he world today is struggling to save the elephant, the largest critically endangered mammal. The problem is mainly due to poaching for tusks, known in the world as the “blood ivory” trade. If the current killing of elephants continues, the world will not have elephants in another 10 years and they will be forever extinct. Currently, every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory. According to the World Policy Institute Global, lust for elephant tusks is causing a log jam of ivory out of Africa. It is at a cost of 25,000 dead elephants a year, out of a continent-wide population of about 500,000. From container loads of tusks to carry-on bags bulging with carved trinkets, ivory has been going to Spain, New Zealand, and Turkey, to mention three hitherto unsuspected destinations. Mostly, though, it’s headed for Asia, where ivory has long been venerated, and above all to China, widely thought to absorb most of the contraband ivory from Africa.
Killing Rate of Elephants Today
According to the New York Times, Africa has lost perhaps 90 per cent of its elephants in the past half-century. Sierra Leone saw its final elephants killed in 2009. Senegal retains under a dozen if at all. In Gabon 11,000 were killed in the past decade, nearly 80 per cent of its elephants. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s elephants have plummeted 90 per cent. Poaching is intensifying in Kenya and Tanzania — which are lucrative tourist destinations. Given that as many as 100,000 elephants may have been killed from Africa from 2010-12.
As IvoryTrade.com lists campaign groups, charities and other organizations concerned about the Ivory Trade have stated, “Poachers would kill the older male elephants for their larger tusks. Killing older elephants means that immature elephants are left to grow up without any parents to help them (young orphans may even die). Killing mostly male elephants means that there is a dangerous imbalance between the ratio of male to female elephants. Things are much worse now as modern poachers are more organized and have better weapons so that they can, and do kill whole families at a time.”
Global Illegal Blood Ivory Trade
The Illegal blood ivory trade is today a lucrative illegal business.This illegal wildlife trade has grown into a “massive global industry” worth at least US$19-billion a year, making it the fourth largest global illegal activity after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. It is ahead of the illegal trade in gold, small arms, oil and diamonds according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, with ivory fetching up to $2,205 a kg in the streets of Beijing. Rhino horn on the black market fetches about $66,139 a kg, more than platinum or gold. All around the world animal-loving governments are committing themselves against the illegal ivory and Rhino horn trade, and they publicly destroy or burn the stocks as soon as they find them. In 1989, CITES banned international trade in ivory to combat this massive illegal trade.
Elephants of Sri Lanka and Threats on Them
A small country like Sri Lanka is blessed with around 5,879 elephants in the jungles and national parks according to the elephant survey carried out by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) in 2011. Sri Lankan elephants are not at the mercy of poachers at the rate African elephants are facing them today. Sri Lanka’s contribution to the illegal ivory trade is minimal, but the Sri Lankan elephant faces severe conflict with humans due to illegal human encroachment on elephant habitats. This is known as the human-elephant conflict which is growing at an alarming rate in Sri Lanka at the moment.
Apart from the human-elephant conflict, elephants get killed by three methods of victim-activated weapons in Sri Lanka. Weapons such as -- Anti-personnel Landmines; Trap Guns (made out of with metal pipe, metal pallets and explosives) and Hakka Patas (a small locally-made explosive device usually hidden in animal fodder). The latest new threat on Sri Lankan elephants is aggravated by the baby elephant trade in recent years which was operated and supported by powerful politicians and businessmen under the patronage of the previous government. This totally violates the Fauna and Flora Protection Act, No. 22 of 2009 of Sri Lanka. To take legal action against culprits, the officials of the DWC were not allowed to use their legal powers by high-level politicians.
CITES and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is actively giving support for protection of wildlife and against the global illegal wildlife trade. Since 4th May 1979 Sri Lanka is a signatory for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES. CITES is an international agreement to which States adhere voluntarily. States that have agreed to be bound by the Convention (‘joined’ CITES) are known as Parties. Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties – in other words they have to implement the Convention – it does not take the place of national laws. Rather it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens according to CITES. Since Sri Lanka joined the CITES, the country is committed to protect and adhere to the norms of the Convention’s obligations and attend and participate actively at the Convention meetings and proceedings represented by the Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. What is more, Sri Lanka has banned the ivory trade since the 1970s.
Blood Ivory Detected by Sri Lanka Customs
Sri Lanka is located in a busy maritime route and is also a transit hub for the whole Asian Region. Illegal wildlife traffickers and blood ivory racketeers use Sri Lanka as transit hub. On May 22, 2012 the Central Intelligence Unit of Sri Lanka Customs detected a large illegal consignment of ivory better known as ‘blood ivory’ from Kenya en route to Dubai. This is the largest consignment of 359 elephant tusks weighing 1.5 tonnes to be detected in a South Asian country and worth more than Rs.360 million. Sri Lanka should be proud of the Sri Lanka Customs in this respect. Some of the 359 tusks were damaged because of the hurried removal from the body.
Presidential Secretariat Letter on Blood Ivory – Unethical Business
According to Section 163 of the Customs Ordinance, goods once forfeited by the Sri Lanka Customs become State property. The Customs officials also have the right according to the Gazette notification to dispose of the tusks in the most suitable manner. Sri Lanka and international wildlife enthusiasts and those who are against blood ivory have eagerly awaited to see it burnt on Galle Face Green. Unfortunately, the officials attached to the Presidential Secretariat of the previous government acted totally against the CITES. This brought shame on Sri Lanka and again proved that Mahinda Chinthana failed to protect and support fauna and flora locally and to support global initiatives on this matter.
On December 19, 2012 a letter was issued by the Presidential Secretariat on the subject of “Fortified stock of 359 pieces of elephant tusks”. The letter said, “This has reference to your letter (Director General Customs) dated November 28, 2012 addressed to me regarding the above subject. His Excellency the President has approved the release of these 356 pieces of tusks to be used to adorn the walls of Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth), and the balance to be distributed to other temples. Therefore, I shall be thankful if you could kindly get the 359 pieces of elephant tusks released to the Presidential Secretariat as early as possible in order to utilize then for the above magnanimous trust work. Please note that the Colombo Logistics will be handling the matters related to the elephant tusks referred to above on behalf of the Presidential Secretariat,” – for information and necessary action please. The letter was addressed to Jagath P. Wijeweera Director General of Sri Lanka Customs and signed by President’s Chief of Staff Gamini S. Senerath and President’s Senior Assistant Secretary Deepa Liyanage. The letter copied to Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman Dr. R.M.P.B Wickrema.
As far as blood ivory is concerned the Presidential Secretariat has no legal authority to request the release of the ivory consignment and has no legal powers under the Customs Ordinance to release these tusks as any directive sent to the Sri Lanka Customs has to be first signed by the Finance Minister. There should be an inquiry with regard to why this letter has asked the Colombo Logistics to handle matters related to the elephant tusks. Wildlife enthusiasts always raise concerns over the protection and safeguarding of the wildlife heritage not only in Sri Lanka but also in the whole world. On October 4, Sri Lanka organized a massive rally in Colombo on “Global March for Elephants and Rhinos”. For the rally attended by thousands including active participation by the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Sri Lanka Customs, many civil society organisations who work on environment and wildlife activists, children and those interested in wildlife conservation. The people should question the government as to why unknown organisations (there is no relationship with regard to wildlife with Lanka Logistics) are to handle such an important and now well-known blood ivory detection in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Acted Against CITES
The government acted without knowing that Sri Lanka has been a signatory for CITES since 1979. The Customs and the DWC knew this was totally against the CITES as well as Custom Ordinance and Flora and Fauna Act. Sri Lanka’s DWC attended the CITES convention meeting and engaged actively in it. Both institutes have totally neglected this issue and acted in their personal interests on the issue of this global ‘blood ivory’ stock detected and seized by the Sri Lanka Customs. Wildlife enthusiasts in and around the world have raised their voices on this unscrupulous act by the Presidential Secretariat. With the public outcry and CITES obligations, this process was stopped and currently the container of blood ivories was sealed and kept at the Sri Lanka Customs. This shows the previous government’s total failure which has brought dishonor to the country.
Buddhism and Blood Ivory
It is important that to start a debate in Sri Lanka to find out what the link is between Buddhism and ivory? The Presidential Secretariat might have thought that, sending blood ivories to Dalada Maligawa would get the blessing for the President and the officials who initiate this work. Or was there any plan to distribute ivories in the name of Dalada Maligawa? If this worked out it would have reflected badly on Sri Lankan Buddhism.
Illegal blood ivories should not be at any Buddhist temple or any other religious place of worship in Sri Lanka. Buddha never asked people to worship or donate ivories to the temples and there is no reference in Buddhism to ivory. Buddhism does not allow the killing of animals and having their bones at the temples. Today, as a show of wealth, items such as ivories are seen in many temples in Sri Lanka. No religion would allow using them at religious places of worship and in particular there is no reference in the Buddhism about the donation of ivories to seek Nirvana or any other religious blessing.
In the current circumstances Buddhist temples should not have tusks and should be supportive of protecting the animal rather keeping a dead animal’s tooth near the Buddha statue. This is totally against Buddhism. All the religions in the world today should be supportive of protecting and conservation of wildlife for future generations. Religious places should refuse to receive donations such as elephant tusks, furniture made out of animal bones and bones or any other decorational items made from wildlife animals.
Let’s Burn Them During the 100 Day Programme
Baby elephants are intelligent and live with their families for decades and need their mothers. Since Sri Lanka proudly works on the conservation of elephants who face many difficulties, and also should show the world is that Sri Lanka will not condone the slaughter of elephants in Africa.
All around the world today there is growing support for the ban of the illegal ivory trade which is operated by militarised poaching groups, terrorist groups and other mafias. Many governments are now joining to show their commitment to stop the killing of elephants. These governments, if they find any blood ivory, they burn it in the presence of the public. Sri Lanka is still to follow this growing trend of burning blood ivory in public.
The new government of Sri Lanka can get world attention on this crime and should join the campaign against illegal ivory by supporting the end of the illegal ivory trade. Let’s burn Blood Ivory at the Galle Face Green. Wildlife enthusiasts are eagerly waiting to see this. If the blood ivories are burnt within the 100-day programme period it will bring local and international fame to the new government. This is over to you President Maithripala Sirisena.
The writer is a volunteer in the field of wildlife conservation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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