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Registering tamed elephants: Conservationists cry foul over Cabinet paper

Conservationists are accusing the Government of attempting to release illegally caught baby elephants back to their captors.

Image Credit: Justice for Animals

Conservationists and animal rights groups are up in arms over an alleged Cabinet proposal approved earlier this month to release illegally captured baby elephants that are now in Wildlife Department custody back to their captors.

Justice for Animals, a group of conservationists working under the Sri Bodhiraja Foundation, accused the Government yesterday (21) of the move.

Wildlife Protection Society (WPS) Secretary Nayanaka Ranwella told reporters at a jointly organised press conference that, if implemented, the proposal would not only worsen the plight of elephants in Sri Lanka but also undermine every effort made by conservationists to protect the country’s dwindling elephant population.

“This proposal was recently presented to the Cabinet with the signatures of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Wildlife Minister John Amaratunga and [former Wildlife] Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera. We believe all three of them did it intentionally,” said Ranwella.

The Cabinet paper in question was a joint memorandum presented by the Prime Minister’s Office together with the Ministry of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs. The memorandum, approved by Cabinet on 1 October, contained provisions on the regulation and transfer of possession of tamed elephants in the custody of the National Zoological Gardens and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) pending investigations and court cases. 

The conservationists point to a provision in the Cabinet proposal that they find particularly problematic, which recommends formally registering tamed elephants under existing owners, irrespective of whether or not said owners hold a licence or ‘Sannas Pathra’ for their respective elephant.

Ranwella argues that this could lead to illegally captured elephants being returned to their captors. The memorandum also proposes dismissing current legal proceedings through a nolle prosequi, he said.

“Through this, the efforts of a lot of people will be undermined. Waylayers will be able to own elephants — animals considered public property in Sri Lanka. There was an instance where a baby elephant named ‘Rani’ that was released to the Lunugamvehera National Park from the Yala Elephant Transit Home was stolen. The history of elephants in this country has been a bloody one, and through this proposal they’re trying to give life to that bloody history again,” said Ranwella.

The activist also accused the previous government of allowing illegal activity relating to elephants.

“Under the Rajapaksa government, the situation was even worse. According to the statistics we have, baby elephants were brought to Colombo in Defenders and Nissan Patrols. From what we know, around 15 baby elephants died in this process. Even the Edward Dissanayake committee report noted that these baby elephants were captured after brutally killing their mothers,” Ranwella added.

Speaking to RepublicNext, however, Minister Amaratunga dismissed concerns raised by the rights groups regarding the new Cabinet paper.

“I deny the accusations. There is no truth in it,” he said.

“Nothing will be carried out during the election period,” the Minister added.

Meanwhile DWC Director General M. G. C. Sooriyabandara acknowledged receipt of the paper, adding that a committee was appointed to implement its directives.

However, he declined to comment on whether it could mean a return of illegally captured baby elephants to their owners.