A (Baby) Jumbo Problem

Text and Photos – By Gazala Anver

A (Baby) Jumbo Problem

The temple was a spectacle: sprawling, wide, glinting in the afternoon sun. Walking around was refreshing, taking in all the beauty and the majesty of the Dewram Vehara, Pannipitiya. Within the temple premises however, three elephants were shackled under a shelter, rocking to and fro for want of space to move. On the right was a baby elephant, its baby fuzz still prominent. It thrashed about, with one front and one rear leg shackled.
There have been around 50 elephants bred in captivity since the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was opened in 1975. Since the beginning of 2011 alone, there have been four reported elephant births in Pinnawela. According to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage however, apart from the elephants given to the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy and the zoo exchange programmes, no elephants have been given to any other temples.
There have however been reports of baby elephants found in various temples around the country. Three elephants were found by The Sunday Leader at the Pannipitiya Vihara and the Vipashyarama Purana Vihara. Two of them were found at the Vipashyarama Purana Vihara. Several animal activists speaking to The Sunday Leader claimed that these elephants were stolen from the wild and held without permits from the relevant authorities.
Meanwhile there were three elephants in the temple in Maharagama — two baby elephants and one adult. The first baby elephant, which the temple said was called Ganga was shackled in similar fashion to the elephant in Pannipitiya, and was feeding at the time. The other elephant, called Athurugiriya was smaller than Ganga, even though the temple claimed the two elephants were the same age. He too was shackled. It was possible to pet both the elephants.
At both the temples, The Sunday Leader posed as tourists, to gain access to the elephants. In Pannipitiya, it was revealed that the elephant had not been born within the premises of the temple, nor was it from Pinnawela. The elephant had in fact been born in the wild. At the Maharagama temple, it was found out that the elephants had been bought, one elephant costing Rs. 7.5 million. This elephant too had been brought in from the wild. The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage confirmed that no elephants had been given to these temples.
Both temples however claimed to have permits for keeping these elephants, but several animal activists have revealed that this is in fact not true. The Wildlife Conservation Department (WCD) meanwhile, despite attempts over a period of two weeks, was not forthcoming with the information. Director WCD, Chandrawansa Pathiraja however said that there have been several incidents where people have not registered the elephants in captivity, and that despite repeated reminders, the request has gone unheeded.
According to the law it is explicitly stated that no one can capture an elephant unless a person has a specific permit under Section 13 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Furthermore, anyone who keeps an elephant, which has been captured illegally is committing an offense which is cognizable and non-bailable. The law was further amended in 2009, where it is stated that any birth of an elephant, and any pregnancy of a she elephant has to be immediately reported to the Wild Life Conservation Department. In addition, under Section 66 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, the police are also prescribed to take action.

Buddhist Clergy Accused Of Elephant Theft
A high profile member of the Buddhist clergy is said to be connected to several incidents concerning the theft of elephants, a press release from the Animal Welfare Trust (AWT) stated.
“Though these elephants are stolen from jungles and sanctuaries under the pretext of decorating peraheras, the underlying reason is greed,” AWT said. “Most of these illegal elephant collectors keep these stolen elephants in their own homes, not in institutions where the processions are organised.”
The AWT went further to call this an act of collecting elephants for a “personal man made herd” and allege that the mother elephant is shot in the jungle and the baby elephant is thus captured, and smuggled in.
This revelation comes amid accusations by animal rights activists that many temples harbour elephants brought in from the wild, illegally.

7 Comments for “A (Baby) Jumbo Problem”

  1. Chris

    Shame on these temples and the priests in charge of them! Is this how they practice the teachings of the Lord Buddha, who taught good will towards all living beings??

    The general public must shun such places of worship and their so-called priests!

    • love2beTRAITOR

      my personal opinion, we should just leave the elephants in the jungle. they r wild animals, they dont need human care. they need FREEDOM. how would the people of the temple feel if they have been tied all day for months?

      dont be evil, try to be a proper buddhist,
      sri lanka cant be considered a buddhist country, the monks who r called sadhu r never sadhu. they r so violent. u can see it in parliament n the monk students rally.

      violent than the LTTE or JVP

    • I fully agree with you, Chris, but shunning alone won’t do. Actually the great majority of Sri Lankans and also tourists love to watch peraheras… until these peraheras go without any spectators, the stealing of elephants will continue

  2. Ravana

    utter rubbish about the mother being shot in the wild but the Maharagama temple priest is well known for capturing baby elephants and “registering ” them under dead elephants names in the Wild Life department.

    I am told he even delivers elephants to owners doorsteps !

    There is nothing wrong with domesticating elephants properly and under supervision, in fact it is an integral part of solving the human elephant conflict in this country. Domesticating elephants is part of our cultural heritage and provides a livelihood and a vocation for people that is of a much higher standard than pushing buttons in a Juki machine.

    Leave sentimentality and naivety out of it please !

  3. Hanako

    Looks like we need to remind the Gatha to these clergy

    “Siyalu Sathwayo Nidhuk Wetthwa…”

  4. it is true that I visited this so called temple at Pannipitiya today and saw this two baby elephants, I took photographs as well though they prevent. funniest thing is that they have been given police security also.I wonder how they got this herd of elephants.There is no baby elephants to be sold.The activists on animals rights are in blind eyes.Why cant they go to courts against culprits. I think most of these organisations have been threatened or do they scared of MR, as the government also involve?

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