Seized Elephant Tusks Gifted To Dalada Maligawa, Later To Be Sold To Rightful Owner
By Nirmala Kannangara
An attempt is being made to sell elephant tusks worth Rs. 2,700 million that have been ‘unofficially’ seized by the Sri Lanka Customs in May last year after the consignment was officially handed over to Dalada Maligawa Kandy alleged Environmentalists.
Environmentalists claim that this consignment of tusks after being seized should be destroyed and they are unable to understand the reason why the government is making all attempts to hand this over to a temple.
The shipment of 359 elephant tusks en-route to Dubai supposed to have been shipped from Kenya are now lying at Sri Lanka Customs and the environmentalists claim that they have received information that the entire consignment is to be sold after it is handed over to the Dalada Maligawa.
“Before announcing that these tusks would be handed over to the Dalada Maligawa, there was an attempt to hand over the consignment to an individual on the directives of the Additional Secretary to the President Gamini Senerath which was highly controversial. However this move had to be ‘stopped’ due to strong protests from the environmentalists. Although it is said that the tusks would now be handed over to Dalada Maligawa, the next move is to sell the tusks worth of Rs. 2,700 million ‘unofficially’ thereafter,” alleged Director Operations, Environmental Foundation Limited, Vimukthi Weeratunge.
According to Weeratunge, these tusks are called ‘Blood Ivory’ as they were taken after slaughtering more than 150 African elephants.
“We can assume that even young elephants too have been slaughtered as there are small tusks and the orphan babies would have left to die in starvation after their mothers were killed. Why does the government want to hand over blood ivory to Dalada Maligawa which was taken slaughtering a herd of elephants?” said Weeratunge.
Weeratunge observed that it is the obligation of the Sri Lankan government to follow the recommended guidelines of the Convention of International Treaty on Endangered Species (CITES) in order to stop animal slaughter.
“Sri Lanka is a signatory to CITES in 1979 and although there are no rules and regulations imposed, the countries that signed at the CITES have an obligation to conserve endemic species even global level. The best way to stop these illegal cross boarder activities is to inform the country that these elephants have been massacred in herds and then destroy them to show the racketeers that Sri Lanka does not care for these blood ivory,” said Weeratunge.
According to Weeratunge, Paul Udoto of the Kenyan Wildlife Service has raised concern as to why the Sri Lankan government wants to ‘gift’ the blood ivory to a temple when it is against Buddhist philosophy.
“On behalf of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, Udoto was surprised to note that the tusks were to be given to Buddhist temples. His argument is very true. As a Buddhist country we should be ashamed for adding value to this blood ivory being given to temples. As custodians of the greatest Buddhist philosophy on ahimsa, Buddhist monks should reject these ‘gifts’ as it will stain the sacred places. In addition, the government is legalizing this contraband. This will endanger the Sri Lankan tuskers by providing incentives for poaching in the country,” said Weeratunge.
Meanwhile, Jagath Gunawardena Attorney-at- Law specializing in environmental studies said that this blood ivory can be gifted to the museum if wanted without handing over to Buddhist temples which is unethical.
“If the country wants to retain this blood ivory, let them gift it to the museum to display but not to Buddhist temples. Temples are sanctuaries but not places to keep parts of dead bodies. Earlier there was a directive from the Presidential Secretariat to Sri Lanka Customs to release this stock to an individual to which we opposed. As a result they had to abandon the idea and now trying to gift to Dalada Maligawa which is unethical,” said Gunawardena.
Pubudu Weeraratne, Chairman, Species Conservation Centre meanwhile said that had these been seized in Thailand or in Singapore the entire consignment would have been destroyed.
“The normal route to send blood ivory to Dubai is via Singapore or Thailand. Since they have destroyed such blood ivory on many earlier occasions and are not on alert, the racketeers have now chosen to send the consignments through Sri Lanka. Unless we destroy the blood ivory, the racketeers will send such consignments via Sri Lanka even in future,” added Weeraratne.
According to him, it is illegal to import parts of animals and said that the Sri Lankan government has violated the CITES agreement.
“This blood ivory is to be ‘gifted’ to Dalada Maligawa and later sold to the legal owner. The lengths of these tusks are from 1 ½ feet to 8 feet which clearly shows that the poachers have massacred even the baby elephants. They may have killed a herd of 170 to 200 elephants to obtain these tusks. By gifting this blood ivory to Dalada Maligawa our rulers are trying to bring discredit to this sacred temple,” said Weeraratne.
Director General of Customs Jagath Wijeweera was not available for a comment.