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Sat, 25 April 2015 10:49:54
Sri Lanka wildlife groups boycott elephant census
10 Aug, 2011 07:49:07
Aug 10, 2011 (LBO) - Sri Lankan conservation groups are boycotting an elephant census, and called on the private sector not to support the effort, after a government minister revealed plans to capture up to 300 calves with tusks for domestication.
Agrarian and wildlife minister S M Chandrasena was reported as saying that the survey would be used to identify suitable male calves for domestication.

No Support

"After the minister's announcement we made a decision to withdraw from the survey," Pubudu Weerarathna of the Ruk Rakaganno, a conservation group, told reporters.

Environmentalists said 12 organizations have withdrawn from the survey to protest the move and are also urging the private sector to stop supporting the census.

"We are urging the private sector not to engage in this survey because there is a hidden agenda," said Vimukthi Weeratunga of the Environmental Foundation, another conservation group.

Sri Lanka is estimated to have at least 4,000 elephants, but some conservationists have said it could be higher, perhaps as much as 50 percent or more.

So-called human animal conflicts have also increased. The census can give clearer idea about the actual population.

About 200 elephants are killed each year mainly by farmers, averaging 2,000 over a decade. Such mortality, analysts say, may point to a higher population.

Sri Lanka's department of wildlife has denied that the survey would be used as a basis to capture wild elephants for domestic use. It has been an old practice in Sri Lanka for temples and aristocrats to keep elephants.

The Wildlife Department on its website has said that "information on elephant range and numbers is vital for the effective conservation and management of elephants in Sri Lanka."

"There is inconsistency in what the department says and what the minister says," Weerarathne said.

"We also feel that this could be a move to legalize some of the illegal extractions of baby elephants from national parks that were reported during the recent past."

There have been reports of illegally extracted baby elephants, kept by powerful figures being killed due to poor care.

The Wildlife Departments director was also suddenly transferred by higher authorities. It is not clear why he was transferred or whether he was availed of any due process.

Rule of Law

The latest controversy over elephants underscores a deep morass of Sri Lanka's public service, liberties and freedoms of citizens and rule of law.

Legal analysts have pointed out that constitutions made in 1972 and 1978 which destroyed the institution of permanent secretary of ministries and crushed a public service commission had eventually undermined evidence-based formulation of public policy, law-making and rule of law itself.

Recently a worker was shot to death in protests, after the state suddenly brought a law to deduct money from private sector workers and build a state-run pensions fund with no discussion.

In the conservation area, there have been pressure for example for 'elephant drives' from some quarters to deal with the so-called human elephant conflict, which experts say is a scientific failure and could also make the problem by isolating bull elephants.

Critics have said that by exposing public officials to the arbitrary actions of rulers, general lawlessness has been promoted over the past three decades. Without security of tenure, public officials are unable to resist arbitrary rule and protect the liberties and freedoms of citizens.

Conservationists have recently sounded warnings over attempts to drive a new road around 'Sinharaja' a protected forest, with rare endemics. A road was suddenly cut through a protected secondary forest in Wilpattu earlier overriding objections from conservationists.

Concerns have also been raised about attempts to cut down a part of remaining forest in eastern Sri Lanka for commercial agriculture.

Sri Lanka's current human-elephant conflicts are partly due to a farming expansion in the 1980s which destroyed large forested areas, mainly for rice farming.


In Sri Lanka tusked elephants are relatively rare. Environmentalists warn that domesticating young male tuskers will wipe out the remaining wild tusker population in the island.

Conservationists say volunteers have been given instructions to note tuskers, and the direction of their tusks, whether they are straight or curved, indicating that powerful people wanted tuskers with good characteristics identified.

Sri Lanka's elephant population has few tuskers and they have been prized for use in temples and in ancient times by rich aristocrats as a status symbol.

Now some ministers and powerful figures connected to key institutions are doing the same according to other reports.

"Elephants with good characteristics, especially tuskers for capture could wipe out the wild tusker population in the Island," Rukshan Jayawardena of the Wildlife Conservation Forum said.

"Breeding males are already in danger of dying out because of the various threats they face on a daily basis.

"And the young tuskers that one day might grow up to be breeding males are going to be in temples or homes and they will be worked.

"On humanitarian grounds it is wrong and as a predominantly a Buddhist country this is indefensible."

Conservationists have been objecting to domestication of elephants on animal-welfare grounds and not necessarily because there are too few elephants in the wild.

Though elephants are used for ceremonial purposes from time to time, those kept as status symbols by powerful figures have to 'earn their keep' by working.

Tamed elephants are used for a variety of duties ranging from light work such as giving rides to tourists to carrying logs and other heavy objects.

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@ AMAVI: as noble as ur suggestion is it is not such an easy task. Elephants (and a few other mamals such as rhinos, dolphins and whales)bear only one offspring and not in rapid succession. Then there is no guarantee that a tusker will breed another tusker. It is natures probability at work. (sit back and enjoy the wonder of the creator; if there were hundreds of tuskers will people covet and marvel at the sight?)

Even among tuskers not all will grow to the same length. I for one hope tuskers can be cornered and safeguarded becoz, in the wild there are hundreds of sleezy enemies waiting to kill them. Saw an elephant killed for tusks not even 2 feet long (according to park warden).

The use of elephants in pagents in the name of buddhism is a topic alltogether so will leave it.

@NADI: LOL u used corrupt politicians and law in the same sentance! major mistake becoz they dont go hand in hand. as for elephants being the biggest losers - couldn't have said it better lmao :)
seriously do u think those in power care about any of our assets?

5. Nadi Aug 11
Amvi, they have tried captive breeding which didn´t go well, as much as i know that this is not going to happen over night, as a true Buddhist from Srilanka, I agree with majority of SriLankans that it is time to stop using elephants for religious activities, these elephants were/are terrorized into submission using horrendous methods, the inhumane treatments to them are beyond your comprehension.

What these corrupt politicians must do is stop exploiting our precious national heritage by violating all the enviromental laws, and let our well educated, dedicated conservationists to work with their plans, the steps well organized and accepted by world renowned environmentalists. Because elephants in Srilanka are in grave danger and they have become the biggest losers thanks to such leaders in this country.

4. Siri Sangabo Aug 10
The great Buddha left all possesions, the temples in Sri Lanka seem to be accumulating all forms of wealth.

How many Sri Lankans understand and practice real Buddhism which is devoid of greed.

If they want they can take the impotent elephants surrounding Ranil.

3. N Aug 10
@Amavi - the long and short of it is that the elephant owners/temples in Sri Lanka are not interested in breeding because then they would have to eat into their profits by bearing the costs for pregnant females and young elephants. The much easier way for them to garner merit is to rape our natural resources for their own needs aided and abetted by those in power. What a way to celebrate 2600 years of Buddhism.
2. Abu Aug 10
Amavi, we could have imported from India and Thailand as well. Its funny how it is illegal for the average person to be in posession of certain wild animals (pythons, crocs, leopard, bear and a whole list of others), but nobody is going to take legal action against the capture and domestication of wild elephant....
1. Amavi Aug 10
Why do they always have to capture tuskers from the wild. Why can't they have a proper breeding program at Pinnawala/Udawalawa or some other proper place.

We recently heard of the news of the death of two well built tuskers. If these tuskers were used for breeding (at lease once or twice) during their majestic years that could have ensured the passing of those genes.

They could use the the remaining domesticated tuskers for this breeding program. If the elephants do not join naturally for some reason then the authorities could have used artificial fertilization. (The rest of the world is experimenting with cloning, so why can't we at least try out the more simple methods)