Captive elephants in Sri Lanka is a sad fact of life, one that is unlikely to change as Sri Lanka's roots are set deeply in tradition, still recovering from a 30 year long civil war and the Tsunami of 2004. The life of a captive elephant can be a miserable existence.
All captive elephants have owners, but owning an elephant is expensive, they eat a lot and need extra care when things go wrong but sadly lots of money can be earned from them also. Privately owned elephants hold a lot of value and status, some owners will simply keep an elephant chained in their gardens to show off their wealth. These elephants rarely receive the care they need as there are no elephant experts on site to ensure the physical and emotional needs of the elephants. These elephants will also be inherited in wills after the death of an owner and may be passed from a caring and knowledgeable owner to an ignorant and unskilled person.
Many elephant owners, led by politics, greed and a lack of education do not take responsibility for ensuring the proper care and treatment of their animals and leave it up to the Mahout to feed the elephant, as well as earn money to feed their own families. This puts the mahouts under an enormous amount of pressure and often elephant care slips as they struggle to survive. A captive elephant will rarely receive the social contact and interaction that they need to be happy, causing them psychological problems.