By Sandun Jayawardana
Steps will soon be taken to destroy the consignment of ‘Blood Ivory’ seized by Sri Lanka Customs in May, 2012 and held in custody thus far, Deputy Minister of Tourism and Sports, Vasantha Senanayake said. The deputy minister expressed these views in response to a query by The Nation as to why the consignment continued to remain at a Customs warehouse in Colombo Port.
Environmentalists have raised issue regarding the continued delay in destroying the consignment of 359 elephant tusks, which is said to be the largest such consignment of blood ivory detected in South Asia. These tusks are thought to have been removed from African elephants in Kenya that were killed by poachers.
When contacted, Senanayake said he had directed the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) to hold an inter-departmental meeting with Sri Lanka Customs in order to discuss the possibility of the DWC taking charge of the consignment in order to dispose of it. The deputy minister said he was ‘hopeful’ that the discussions would be a success and that the ivory would be destroyed very soon.
Customs Media Spokesman Leslie Gamini, however, said Sri Lanka Customs was yet to receive any official directive or request for cooperation in destroying the blood ivory.
Coordinator Operations at Federation of Environmental Organizations (FEO) Vinod Malwatte stated the FEO had been urging authorities to burn the blood ivory as Sri Lanka is obligated to do so under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which it is a party to.
The stock of blood ivory has caused controversy since its detection. In December, 2012, a letter was sent by the Presidential Secretariat directing the Director General of Customs to release the tusks to be ‘donated’ to the Dalada Maligawa and other temples. The letter was signed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Chief of Staff, Gamini Senarath. The directive was never carried out due to intense protests by environmentalists and customs officials.