Animal activists in Sri Lanka have extracted a political promise that a baby elephant gifted to New Zealand will remain in a sanctuary until a court rules on a petition to block its departure.

Sri Lanka's Attorney-General Jayantha Jayasuriya yesterday assured the Court of Appeal that no steps would be taken to clear the way for 5-year-old Nandi to leave the country for Auckland Zoo.

The elephant has been at the centre of a political tussle since it was given to New Zealand when former Prime Minister John Key visited Sri Lanka in February 2016.

Eighteen groups filed a petition opposing the export of Nandi, arguing the young elephant belonged to a rare and vulnerable species found in the wild in just a few Asian countries. The Colombo Daily News reported yesterday that Jayasuriya agreed that the elephant would remain at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage at least until the next court hearing on May 26.


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Dozens of young elephants are fed, nursed and cared for at the orphanage. Many juvenile animals wander from their herds or get lost searching for water during dry seasons and end up at Pinnawala.

There is a strong conservation lobby in Sri Lanka which fiercely resists the export of the country's iconic wildlife. Elephants are one of the 'big five' creatures which draw tourists in their thousands to see the animals in their natural environment. The other star attractions are sloth bears, leopards and blue and sperm whales.

In their petition, the conservation groups argue that Sri Lanka's endangered species belong in the wild - and not in zoos. The Court of Appeal is being urged to quash the agreement which followed Key's visit between the Sri Lankan Government and Auckland Zoo.

The deal actually covered two elephants. The first, Anjalee, arrived last year. However the Daily News reported that opponents of the elephant deal argue that there is a growing view that zoos are not suited to the welfare of animals.