Elephant in Sri Lankan Buddhist procession kills monk

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - An elephant that was part of a Sri Lankan Buddhist procession attacked and killed a monk, police said Monday.

Police spokesman Priyantha Jayakody said three elephants were walking in the procession Sunday night when one suddenly went on a rampage and attacked the monk in the coastal town of Kochchikade, about 42 kilometers (26 miles) north of Colombo. The 25-year-old monk died at a hospital early Monday.

Colorfully decorated elephants are an important part of Buddhist religious processions and festivals. Temples and wealthy families often own the animals and rent them out for such events.

However, animal rights activists say the elephants are often kept in inhumane conditions and receive insufficient food.

Authorities say there are about 127 tamed elephants that are used for processions and other religious ceremonies by Sinhalese Buddhists, who make up 70 percent of the island's 20 million people.

Having an elephant in the backyard has long been a sign of wealth, privilege and power. For hundreds of years, elephants have been used for such religious activities and as well as for battles by ancient kings.

Sri Lanka has about 6,000 elephants, but those in the wild are threatened by habitat loss and degradation. An estimated 200 elephants are killed every year, mainly by farmers trying to protect their crops. In the 19th century there were believed to be up to 14,000 elephants.