Crushing photos show emaciated elephant forced to perform during festival in Sri Lanka

Heartbreaking images of a severely malnourished elephant forced to perform during an annual festival in Sri Lanka have caused international outrage and reignited debate over the majestic creatures' frequent mistreatment in captivity. 

Photos of Tikiiri, an elderly elephant who is kept at the Tooth temple in the city of Kandy, went viral after the Save Elephant Foundation shared them on Facebook Tuesday to mark World Elephant Day.

According to the animal-rights group, Tikiiri is one of 60 elephants forced to walk in the yearly parades for 10 straight nights amid noise, smoke and fireworks to celebrate the Perahera Festival, or Festival of the Tooth, meant to pay homage to the sacred tooth relic of Buddha.

"She walks many kilometers every night so that people will feel blessed during the ceremony," the organization wrote. "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."

Photos of Tikiiri and the festival: 

19 PHOTOS
Emaciated elephant forced to perform during Perahera Festival festival in Sri Lanka
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Emaciated elephant forced to perform during Perahera Festival festival in Sri Lanka
In this photograph taken on August 14, 2019 elephants decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival are lead past the Buddhist temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 tamed elephants. (Photo by Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 14, 2019 an elephant decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival is lead past the Buddhist temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 tamed elephants. (Photo by Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - In this photograph taken on August 14, 2019 elephants decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival are lead past the Buddhist temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 tamed elephants. (Photo by Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 14, 2019 participants lead elephants decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival during a parade near the Buddhist temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 tamed elephants. (Photo by Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 14, 2019 participants lead elephants decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival during a parade near the Buddhist temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 tamed elephants. (Photo by Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 14, 2019 an elephant decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival is lead past the Buddhist temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 tamed elephants. (Photo by Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 14, 2019 elephants decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival are lead past the Buddhist temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The Temple of the Tooth, Buddhism's holiest shrine on the island, holds the annual festival with traditional drummers and dancers as well as nearly 100 tamed elephants. (Photo by Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Sri Lankan mahout stands with his elephant ahead of the Esala Perahera festival in Kandy on August 14, 2019. - After a social media firestorm over using a feeble emaciated animal in the parade, the authorities withdrew her from the festival allowing her rest and medication. (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
Sri Lankan mahouts wash their elephants ahead of the Esala Perahera festival in Kandy on August 14, 2019. - After a social media firestorm over using a feeble emaciated animal in the parade, the authorities withdrew her from the festival allowing her rest and medication. (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
An elephant decorated for the Perahera festival walks past the Gangarama Temple during a procession in Colombo on February 18, 2019. - Some 50 elephants, most of them from the central area of Kandy, together with thousands of traditional drummers, dancers, and monks have gathered in the Sri Lankan capital to participate in the city's biggest two-day annual Buddhist Navam procession scheduled for February 18-19. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
An elephant decorated for the Perahera festival walks past the Gangarama Temple during a procession in Colombo on February 18, 2019. - Some 50 elephants, most of them from the central area of Kandy, together with thousands of traditional drummers, dancers, and monks have gathered in the Sri Lankan capital to participate in the city's biggest two-day annual Buddhist Navam procession scheduled for February 18-19. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 25, 2018, elephants decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival are lead past Sri Lankan Buddhist the temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The festival features a night procession of Kandyan dancers, fire twirlers, traditional musicians, acrobatic fire performers and elephants, gathering thousands of tourists and spectators from around the island. (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 25, 2018, an elephant decorated for the "Esala Perahera" festival is lead past Sri Lankan Buddhist the temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo. - The festival features a night procession of Kandyan dancers, fire twirlers, traditional musicians, acrobatic fire performers and elephants, gathering thousands of tourists and spectators from around the island. (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
An elephant carries an altar containing Buddhist relics during a procession in front of The Gangarama Temple in Colombo on March 1, 2018, during The Navam Perahera Festival. Some 30 elephants, most of them from central Sri Lanka, along with thousands of traditional drummers, dancers, and monks are gathering in the capital to participate in the city's biggest two-day annual Buddhist procession. / AFP PHOTO / ISHARA S. KODIKARA (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
An elephant carries an altar containing Buddhist relics in front of the Gangarama Temple during the Navam Perahera festival in Colombo on February 9, 2017. Monks, drummers, dancers and some 50 trained elephants, mostly from entral part of the island, thronged into Colombo from various regions of Sri Lanka to participate in the city's biggest two day annual Buddhist procession starting February 9. / AFP PHOTO / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
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"For a ceremony, all have the right to belief [sic] as long as that belief does not disturb or harm another," the Save Elephant Foundation posted. "How can we call this a blessing, or something holy, if we make other lives to suffer? To love, to do no harm, to follow a path of kindness and compassion, this is the Way of Buddha. It is time to follow."

The skeletal appearance of the pachyderm sparked anger on Facebook, where many users called for Tikiiri, as well as her fellow enslaved elephants, to be rescued and rehabilitated.

"Someone who is in a position to give peace kindness and care to this beautiful elephant in her last remaining days please act quickly and responsibly," one woman wrote.

"To have this beautiful creature treated and used in such a despicable way shows that humans really do think they are the superior race," chimed in another. "This girl should be given somewhere safe to live in comfort with everything she needs to live out her days. This has got to stop."

The treatment of elephants in captivity, particularly those used in the "elephant tourism" industry, has long been a hotly scrutinized matter.

A 2017 study, which was carried out by World Animal Protection, assessed almost 3,000 elephants living in captivity across Southeast Asia and found that more than three quarters were living in "severely cruel" conditions, the BBC reports.

Many were routinely bound by chains less than 10-feet long and were forced to stand on concrete floors near loud roads and music while being ridden, used as a backdrop for selfies and forced to entertain tourists.

As a result, multiple travel companies, like TripAdvisor, have stopped ticket sales to venues offering elephant attractions.

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