Sri Lanka elephant kills top Buddhist monk

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FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2014 file photo, Sri Lankan Buddhist monks bless domesticated elephants brought for an annual Buddhist temple festival in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For Buddhists, who make up 70 percent of the island's 20 million people, elephants are believed to have been servants of the Buddha and even a previous incarnation of the holy man himself. Sinhalese kings rode elephants into battle. Success of a religious procession is measured by the number of parading elephants. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

A senior Buddhist monk died in hospital Saturday, a day after being attacked by an elephant at his own temple near the capital, police said.

Bellanwila Wimalarathana, 77, was violently pushed to the ground by the tusker, but the mahout managed to prevent the monk from being gored, police said.

The monk was rushed to hospital but died a day later. He was also a vice chancellor of a state-run university and becomes the first high profile monk to be killed by a tamed elephant in the country.

The elephant was a gift to the temple by the government of Myanmar in mid-2013 and it had been named “Myan Kumara.”

Elephants are considered sacred animals protected by law in Sri Lanka. Several Buddhist temples have pet elephants which are paraded at annual pageants.

Despite laws protecting them, about 200 elephants are killed annually by farmers who say they stray onto their land and destroy crops. About 50 people are killed in wild-elephant attacks annually.

Sri Lanka’s elephant population has dwindled to just over 7,000, according to the latest census, down from an estimated 12,000 in 1900.