Sri Lanka’s president has been urged to order the destruction of a huge stockpile of blood ivory seized more than two years ago, amid fears that he intends to place it under his own personal control.
Conservationists have written to Mahinda Rajapaksa demanding that the 359 elephant tusks, worth about £1.8 million and originally poached in Tanzania, be publicly burnt to demonstrate Sri Lanka’s opposition to the global ivory trade. The haul had been in transit from Kenya to Dubai. Seven months after the seizure, Mr Rajapaksa’s office tried to have the ivory transferred to his personal control. In a letter to the director general of Sri Lanka’s customs department, Mr Rajapaksa’s chief of staff wrote: “I shall be thankful if you could kindly get the tusks released to the Presidential Secretariat as early as possible.”
The letter said that the tusks would be donated to a Buddhist temple, Sri Dalada Maligawa. After a public outcry, the transfer – which experts say would have been a clear violation of UN laws on wildlife trade – never happened. In their letter, the team of Sri Lankan conservationists, allied to the Bill Clinton-led Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), said: “We call upon you to demonstrate your sincere commitment by publicly burning the stock of blood ivory, as has been done by many other countries with a similar commitment to stop the brutal practice of killing elephants.”
The letter, seen by The Times, was co-signed by the Federation of Environmental Organisations of Sri Lanka and the CGI. Blood ivory is the term used to describe ivory that has been taken from animals killed for their tusks.
Leslie Gamini, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s customs department, confirmed that the tusks, which DNA analysis showed were poached in Tanzania, remained in its custody. “We have not decided what to do with them and nobody has given the order to destroy them,” he said.
Shruti Suresh, a campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency in London, said that the only legal use for the tusks under UN law would be in scientific research or education. Donating them to a temple for religious purposes would be a breach of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, she said.
Ms Suresh also asked why the tusks were still being held and why so little progress had been made in identifying the ivory smugglers and poachers behind the seizure. “This was a huge shipment and a highly organised network but to date we are not aware of a single arrest,” she said.