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Killer elephant fetches a killer price

An elephant that killed two people fetched nearly $15,000 - 10 times the average yearly salary in Sri Lanka - at an auction Friday to spare his life.

Raja used to be a star attraction at the National Zoological Gardens in Colombo, a role that required him to perform tricks every day for trainers who prodded him with sharp instruments not unlike spears.But a year and a half ago, as Raja was being led to his performance, he grabbed his trainer with his trunk and smashed him against an electric pole, killing him.

Raja was taken out of the show and placed under observation. He seemed fine until Dec. 25 when he killed another trainer by grabbing him with his trunk and piercing his chest with his small tusk.

The zoo realized it couldn't keep Raja, but it also knew this largely Buddhist country, which abhors violence, would not want the animal put to death. It decided to give Raja, which means "king" in the Sinhala language, another chance.

On Friday, there was no lack of bidders for the elephant. Among the would-be owners were a number of Buddhists monks who wanted to use him in parades.

The auction had been under way about 45 minutes when Nilaga Dela, son of a wealthy gem dealer, placed the winning bid - 905,000 rupees, the equivalent of $14,836. The average yearly salary in Sri Lanka is roughly $1,500.

After repeating the offer three times, the auctioneer lowered his hammer. "Magnificent Raja is sold," he said.

Dela plans to let Raja wander on his family's estate in Ratnapura, just south of Colombo.

But Raja's new home may be step up in the world.

Born in the wild in northern Sri Lanka, he was deserted by his herd while still young.