Priceless elephants and especially the majestic tuskers have been part of Sri Lanka’s culture, traditions and civilisation for thousands of years. After the silent rainbow revolution of the people on January 8, shocking revelations are being made not about ‘Hora Ali’ or rogue elephants but about ‘Ali Horu’ or those involved in the mega corruption regime where elephants also were robbed and given to VIPs who indulged in some strange pasttime or distorted perception of status symbol.
On a popular TV talkshow on Thursday, Wasantha Senanayake, the Minister of State for tourism and sports and other experts gave some deep insights on what we need to do to save our elephants and especially the tuskers. According to the last major elephant survey conducted in Sri Lanka few years ago there are more than 5,800 elephants and about 200 tuskers.
Mr. Senanayake, a great grandson of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, said documentary evidence had been handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department to probe how elephants were gifted, legally or illegally to VIPs including the former Defence and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The Minister expressed confidence that the CID would act fast to take action against those who were involved in the ‘Ali Horu business’. Mr. Senanayake and the other environmental and wildlife experts said it was selfish and unfair to talk of a human-elephant conflict. They said selfish human beings over the past few decades had invaded and occupied the jungle homes or habitats of the elephants. So much so that the forest cover in Sri Lanka has declined to an inhuman 10 per cent. With little food and less habitat, the elephants go to a human habitation in search of food and the voiceless animals are called rogue elephants though the real rogues are those who robbed the habitat of the animals. The experts said that political leaders and environmentalists should work out a programme where the people were given housing facilities in some areas while more jungles are kept free for the elephants to live and get their food.
The experts including environmentalists and lawyer Jagath Gunawardena and Ven. Dambara Amila Thera, a senior lecturer at the Sri Jayawardenapura University said it was a crime to keep elephants chained at Pinnawala, in the gardens of wealthy or powerful people or even in temples. They pointed out that for thousands of years elephants lived in jungles where they roamed 10 to 15 kilometres a day and lived happily eating jungle food like beli or other fruits and leaves. When the elephants are kept chained they may be given apples or coconut honey but such food is not suitable and their inability to roam around for a few kilometers causes various ailments including arthritis. Due to the lack of freedom, the lack of proper jungle food and other factors, the elephants suffer mentally and physically and die a miserable death much before their lifetime though keeping the elephants give some sort of strange pleasure to those who do so.
The Ven. Dambara Amila Thera spoke out strongly. He told members of the Sangha that cruelty to animals was against basic teachings of the Buddha Dhamma which insisted that all beings, including animals must be happy. The Ven. Dambara Amila said that in view of the growing crisis of ‘Ali Horu’ he believed the time had come for the Sangha to reconsider the practice of using a large number of elephants for various peraheras in different parts of the country. The prelate said he believed the practice could continue at the Dalada Maligawa Perehera because elephants had been a part of this spectacular pageant in tribute to the most Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. But he appealed that the use of large numbers of elephants for other pageants be reconsidered. Even for the Dalada Perahera he proposed that the government should make arrangements to bring these elephants from their jungle homes and take them back after the pageants.
The historic trumpet call, the voice from the wilderness is appealing to Sri Lanka not to destroy a majestic and priceless treasure which is not just part of our treasury but of our hallowed culture. We hope the ‘Ali Horu’ would be brought to justice and that justice will be done to the majestic elephants.