“Thilina Gamage” is a pleasant young non-controversial magistrate, who was charged under the Public Property Act for rearing a baby elephant valued at Rs.6.9 million allegedly without a valid licence. It is also alleged that he has been evading Courts awaiting the outcome of his application for anticipatory bail. His defence is said to be that the person from whom he bought the elephant calf is in possession of a valid receipt. Many other cases are pending with more wrong doings and inquiries which are shelved and swept under the carpet for obvious reasons.
Another owner of an elephant calf was a powerful member of the legislature under the previous regime. He had become a multimillionaire within few years and it is unlikely that his matter will come to the surface because he has agreed to cross over and divulge information. “Thilina’s” matter is given wide publicity as the other case of a famous Buddhist Monk allegedly rearing an elephant calf unlawfully. Presumably he may have crossed the path in some way to get into this soup unlike many other illegal elephant owners who are unconcerned and unaffected. There are cases pending and our area of discussion is limited and restricted to general information and facts that are of public interest. Wide publicity is given to this case and the facts which are somewhat unusual and concerns environmentalists, activists, professionals and the media.
Whether a magistrate could afford to purchase and maintain an elephant calf is a matter left to him, but whether he has complied with the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of 1937 amended in 2009 is the main issue to be considered. Section 23 of the Act states that any elephant which has not been registered under S/23, shall be presumed to be taken or removed without lawful authority with such elephants deemed to be public property. An elephant needs 150 kg of food and 150 litres of water a day and the cost of maintenance including the salary to the mahout is beyond an average citizen. These facts are common to all involved in the illegal trade still flourishing with the help of the rich and powerful.
Elephants are Intelligent Social Animals
Elephants are intelligent, social, society inclined and socially complex animals living in herds with a leader and bonded together in loving and peaceful environments. They keep away from other animals and other animals keep elephants at arm’s length except tigers and scavengers taking immature calves as prey amid ferocious resistance from the mother. They are full of family bonds, social and lovable harmless creatures unless they are threatened and their habitat is disturbed. They are a part of the environment preserving the environment, and the beauty of the jungle and jungle life.
Elephants are connected to Sri Lankan culture and customs and during the time of the Kings, wealth was assessed on the ownership of elephants. This system trickled down for generations considering the elephant as a symbol of social status. Kings and the rich only could own elephants presented and permitted to be owned by Royal decree. The situation changed after colonization when the British took to the killing of elephants to reduce the number for convenience. Due to the import of heavy vehicles and the introduction of the train service, the use of the elephant was confined to customary rituals such as the Perahera, a status symbol and a tourist attraction. Today an elephant has become one of the most expensive merchandise.
Snatching Baby Elephants from the Jungle
Snatching baby elephants from the jungle has attracted illegal traders because of the millions of rupees involved in the illegal trade equal to or more lucrative than the drug trade. It is a simple operation with the help of politicians, the powerful and the rich with the connivance of the Wildlife Department staff who are supposed to protect the elephants and wildlife from rogues.
The mother elephant is shot and killed to separate the calf which is tied or transported out and a veterinary surgeon’s certificate and the birth certificate are taken for the name to be entered in the elephant registration book which is a controversial book discussed in a number of cases against the leader “Ali Roshan” (Elephant Roshan) and other illegal elephant traders . It is a well-established illegal trade with large acres of land and heavy vehicles for the transport of calves and a lot of money to spend on politicians, Wildlife Department and the cronies in the system which are highlighted in the media and case records of ‘Ali Roshan’ and his accomplices are accused in other cases which have been given wide publicity.
VijithaVijumuni Soysa has been the wildlife minister for a considerable period until he crossed over to the Yahpalanaya” Good Governance for safety of absolving himself of any wrong doings. He said most of the domesticated elephants in Sri Lanka had been acquired illegally and would take steps to make it legal. He makes funny and controversial statements now and then on the matter.
Elephants are our treasure and a symbol of culture from the time of Kings who respected and protected the animal, which is a part and parcel of our environment and wealth. They go through torture in captivity with no food and additional torture during transit and living under pathetic conditions. Methods used to capture them are barbaric and illegal. The human-elephant conflict is due to the invasion of their habitats by unplanned deforestation and development projects.
We are proud to have 8,873 elephants with the numbers decreasing rapidly due to the human-elephant conflict and lack of coordination and the non-implementation of the Act and the absence of preventive measures. Organized groups snatch elephant calves from the jungle and sell them for millions with forged papers which are controversial amid the alteration of the elephant registration book. We do not need outsiders to ruin us and our culture. We are ruining ourselves, our environment and our cultural heritage in temples and wildlife with the most uncommon animals in the globe. It is time to demand zero elephant private ownership and minimize the use of elephants in peraheras in the interest of the future of the Nation.
Elephant populated areas such as Habarana must be declared as elephant habitats and protected with live wires with chena cultivators being provided alternative land. One must read the campaign for elephants welfare in the countries with no elephants or greenery. We do not realise the value of the elephant and the culture and environment connected to them because we are fortunate to possess this rare environments. Citizens are not concerned or worried about the cases and the parties involved, but if something good is the outcome of the cases they will be happy and contented. May this message will reach the people in power.
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