By Robin Pagnamenta
Sri Lanka has been urged to destroy a huge stockpile of blood ivory seized more than two years ago, amid fears the President intends to place it under his control.
Conservationists have written to Mahinda Rajapaksa demanding that the 359 elephant tusks, worth about $2.6 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, his 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 the tusks would be donated to a Buddhist temple, Sri Dalada Maligawa.
After an outcry, the transfer, which experts say would have been a clear violation of UN laws on wildlife trade, did not happen.
In their letter, the team of Sri Lankan conservationists, allied to the Bill Clinton-led Clinton Global Initiative, 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 was co-signed by the Federation of Environmental Organisations of Sri Lanka and the CGI. Blood ivory is the term used to describe ivory taken from animals killed for their tusks.
Leslie Gamini, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s Customs, 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 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.
The WWF says the Sri Lankan elephant population has fallen almost 65 per cent since the turn of the 19th century but the country’s elephant is now protected under law and killing one carries the death penalty.