From innocent freedom to a captive hell (Sri Lanka)


Daily Mirror

Date Published
For thousands of years, the elephant—widely regarded as the most majestic of all animals– has been part of Sri Lanka’s culture and plays a prominent role in pereheras including Asia’s most spectacular pageant, the Esala Perehara of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The beautifully caparisoned elephant carrying hallowed relics and walking on a ‘pavada’ is considered a sacred animal.

During the past few decades, the development push and population pressures have resulted in the robbing of traditional homelands of elephants by deforestation. Besides the devastating environmental damage, this inhuman activity has left elephants without food or a safe place to live. So they come to other areas in search of food and this has created a major human-elephant conflict.

In the past few years this conflict has taken a serious turn for the worse. It is in this backdrop that environmental movements say around 150 baby elephants have been captured from the forests during the past seven years.  Pubudu Weeraratne, Director of the Species Conservation Centre has said that about 80 baby elephants captured illegally from forests had already died at the hands of unscrupulous captors due to lack of proper care. He says there are powerful individuals like politicians behind the illegal capture of wild baby elephants and as in most other instances the law is not implemented because of a growing culture of impunity. Shakespeare would say, “Oh! Judgment thou art fled to beasts and people have lost their reason”.  Recently the media have highlighted a number of incidents of capturing wild baby elephants, either illegally or by producing fake permits.

Wildlife Resources and Conservation Minister Vijith Vijayamuni Soysa has said it is difficult to curb the illegal capturing of elephants due to the absence of proper laws, but with the law of the jungle prevailing, the Wildlife Department also appears to be running wild with even the book of registered elephants mysteriously disappearing.

It is a terrible shame that a country with such a rich civilisation and culture has been reprimanded by 20 worldwide wildlife movements for our failure to protect the elephants. As reported on page 10 of the Daily Mirror today, 20 organisations committed to the conservation and welfare of wildlife have written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressing  their  deep concern over the illegal capture of elephants from the wild in Sri Lanka. They have appealed to the President to take urgent action to stop the capture of wild elephants and the exhibition of elephants of questionable origin. The organisations have noted the global trend towards ethical tourism and expressed confidence that Sri Lanka, with its rich cultural and natural heritage, attracts visitors who value ethics and eco tourism alike. In addition, the people’s concern for the conservation and welfare of animals, particularly of elephants, is increasing. Therefore, ensuring the protection of Sri Lankan elephants from capture and abuse, while safeguarding their continued existence in the wild, would play an important role in maintaining and strengthening the country’s tourism industry.

Baby elephants are isolated from their herds in the jungle, captured and transferred to different locations for sale at anything between Rs. 10 million and  Rs. 15 million each, according to environmental activists Vimukthi Weeratunga and Nadika Hapuarachchi  who recently made a heart-rending presentation titled ‘From innocent freedom to a captive hell’ .   They and others described how baby elephants are taken away after brutally killing their mothers. Is this culture or an era of the vultures?