A (Baby) Jumbo Problem
Text and Photos – By Gazala Anver
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.