The Sunday Leader

Controversy Over Elephant Papers

By Nirmala Kannangara

A controversial situation has arisen at the Wildlife Department as accusations have been levelled against its Director General for defending an elephant owner who violated the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

officers are up in arms against their Director General (DG) H D Ratnayake for misleading courts to defend an elephant owner who is at fault for keeping two unlicensed elephants in her custody.

On the instructions of the Wildlife Department DG, Assistant Director (Western Region) W A A D U Indrajith and his team raided Kandalama Walawwa in Meerigama on February 28 and rounded up two elephants that do not have valid licenses. Since the owner failed to produce the valid licenses to the wildlife officers, the elephants were taken into custody after obtaining a court order from the Attanagalla Magistrate Court on the same evening. The baby elephant was sent to Eth Athuru Sevana in Udawalawe and the adult elephant to Pinnawala.

DG claims raise eyebrows

However, the DG now claims that the adult elephant was duly registered with the Wildlife Department. This has raised eyebrows not only amongst department employees but also with environmental conservationists.
According to a member of the raid team who wished to remain anonymous, the DG’s dubious stance has resulted in bringing discredit to them with allegations that the raid was conducted with ulterior motives.

“How can the DG state that the adult elephant that was arrested by us has valid license? The license that was produced to us has not been renewed in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Why does the DG claim that the elephant was duly licensed? According to the FFPO, it is a punishable offence to keep an unlicensed elephant in one’s custody. When this elephant owner has clearly violated the FFPO, what made the DG to defend her in courts?” the source pressed.

According to the source, the elephants were in Nilanthi Bandara’s custody at the time of the raid but the owner’s name given in the expired licenses were as Chief Incumbent of the Ethkanda Viharaya Kurunegala which comes under Asgiriya Mahanayake Thero and the baby elephant under one Mr Bharatha.

“When we went to Kandalama Walawwa, a worker told us that the licenses are with their master and took a call to her. She then spoke to our Assistant Director under whom the raid was carried out and said that she is the owner of the two elephants and instructed her worker to produce the two documents to us. When they were scrutinized, we found out that the owner of these two elephants was not Bandara but two other individuals,” added the source.

“When we told Bandara that the two elephants do not have valid licenses and legal action would be taken against her, she immediately said that she was not the owner but the elephants were owned by a party known to her,” the source said,

Record discrepancies

The source further said that the adult elephant’s license has not been renewed from 2012. At the time of the baby elephant’s registration in 2012, its age has been given as six years and height as four feet and five inches.

“When the Wildlife Department’s veterinary surgeons checked the baby elephant, it was disclosed that it is two to three years of age and its height is four feet and six inches. Going by the details given upon registry, this baby elephant has grown up only by one inch for the past two years. When all these details are taken into consideration, it is very clear that the baby elephant was captured as one as his feet had wounds. The registration document was either forged or the Wildlife Department has fraudulently registered the animal with counterfeit details,” alleged the source.

It has now come to the limelight as to how the DG Wildlife Department misled the Attanagalle Magistrates Court on Wednesday (5), when the case was taken up for hearing.

“It was we who got the court order to take the two elephants to our custody and filed the case. We were taken aback, in courts on Wednesday, when the DG’s letter to the court was read claiming that the adult elephant has a valid license,” said the source.
Owners of the elephants were not present in courts when the case was taken up for the hearing.

“Generally the owners come to court to produce the relevant documents, but, in this case, they were not present in courts,” he added.
According to him, the raid team had to maintain silence in court as their DG, in his letter, has defended the elephant owners.
“We were like lame ducks as there was no place for us to hide our faces. People think that we conducted the raid with ulterior motives. When we produced all the relevant documents to courts seeking an order to arrest Nilanthi Bandara from whom we took the two elephants into custody, the court wanted us to submit full details at the next date to consider our request,” the source said.

Conservationists concerned over
procedure
Meanwhile, Chairman Species Conservation Centre, Pubudu Weeraratne told The Sunday Leader that the three environmental organizations who wanted to intervene in this case were asked to give in their written submission at the next hearing date: March 12.
According to Weeraratne, had the DG informed courts that the adult elephant’s license had not been renewed, the court would have fined the offender.

“The DG, in his letter to courts, said that the elephant’s owners came and met him in office and, once he checked with the registration book, it was revealed that it was properly registered but not a word was mentioned that the license was not renewed for the past three years. That is why the court wanted the owners to bring the licence to court together with a letter from the Wildlife Department to get the elephant released from Pinnawala. If not, the court would have fined the culprit under section 22A of the FFPO,” said Weeraratne.
Weeraratne further queried as to why the accused party went to meet the DG to show the 2011 license when the matter was in courts.
“Even the raid team has seen this document, and it was the DG that wanted his officials to get a court order – despite of the said document – to arrest the two animals. In that backdrop, what made the DG to later state that the licence is valid? We understand that the owner of this adult elephant is the Chief Incumbent of Ethkanda Viharaya Kurunegala which comes under the purview of the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thero. Due to political pressure, Ratnayake has now taken a full turn to defend the offender,” claimed Weeraratne.

DG’s concerns elsewhere

Refuting allegations levelled against him, DG H D Ratnayake said that the Wildlife Department is concerned of the baby elephant racket but not about adult elephants.

“There is an ongoing racket to capture baby elephants from the wild. This is illegal. Our department does not have any issue with adult elephants as people do not capture them from the wild. The owner of this adult elephant came to meet me on Monday (3) and produced the license which has not been renewed for the past three years,” Ratnayake said.

He claimed that, after going through the department’s records, he wrote to the magistrate that the license is valid and that is why the magistrate wanted the owner to obtain the relevant documents from the Wildlife Department and produce them in court at the next hearing date – in order to release the elephant from Pinnawala.

When asked as to why he did not mentioned in his letter that the offender has not renewed the license for three years, Ratnayake said that there was no necessity to inform courts about it as the case was filed based on those allegations.

“Although the environmentalists raise this issue as if I have done a crime, my officers know that I am not at wrong,” he added.
When contacted, Jagath Gunawardena, attorney-at-law specializing in environmental studies, said that, under section 22A, subsections 5 and 7 of the FFPO, it is a punishable offence to keep an elephant without a valid licence.

1 Comment for “Controversy Over Elephant Papers”

  1. Cyril de Alwis

    Sri Lanka is full of thieves. They are robbing the entier country. Even the innocent Baby Elephants are not safe. Time to change the regime who are incapable of maintaining the law and order.

    Cyril

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