Baby jumbos become collateral damage in Sri Lanka’s cold war


Economy Next

Date Published


A deepening crisis within Sri Lanka’s unity government threatens to undermine a crackdown against high profile individuals, including monks and a magistrate accused of stealing baby elephants, official sources said Friday.

The alleged partisan police action against those illegally bringing up baby elephants had also figured as justification for President Maithripala Sirisena’s outburst against Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government.

A top official source close to both sides of the political divide said President Sirisena was miffed that police had taken action against two Buddhist monks for keeping baby elephants while turning a blind eye to another.

“The president could order the release of all these elephants and if that happens, it will be a major setback for conservation,” the official said. “We hope the president will not take such a decision.”

The President publicly criticised the three main anti-graft bodies for working according to a political agenda, apparently of Prime Minister’s United National Party, and heightened a cold war.

The unexpected public censure of the independent bribery commission saw its Director General Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe step down.

The government is expected to review the work of the Financial Crimes Investigations Division and the Criminal Investigations Division with a view to making drastic changes at the top.

Jumbos have become the another example of the alleged politically-motivated inquiries pursued by the police, according to the President’s camp.

Elephants have become a sensitive subject since the President came under pressure from the Buddhist hierarchy to release seized animals.

The monks had argued that they will not have the sufficient number of elephants for the main pageant in Kandy, but the event passed off in August with the participation of over 80 elephants, the minimum requirement.

“The argument that there was a shortage of tamed elephants for cultural events no longer holds, but the political crisis could see some of the seized se animals given back to the (illegal) owners,” the official said.

Wild Life Director General Sumith Pilapitiya resigned in June after refusing to carry out an illegal order to return the animals that were taken over by the department during their investigations into illegal ownership of jumbos.

Wildlife minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera has told parliament that he was determined to stop the illegal trade, but it is not clear if he will be able to resist influential groups with access to the President.

Almost every tamed baby elephant had been captured from the wild after killing its mother, according to wildlife experts who have been following the department’s conservation efforts.

Elephant calves have also been known to be killed by the tranquiliser drugs used to make them more docile for capture.

 About 40 elephants are reported to have been stolen from national parks in the past decade.