Members of a group of conservationists have alleged that certain corrupt officials at the DWC had issued approvals for illegal racketeers to keep illegally captured baby elephants in their captivity
Pics by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe
- Cabinet paper signed to release illegally captured baby elephants
Days after Tikiri breathed her last, Kanakota collapsed to its death after entertaining a group of tourists on its back. As elephants have become an easy money spinner for racketeers, the matter seems to have blown out of proportion. Making things worse, a questionable Cabinet paper was recently signed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, subject minister John Amaratunga and Minister of Buddhasasana and Wayamba Development Gamini Jayawickrama Perera which aims to release illegally captured baby elephants that are now in Wildlife Department custody back to their captors. There are close to 40 elephants in custody currently being rehabilitated at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and the DWC’s rehabilitation Centre in Udawalawa. It is these rehabilitated elephants that would be released to their captors through this Cabinet paper as a result of adding pressure to the DWC through the interference of the AG’s Department.
Elephants will become a private property of illegal captors : Ranwella
Speaking at a recent press conference organised by Justice for Animals, a group of conservationists working under the Sri Bodhiraja Foundation, Secretary of Wildlife Protection Society Nayanaka Ranwella alleged that around year 2000 certain corrupt officials at the DWC have issued approvals for illegal racketeers to keep illegally captured baby elephants in their captivity. “Some genuine officials got involved to take these elephants into custody. Even though elephants were like a confiscated item, in most instances those illegal captors were released. Making things worse this Cabinet paper was released recently and it clearly states that irrespective of whether they were illegally captured or not or whether those owners have elephant permits or not that the process of handing over elephants should be streamlined and that these elephants should be handed over to those owners. Therefore those who signed it accept the fact that there’s an ad hoc process in place to hand over elephants to people. It also permits the AG’s Department to get involved and either stop or dismiss pending court cases and release elephants back to those captors. When inquired, the Cabinet refuted all allegations, but this discourages the attempts made in terms of conservation of elephants. Elephants are a public property, but through this paper they will become a private property of these illegal captors.”
These elephants are actually sent for tourism-related activities : Ratwatte
In his comments, Sashikalana Ratwatte, a volunteer environmentalist said that since 2009 there have been attempts to domesticate illegally captured elephants and the reason given by captors is to send them for pageants. “Although they claim that these elephants are sent for pageants, in reality they are taken for tourism related activities in Kandalama and surrounding areas. These people are backed by political powers and religious institutions. But they attempt to continue their rackets by giving reasons related to Buddhism.”
Could be a bribe for elections : Withanage
Executive Director of Centre for Environmental Justice Hemantha Withanage said that it is clear that this cabinet paper gives powers to the AG to intervene. “There’s a public property act and if there’s a violation, the accused would have to serve a jail term between one to 20 years. Depending on the item they could be fined thrice the actual amount of the item and it should be Rs. 1000 or more. Therefore it is considered a criminal offense. These elephants have been separated from their mothers and smuggled in small vehicles. I feel there’s going to be a serious violation of the law. On the other hand this is election season and we feel that releasing these elephants is like a bribe being paid by the Government. Therefore it’s violating election rules and regulations as well.”
When inquired by DWC Director General Chandana Sooriyabandara he accepted that he received such a Cabinet paper, but refused to comment further. This paper is signed in contrary to the joint memorandum presented by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Ministry which was approved by the Cabinet a few weeks ago. This proposal suggested to cover maintenance, welfare and safety of tamed elephants in the custody of National Zoological Gardens and the DWC pending judicial proceedings and investigations. So far, 383 tamed elephants have been registered under the DWC while 118 of them are registered under National Zoological Gardens. According to records, 265 elephants have been registered under private ownership and 126 of them are alive while 139 of them are dead. Out of the elephants that are alive, it was revealed that six of them were registered under forged licenses and therefore only 120 elephants are under legitimate private registration.