By Claire Salisbury
Environmentalists have responded with alarm to a proposed amnesty permitting the registration of illegally captured elephants in Sri Lanka. Recent reports in Sri Lankan media have outlined the proposal, stating that during the amnesty period it would be possible to register elephant calves for a fee of about $7,600.
Elephants are closely linked with Sri Lankan history and culture, and are considered sacred in both Buddhism and Hinduism. But the situation for elephants in the country is complicated. The increasing human population on the small island nation has resulted in the loss and fragmentation of elephant habitat. Sri Lankan elephants are classified as Endangered, with only an estimated 2,500–4,000 individuals left in the wild. Despite their threatened status, elephants frequently come into conflict with people over shared resources, resulting in both elephant and human deaths.
"Nearly 60% of the 150-250 [elephant\ deaths reported annually are due to retaliatory killing by people," Ajay Desai, Co-Chair of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group, told mongabay.com.
At the same time, a number of factors combine to make elephants highly sought after.
"There is a new set of wealthy people who want to keep elephant calves for prestige. Therefore there is a heavy demand, especially for elephant calves," Vimukthi Weeratunga, Director of Operations at the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL), a Sri Lankan NGO, told mongabay.com.
Prithiviraj Fernando, Chairman and Scientist at the Centre for Conservation and Research, agrees, stating, "In the past elephants were owned by nobility and this has some bearing on the desire to keep elephants today as it has a connotation of higher social status/prestige/wealth."
But there is more to it than simply prestige; the importance of elephants in many cultural and religious ceremonies makes them lucrative possessions. More....