Own­ers of poached Sri Lanka ele­phants may avoid sanc­tion

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

COLOMBO: A group of wealthy busi­ness­men, a Bud­dhist priest and other so­cial higher-ups on trial in Sri Lanka for al­legedly keep­ing il­le­gally cap­tured ele­phants may get their an­i­mals back - legally. Sri Lanka’s gov­ern­ment says it is ready to for­give the own­ers of poached ele­phants and give them a chance to ap­ply for li­censes provided they can prove in court that they did not know the an­i­mals that were con­fis­cated from them had been il­le­gally cap­tured from the wild.

In the South Asian is­land na­tion, an ele­phant in the back­yard has long been a sign of wealth, priv­i­lege and power. Though cap­tur­ing wild ele­phants has been banned for decades and reg­is­tra­tion records in­di­cate there should be only 127 ele­phants in cap­tiv­ity - most of them older - young ele­phants are a com­mon sight in Sri Lanka’s 400 or so Bud­dhist re­li­gious pro­ces­sions and tra­di­tional cer­e­monies ev­ery year.

Suc­cess of a re­li­gious pro­ces­sion is mea­sured by the num­ber of parad­ing ele­phants. For Bud­dhists, who make up 70 per­cent of the coun­try’s 20 mil­lion peo­ple, ele­phants are be­lieved to have been ser­vants of the Bud­dha and even a pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion of the holy man him­self. Sin­halese kings rode ele­phants into bat­tle. And ev­ery year, col­or­fully dec­o­rated tuskers carry an or­nate box con­tain­ing a replica of one of the Bud­dha’s teeth.

In the last two years, the gov­ern­ment has con­fis­cated 39 ele­phants whose own­ers pro­duced ei­ther false per­mits or none at all. Some had paid as much as $200,000 per cap­tured an­i­mal when a pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment was in of­fice, ac­cord­ing to the Wildlife Min­istry. It would sug­gest the au­thor­i­ties had ei­ther turned a blind eye to the racket or sold fake li­censes. The cur­rent trial in­volves 42 peo­ple four of them ac­cused of il­le­gally cap­tur­ing and trad­ing in wild ele­phants, 27 who al­legedly altered the of­fi­cial ele­phant reg­istry and is­sued and ob­tained false doc­u­ments, five sus­pected of pos­sess­ing ele­phants with­out li­censes and six held for pos­sess­ing li­censes with­out ac­tu­ally hav­ing an ele­phant in their back­yard. Among them are a prom­i­nent Bud­dhist priest and a judge. If con­victed, they could face a max­i­mum 10 years in prison or a fine or both. But if the gov­ern­ment has its way, some of them could walk free and own an ele­phant legally. A mea­sure adopted by the Cabi­net in April says only poach­ers and wildlife of­fi­cers who col­lude with them by pro­vid­ing forged li­censes will face pun­ish­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Wildlife Min­is­ter Gamini Jayaw­ick­rama Per­era, own­ers may get a second chance if they are able to prove that they did not know their ele­phants were il­le­gally cap­tured or the pa­per­work fraud­u­lent. “There are some peo­ple who love the an­i­mals and maybe they have taken them with­out know­ing. If there are gen­uine cases proved in court then the court can de­cide and tell us,” Per­era said.

It wasn’t clear when the court will rule or if it will take the gov­ern­ment’s view into ac­count. But the sug­ges­tion has irked con­ser­va­tion­ists who say it sets a bad prece­dent. “This is non­sense,” said Sumith Pi­lapi­tiya, a for­mer World Bank en­vi­ron­men­tal spe­cial­ist. “The onus is on the buyer to make sure the pa­per­work is right. You are try­ing to le­gal­ize some­thing il­le­gal, look­ing for loop­holes,” he said. The rea­son for the gov­ern­ment’s un­ex­pected le­niency to­ward own­ers of poached ele­phants lies in Sri Lanka’s tra­di­tions. It wasn’t a prob­lem decades and cen­turies ago, when ele­phants were plen­ti­ful, but the pop­u­la­tion has since been dec­i­mated. Per­era said it’s dif­fi­cult for the gov­ern­ment to feed and care for ele­phants con­fis­cated from homes and tem­ples. There is also a short­age of ele­phants in re­li­gious pro­ces­sions, most of which take place around the same time this month.

The Sri Lankan ele­phant is one of three sub­species of Asian ele­phant and is found only in Sri Lanka. In the 19th cen­tury, there were be­lieved to be up to 14,000. That num­ber fell to fewer than 3,000 be­fore hunt­ing and cap­ture were banned. But while the pop­u­la­tion has grown since then to nearly 6,000, ac­cord­ing to Sri Lanka’s first of­fi­cial ele­phant cen­sus in 2011, they are still con­sid­ered en­dan­gered and un­der threat from habi­tat loss and degra­da­tion. They are con­fined to small, iso­lated pock­ets of jun­gle and pas­ture in the north and the east.

Per­era said the gov­ern­ment’s mea­sure was not meant to give an es­cape route to the of­fend­ers. “We can’t give guar­an­tees to any­one, il­le­gal is il­le­gal,” he said, adding that prospec­tive own­ers could re-ap­ply for an ele­phant li­cense “ac­cord­ing to the judg­ment given by the court”. — AP

— AP

MATARA, Sri Lanka: In this May 19, 2015 file photo, Sri Lankan po­lice of­fi­cers march with a cer­e­mo­ni­ally dressed ele­phant calf dur­ing a Vic­tory Day pa­rade in about 165 km south of Colombo.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.