By Maheesha Mudugamuwa
Tourism is being seen as a factor in the increasing illegal capture of wild elephants locally and in the trading of these animals. Wildlife conversationists warned that the Sri Lankan elephant population could very well be wiped out in the near future if these deleterious trends continue.
Species Conservation Centre chairman Pubudu Weeraratne said that the Sri Lankan elephants were in crisis due to the well organised, illegal trade conducted with the support of some politicians of this country.
He claimed that there was a group of people who caught wild elephants and sold them at a huge price.
‘They are earning large sums of money through the illegal elephant trade as they had a good demand from the tourism industry, Weeraratne added.
Activists raised issues over the baby elephant found tied at Meerigama Kandalama Walawwa recently, claiming that he was captured illegally from the wild as the Jumbo’s documents were found to be fake and the permit produced in court was obtained two and a half years back.
Capturing elephants in the wild was banned in 1875 with disclosures over the infamous Panamure Kraal.
Weeraratne explained that the baby elephant’s purported permit which was produced was taken in 2012 for a request made in 2008 and the height of the elephant noted at the registration was 4’’. "This very clearly shows that the baby elephant had not been registered and the permit produced was a fake," he added.
He also accused the Wildlife Conservation Department (WCD) Director General H.D Rathnayake of misleading the court by not divulging correct details.
Elephant activists suspect that this baby elephant had been captured in the Habarana forest. Habarana is believed to be the nerve centre of this alleged racket. The area has a high elephant density, being in the centre of three National Parks, namely, Minneriya, Kawdulla and Hurulu. Transporting elephants used for elephant safaris in and out of Habarana is also a common occurrance. So it is an ideal ground to execute abductions.
However, conservationists urge the relevant authorities to punish the culprits without hiding the truth.
Weeraratne noted: "Though the WCD recently said that no elephants were registered last year, two new elephants were registered with the WCD, while 20 permits were renewed last year."
Meanwhile, Buddha Sasana Deputy Minister recently revealed that 63 elephant calves were stolen from the Habarana forest area, while the Wildlife Resources and Conservation Minister Vijith Wijayamuni Soysa said that they were finding it difficult to curb illegal elephant trafficking due to the absence of a proper legal system on the matter and proposed registering the elephants calves following a DNA test as a solution.
Elephant activists have welcomed the proposal to register the baby elephants following a DNA test as the animal was under a huge threat, as networks operate a rapacious trade in wild elephants to meet the demands of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.