Kandy Diyawadana Nilame
By Nirmala Kannangara in Kandy
Following the revelation of the unorthodox administration carried out by the lay custodian of the Temple of the Tooth, the Animal Welfare Trust (AWT) and the Elephant Owners Association (EOA) have come out with concrete evidence to show as to how Diyawadana Nilame (DN) Pradeep Nilanga Dela Bandara (Dela) is involved in elephant smuggling although no action has been taken against him by the relevant authorities.
According to these two bodies, Dela is involved in smuggling elephants from the wild over the past few years. He was once accused of capturing a baby tusker from the wild and kept in chains at his Ratnapura residence. It was later found dead due to drowning to flash floods as the baby tusker was chained to a tree closer to the Menik Ganga.
Dela also alleged captured a grown elephant from the wild and died due to ill-treatment in 2009 in one of the Maligawa lands in Mawanella.
Although these issues did not lead to a public outcry or action by the relevant authorities, when Dela removed two baby tuskers from Pinnawala forcibly in July 2009, he could not escape from the public outcry.
However he overcame the ‘hurdle’ thanks to the Mahanayakas of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters and President Mahinda Rajapaksa for their unstinted support and blessings.
Anunayaka Thero of the Malwatte Chapter Ven. Niyangoda Wijithasiri told The Sunday Leader that Mahanayaka Thero of the Malwatte Chapter Ven.Thibbotuwawe Sri Sumangala was surprised when he was gifted with a baby tusker.
“Mahanayake Thero told me that he knew nothing as to why he was suddenly gifted with a baby tusker as the Malwathu Viharaya has never had elephants in its possession. According to the Mahanayaka Thero he has not ever requested any elephants,” the Anunayaka Thero said.
This was highlighted in the media in 2009 when Dela engineered the separation of the two baby tuskers from their mothers from the Pinnawala elephant orphanage and brought to the Dalada Maligawa. Later they were offered to the Asgiriya and Malwatte temples to escape from a public outcry.
Subsequently it became known how badly Dela was to ill-treat the two baby elephants – Sindu and Raju upon their arrival to the Dalada Maligawa who were not even three years of age. Dela is alleged to have used heated iron rods to burn the baby tuskers to tame them.
According to Irangani de Silva and Visakha Tillekeratne of the AWT, it is illegal to separate baby elephants from their mothers till they are five years old.
“When Dela separated these sucklings from their mothers in July 2009, there was a public outcry demanding to reunite the underage baby tuskers with their mothers. Unfortunately all these requests went to the deaf ears of the two prelates. It was so disheartening to see as to how these Mahanayakas failed to denounce the sinful act of Dela.
This was an act of inexplicable cruelty by the lay custodian of the sacred Tooth Relics. How can we trust a person in the calibre of Dela to safeguard the Buddha’s Tooth Relics? How can we entrust this national heritage with the Asgiriya and Malwatte temples when they failed to raise one word against Dela’s cruelty towards Raju and Sindu? Instead why these two temples did accept the baby tuskers without sending them back to Pinnawala to reunite with the mothers,” asked Tillekeratne.
According to Tillekeratne, elephants are listed as endangered species in 2007 National Red List of threatened fauna and flora of Sri Lanka which was prepared by the World Conservation Union. “When there was a plan to gift a baby elephant to the Armenian Zoo separating from his mother, the animal lovers sought legal action which they got an order to prevent baby elephants being separated from their mothers,” said Tillekeratne.
Meanwhile the AWT has filed a writ of certiorari mandamus and prohibition in the Court of Appeal in July 2009 citing Dela as one of the respondents from separating the baby tuskers from their mothers.
“We cited Dela as a respondent for being cruel and ill-treating the baby elephants and for separating them from their mothers. These baby elephants would also be used for labour and other purposes pre-mutually when they are unfit to be used at a younger age,” said Tillekeratne.
According to Tillekeratne, the two baby tuskers who were offered to the Malwatte and Asgiriya temples have now been separated for an unknown reason.
“I was in Kandy last week and got the opportunity to see Raju who was much in pain. Three of his legs were chained and he was in immense pain. It was raining at that time and it was pity to see this baby elephant getting wet in the afternoon cold rain. There was no shelter over him and it was stinking near him as the mahouts have not cleaned the elephant dung and the urine. Although he is now five years it has not grown up to his age. Had he been with its mother at Pinnawala it would have led a healthy life. When I asked the mahout where Sindu was, I was told that he is now at Ridee Viharaya,” said Tillekeratne.
Refuting allegations, DN Dela told The Sunday Leader that he obtained the two baby elephants from Pinnawala through a cabinet approval.
“I never accompanied any armed police officer to Pinnawala to take elephants forcibly. There was a cabinet decision to gift two elephants to the Malwatte and Asgiriya Temples. I represented the two Mahanayakas and went to Pinnawala to bring the elephants. We never take elephants during the day time but only after the sun set as it was the time they are tied to their respected sheds. Hence I went to Pinnawala one evening and brought the two earmarked elephants,” said Dela.
When asked as to why he preferred to separate the two baby elephants who were still on mother’s milk, Dela said no baby elephant of that age drink milk from mother.
“Elephants and humans are similar to each other including their life span. How can you say that a baby elephant drinks milk from its mother till he is five years. Have you ever seen children drink milk from their mothers when they are five years old? These are baseless allegations,” queried Dela.
Dela refused to have any connection with capturing elephants from the wild and challenged any organisation to prove whether he had a captured tusker in his resident in Ratnapura.
“How can they prove that I captured a tusker from the wild and later it died due to flash floods? Let anyone prove this. I have not resort to any illegal activity and there is no necessity for me to do so as I have two elephants of my own,” added Dela.
He also dismissed the allegation or capturing a grown elephant and keeping it in one of the Maligawa lands in Mawanells.
“This elephant was a gifted to the Maligawa by the Department of Wild Life Conservation. As claimed he did not die as a result of any cruelty but due to a natural cause,” he said.
When asked as to why he has separated Raju and Sindu and as to why Raju is being treated in the shoddiest way, Dela refused the allegation.
“Those who come to the Maligawa will see as to how we take care of Raju. There is no necessity to provide shelter to them as when they were in the wild do they have helter. The elephants should expose to rain and sun. They also should allow to be in the mud as it is natural to them. We have not chained three of its four legs but only the back legs to keep away from its dung and urine. Sindu has been sent to Ridee Viharaya -a temple that comes under the Malwatte Chapter,” Dela added.