By Kasun Warakapitiya
From next Wednesday, officials will begin raids on properties where elephants are being held illegally with the minister giving two weeks’ grace to surrender elephants, hoping this would stop panicking wrongdoers from killing the innocent animals.
Environmentalists claim more than 50 elephants are being held illegally.
Tourism Minister Naveen Dissanayake and Deputy Minister Wasantha Senananayake this week issued the warning on increased raids following high-profile raids this week on two temples in the Colombo area and a property in Ratnapura in which elephants were found tethered in the grounds.
The latest raid was on Friday evening when a team of officials of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) accompanied by Mr. Senanayake (the DWC comes under the purview of the Ministry of Tourism) found two elephants, one 10-15 years and the other, Kadira, around 50 years, held at the Vipasharamaya temple on the Maharagama-Dehiwala road.
The monks claimed ownership documents on the two elephants were not immediately available, saying they had been submitted to court in relation to a case.
Two wildlife officials have been deployed atthe temple until tomorrow when further investigations are to be completed.
The younger elephant was tied in a shed in the front of the temple while the larger animal, which appeared to have an injury to its back, was in the backyard.
Ven. Maha Kumbukwewa Chandrananda, a monk at the temple, told The Sunday Times there was a case pending and the elephant registration documents had been produced in court.
“This temple has had many elephants in the past. These elephants are not illegal. Environmentalists make false claims that all the elephants they see are being held illegally,” he said.
DWC Legal Officer Gamini Vijith Samarakoon said there were discrepancies between documents filed with the department and the elephants held at the temple. “We will be checking a report given to us by the vet against our documents on Monday,” he added.
Earlier on Friday, in another raid carried out in Pelmadulla, Ratnapura and a three-year-old elephant with wounds on its body was found on a private property.
Deputy Minister Senanayake said the caretaker of the animal had not been able to produce any registration documents.
“This elephant is apparently being kept illegally,” he said.
On Wednesday, a baby elephant was taken into custody from a temple in Polhengoda, Narahenpita. The little animal was transferred to the Elephant Transit Home (Eth Athuru Sevana) in Udawalawe the following day.
The raid followed a tip-off to the Deputy Minister who accompanied wildlife officials to the Allanmethiniyaramaya temple in Narahenpita.
A monk there said the baby elephant belonged to Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera and temple authorities could later produce the relevant documents. The animal was, however, taken away to Udawalawe.
A second, older elephant held at the temple was left there as the relevant documents had been filed with the DWC.
A wildlife official said the baby elephant appeared to have been captured from the wild and brought to the temple. “The animal appears to have been tortured and domesticated,” he added. The elephant bore scars hind legs on one of its front legs as well as had a cataract in its eye.
With Mr. Senanayake on this raid were DIG Gamini Dissanayake and a squad of police officials as well as DWC Deputy Director W.A.D.U Indrajith.
The Deputy Minister promised action against elephant poachers and those who held elephants illegally.
He said some held forged permits for baby elephants but a greater number of elephants were being held without any kind of permit.
Mr. Senanayake said flying squads of DWC officials would begin raiding suspected premises fromnext Wednesday. Anyone who held an elephant illegally would be given two weeks to obtain a licence while raids continued, he said.