Thailand and Sri Lanka as sacred animals.

Three elephants, including Muthu Raja, were given to the Sri Lankan government by the Thai royal family in 2001 so they could be trained to carry sacred objects.

In the south of the nation, a temple was given custody of Muthu Raja.

Animal rights organizations assert that it was forced to work alongside a logging crew in the temple and that a long-forgotten injury caused it to develop a stiff leg.

After months of unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Sri Lankan government to take action, the activist group Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE), which has offices in Sri Lanka, lobbied Thai officials to take action last year, according to the group's founder Panchali Panapitiya.

The Independent reported that Ms. Panapitiya claimed that Sri Lanka's wildlife officials' inaction had "disreputed" the nation. RARE has also requested that those responsible for the elephant's neglect be put on trial.

Thailand's ambassador to Sri Lanka discovered Muthu Raja to be in poor health during a visit last year, and Thailand had been "adamant" in demanding that it be returned, according to Sri Lanka's minister of wildlife Pavithra Wanniarachchi.

When Muthu Raja was removed from the temple in November of last year, AFP reported that he was in pain and covered in abscesses. Activists assert that some of those wounds were caused by its handler.

Its wounds have mostly healed since it was temporarily moved to Sri Lanka's National Zoological Garden.

In June, Dinesh Gunawardena, the prime minister of Sri Lanka, informed his country's legislature that he had expressed his regret to Thai king Maha Vajiralongkorn over Muthu Raja's alleged abuse and had been successful in "re-establishing trust between the two countries.".

According to comments made by activists, the Thai government stopped exporting elephants about three years ago, according to the country's environment minister, Varawut Silpa-archa, in June.

The wildlife division of Bangkok has stated that it is keeping an eye on Thai elephants that have already been sent abroad.

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