By Sandun Jayawardana
Over 140 elephants are currently being held illegally in various parts of the island, a group of environmentalists charged today.
Speaking at a media briefing, environmentalist Pubudu Weerarathna stated most of the elephants were being held illegally using forged elephant licences, while others were being held using licences of elephants who had long since died.
He alleged all elephant calves that were being held at temples and by various individuals claiming to have been 'born' at these places were being held illegally under forged licences as no elephant calf had been born in captivity at temples or private residences since the early 1990s.
Weerarathna further said there was one particular address at Maharagama where as many as 10 captive elephants had been registered as being born there. "If records are to be believed, one she-elephant at this particular location gave birth to three calves within the period of a year," he revealed.
Environmentalists accused the Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the former Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation of being directly behind the issuing of illegal licences for most such elephants.
"Audit queries conducted by the Auditor General's Department has already found 36 elephants currently being held illegally at various locations," Weeraratne said.
Environmentalists also ridiculed the recent raid conducted by the DWC to investigate an elephant allegedly held illegally by United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Sajin De Vass Gunawardena. They claimed it was simply a 'media circus' conducted by the Director General of the DWC in an attempt to enter the good books of the new government so as to keep his post.