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Independent expert committee to probe mysterious deaths of seven elephants

2 October 2019 12:10 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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From left: Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs State Minister Ranjith Aluvihare, Wildlife Conservation Department Director General M.G.C. Sooriyabandara, Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga and Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs  Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi
Pic by Pradeep Dilrukshana

 

  • One male and six female carcasses found
  • Deaths likely due to poisoning 
  • Elephants integral part of SL’s tourism offering 
  • So far 293 elephant deaths recorded this year

 

The government will appoint an independent expert committee to probe the mysterious deaths of seven elephants in Habarana effective from October 1 in addition to the investigations carried out by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.


“The main objective of the committee is to investigate this unfortunate incident which took place and to avert such unfortunate events in the future,” Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi said.


Addressing a press conference held in Colombo yesterday, he announced that the six-member committee will be led by Prof. S.E. Ranwana while other appointed members are experts in the areas of forensic toxicology, forensic pathology, elephant ecology, agrochemicals, veterinary science and pathology.

The carcasses of six female elephants and one male elephant were found over the last weekend in Habarana-Hiriwadunna and Digampathana-Thumbikulam 
forest reserves.


“As at now, three different government agencies are looking into the possible cause of death of these animals. As at now, there is fair suspicion that these animals died of poisoning. We are awaiting the government analyst’s report to confirm this,” Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said.


As per preliminary investigations, Wildlife Conservation Department suspects that a pesticide utilised in short-term (Three to four months) agricultural crops in the area to be the chemical of poisoning, which is likely to have contaminated the water consumed by the deceased elephants.


Further, it was suspected that the particular pesticide to be illegally imported from India.


Wildlife Conservation Department Director General M.G.C. Sooriyabandara noted that the government is awaiting the Government Analyst’s report to confirm the source of poisoning to complete the investigations within this week.


The incident caused international outcry with video footage trending viral of a baby elephant desperately trying to wake the poisoned mother from the incident.
The elephant remains a key tourist attraction in Sri Lanka earning significant foreign exchange to the country.


The environmentalists urge the government to free elephant corridors from human activities while updating current legal framework to enforce tough penalties on perpetrators.
Further, it was suggested to utilise revenue from elephant tourism activities on communities residing near elephant corridors to incentivise them to 
protect elephants.


According to statistics, record 293 elephant deaths have been recorded as of September 30 this year, mainly due to human-elephant conflict in particular in elephant corridors.
Sri Lanka recorded a highest ever 319 elephant deaths last year and the number of elephant deaths during this year is likely to surpass the last year’s figure.
During the past five years, Sri Lanka witnessed 1,290 elephant deaths while the elephant population estimated to be around 6,000.


Meanwhile, Hettiarachchi revealed that new set of regulations will be gazetted following the approval of the cabinet of Ministers shortly to safeguard the well-being of tamed elephants.
The female elephant called Tikiri died last week after being forced to perform under poor health conditions on 10-day long Esala Perahera this year.


The Department of Wildlife Conservation officials revealed that the organisers of Esala Perahera have somehow secured the medical clearance from Veterinary Department of University of Peradeniya for Tikiri to participate in the Perahera.


Further, it was also reported that ‘Saman’ elephant kept at Ratnapura Saman Devalaya died due to wound caused by abuse.


However, Amaratunga noted that a suspect who shot an elephant in Ritigala has been taken into custody recently.

(NF)

 

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