An iconic constituent of the country’s wildlife, elephants have been living in this island for thousands of years and have been revered ever since. Yet over the years, the dominance of mankind has taken over the world and not many species of flora and fauna could be found today. With the emergence of the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, elephants have been looked upon as a curse to the country when historic evidence proves otherwise. The blood ivory trade has been in existence for thousands of years and many elephants have fallen victim to this menace. The largest ivory consignment ever to have arrived in a South Asian country will be crushed today following religious observances at the Galle Face Green to bestow merit on tuskers slain in Tanzania.
International Blood Ivory Trade
According to the Centre for Environmental Studies (CENS), people believe that possessing jewellery and other ornaments made of ivory are signs of good luck. As a result thousands of elephants are poached every year for their tusks. According to statistics by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USWS), over 100,000 African elephants have been killed for their tusks between 2011 and 2014; while over 40,000 Asian elephants have faced the same fate. International media reports also state that numbers of African elephants have fallen drastically from 1.3 million to 600,000 due to widespread poaching.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Sri Lanka signed this agreement on April 5, 1979 and as per law Sri Lanka has to abide by the guidelines as mentioned in the agreement with effect from August 2, 1979. Today CITES accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs.
Although many would identify the crushing of tusks as a signal to ban the illegal trade of ivory according to the Sri Lankan culture, certain parties would speak otherwise.
It is a curse to destroy these tusks: Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera
In his comments to the Daily Mirror, the Chief Incumbent of Gangaramaya Temple, Venerable Galaboda Gnanissara thera said that elephants, cattle and horses are valued treasures in all Asian countries. “We have them in our moonstone and we give them due respect. The elephant is a sacred animal because it carries the sacred Tooth Relic and leads the Esala perahera. No procession takes places without elephants. Everything from a monk’s watapatha to the Relic mansion contains ivory. There are many instances when people destroy these tusks, or sell them for a million dollars and try to destroy our heritage, culture and traditions. When I visited a museum in New York I found a tusk with elephant pearls and later on I found that this tusk belonged to a Sri Lankan elephant. this meansthat tusks belonging to our elephants are also displayed worldwide. During the time of the Navam Perahera, I had close to 167 elephants initially; but today it is difficult to even find 25 or 30. There will be nothing left for the future generations to see, because by that time our people would have destroyed all our treasures. Things like tusks are found in abundance in temples and devalayas because they are related to the Buddha and other gods. People should destroy drugs and other illegal items, not ivory. If they do not have anything to do they could have released the ivory to the sea? Because of this ceremony I believe that our country will be cursed because it is completely unnecessary.”
The Bio-diversity Protection Unit has received worldwide recognition today : Samantha Gunasekara
The Daily Mirror spoke to the former Customs Deputy Director Samantha Gunasekara who was the mastermind behind this operation and who was instrumental in initiating the Biodiversity Protection Unit at the Sri Lanka Customs. In his comments he said that the tusks reached Colombo back in 2012 and it had remained intact ever since. “We didn’t get any requests to distribute them to temples except for one letter by the previous regime. However we didn’t move them from the container that had reached the Colombo Port. In fact I advised our officials how to handle the consignment since it was in transit.”
When asked about how the Bio-diversity Protection Unit was initiated he said that he felt that much more could be done if there was a biodiversity division, he said: “It started in 1993 and until today it has received worldwide recognition. In addition to this consignment of ivory, we have handled many consignments of rosewood, wallapatta, certain varieties of plants and weed, migratory birds and many more.”