Un­known business agenda may be be­hind ele­phant sale idea

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By Ka­sun Warakapi­tiya

Fences also be­come use­less when hu­mans steal the so­lar pan­els, elec­tric ca­bles and recharge­able bat­ter­ies

Alo­cal politi­cian con­tin­ues to draw ridicule and raise sus­pi­cions in Sri Lanka and be­yond its shores for sug­gest­ing that there are too many ele­phants and they should be rounded up from the wilds and be sold over­seas.

An ele­phant calf in Sri Lanka sells for up­wards of US$150,000 (Rs 19 mil­lion).

In Sri Lanka, there are more ele­phant deaths than that of hu­mans. More than 270 ele­phants have been killed last year, com­pared with 88 hu­man deaths, of­fi­cial data show.

But the sec­re­tariat of the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, warned that the African ele­phant pop­u­la­tion in Zimbabwe would be threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion if the trade was not strictly reg­u­lated.

CITES does not have the au­thor­ity to in­ter­vene in any com­mer­cial deals. But par­ties to the con­ven­tion must re­port the deals to CITES.

In re­spond­ing to con­cerns of vil­lagers raised by a Bud­dhist monk at a Balan­goda coun­cil meet­ing about ele­phant at­tacks and the death of an in­no­cent man, Karunaratna Paranaw­ith­ana, the deputy min­is­ter of Skills Devel­op­ment and Vo­ca­tional Train­ing, at­tacked Sri Lanka’s wildlife poli­cies as “very stupid’’.

Based on the for­est cover, the Jathika Hela Uru­maya mem­ber, claimed there are too many ele­phants. Sri Lanka needs only 4,000 ele­phants, he said, not­ing that there are 6,000. “We must con­trol the pop­u­la­tion growth of ele­phants.’’

He pro­posed: “Let’s round up the ele­phants and sell then to an­other coun­try.’’

He said he had men­tioned this to Wildlife Min­is­ter Gamini Jayaw­ick­rema Per­era.

Wildlife Min­is­ter, Per­era, and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists this week ex­pressed con­cerns over Paranaw­ith­ana’s com­ments.

Min­is­ter Per­era told the Sun­day Times that the re­marks could have a se­ri­ous im­pact on Sri Lanka’s plans to host the 18th ses­sion of CITES in 2019, when more than 5,000 del­e­gates are ex­pected.

“The deputy Min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble should learn about Bud­dhism, wildlife and CITES be­fore mak­ing ab­surd com­ments be­fore the me­dia,” he said.

Min­is­ter Per­era said the sug­ges­tions were im­prac­ti­cal.

He ex­plained that ele­phants are pro­tected an­i­mals that can­not be sold to other coun­tries, be­cause it vi­o­lates the CITES con­ven­tion.

“These kind of state­ments ridicule the coun­try and will present a bad im­age, due to that the in­ter­na­tional good name can be lost re­sult­ing in a de­ci­sion to boy­cott the ses­sions held at Sri Lanka.’’

Karunaratna made the com­ments, while chair­ing the Balan­goda co­or­di­nat­ing com­mit­tee meet­ing held at the di­vi­sional sec­re­tariat.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Sashikalana Rat­watte, said en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists con­demn the idea.

He claimed that there is only a 16.4 per­cent of for­est cover re­main­ing in the coun­try there­fore it’s un­likely to have a pop­u­la­tion of 6,000 ele­phants.

“Even though we spec­u­late there is a high num­ber, more than 100 ele­phants die per year for var­i­ous rea­sons. If 2,000 ele­phants are ex­ported it would be a vi­o­la­tion of con­ser­va­tion rules,” he said.

He said na­ture takes care of elim­i­nat­ing the weak and the in­firm from the wilds.

Mr Rat­watte pointed out that Sri Lanka has an an obli­ga­tion to abide by the CITES con­ven­tion.

He said that if min­is­ters make com­i­cal state­ments and por­tray con­ser­va­tion as a joke, then, host­ing the CITES ses­sion will also be seen as ridicu­lous.

How­ever, the di­rec­tor gen­eral of D W C, M G C Sooriya­ban­dara, said that cur­rently the wildlife depart­ment main­tains elec­tric fenc­ing as an ef­fec­tive method of keep­ing the ele­phants within the parks, but there are oc­ca­sions when ele­phants de­stroy the fenc­ing.

Fences also be­come use­less when hu­mans steal the so­lar pan­els, elec­tric ca­bles and recharge­able bat­ter­ies.

Re­spond­ing to charges of not hav­ing an an­i­mal man­age­ment plan, he claimed that, the depart­ment con­trols habi­tat con­di­tions, pro­vides wa­ter dur­ing droughts and im­proves the ecol­ogy of na­tional parks to sus­tain an­i­mals, while al­low­ing na­ture to main­tain a bal­ance in the num­ber of an­i­mals.

Mean­while, the Jathika Hela Uru­maya mem­bers de­fended Mr Paranaw­ith­ana’s state­ments ex­plain­ing that the peo­ple need re­lief from nui­sance an­i­mals such as mon­keys, wild boars, pea­cocks, and ele­phants.

Min­is­ter of Me­gapo­lis and Western Devel­op­ment Patali Champika Ranawaka said that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are only con­cerned about an­i­mals, but hu­mans and an­i­mals should co- ex­ist. To en­sure co-ex­is­tence, both hu­man and an­i­mal num­bers must be con­trolled with­out wip­ing out ei­ther.

He said that ac­cord­ing to an ele­phant cen­sus while he was min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment and nat­u­ral re­sources, there are 9,000 ele­phants in the coun­try.

He claimed that there are about 650 births and 250 deaths. The ex­cess should be con­trolled by man­ag­ing wildlife.

“The ma­jor­ity of wild ele­phants are out­side the parks and so are the wild boar, pea­cocks and mon­keys who dam­age vil­lages. The fel­low min­is­ter has con­sid­ered the im­pact on the peo­ple and ex­plained that an­i­mals should be man­aged,” he said.

Mr Ranawaka claimed that lack of wa­ter and growth of in­va­sive plants caused an­i­mals to stray out­side parks. The DWC and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist should fo­cus on these fac­tors, he said.

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