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Twists And Turns In Elephant Tale

  • Insufficient evidence to take legal action against Dhammaloka Thero under the Wildlife Ordinance

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero with the elephant calf

Illegal sourcing of elephants from Sri Lankan forests and the illegal possession of such animals has been a hot topic in recent times.

Possession of unregistered elephants is a punishable offence in Sri Lanka. Since January 2015, spontaneous raids carried out by the Department of Wildlife have uncovered 30 cases of illegal possession of such unregistered elephants and the animals have now been placed under the care of the elephant orphanages in Udawalawe and Pinnawala.

The first case highlighted was the one involving a male elephant named Kadira who is currently registered as No.147. This animal had been in the possession of Ven. Rathanasara Thero and had sustained injuries to its right leg as a result of being chained. Later, 30 more elephants were found in the custody of P.G. Jayalath, S.N. Niraj Prashan, Ven. Kolonnawa Sumangala Thero (currently registered as No. 343) and others by officials attached to the Wildlife Department.

Among those in illegal possession of elephants who became the subject of much public and media interest were Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero, Kolonnawe Sumangala Thero, Ali Roshan and Magistrate Thilina Gamage. A baby elephant in the custody of former Monitoring MP of the External Affairs Ministry, Sajin Vass Gunawardena was also taken into custody by Wild Life officials recently.

 

False Documents

Magistrate Gamage’s name was also mentioned in connection with forging false documents to possess such unregistered elephants. Although action has been taken against some of these offenders, this particular offender is yet to face the law.

Of all the tales of elephant possession, the one that involves Dhammaloka Thero bears great significance.

On January 28, 2015 a two and a half year old elephant calf was found inside Alan Methiniyaramaya temple at Polhengoda along with another 20 year old female elephant. On January 30, the baby elephant was ordered to be sent to the Udawalawe elephant orphanage by Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Peiris. On December 7, 2015 the CID informed court that the calf had not been registered under the name of Dhammaloka Thero or the temple. And on February 12, 2016 the AG’s Department reported to the Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Peiris that it had instructed the CID to name Ven. Dhammaloka Thero as a suspect in the inquiry involving the elephant calf found inside the temple.

The CID is currently carrying out investigations regarding the matter and the AG’s Department has informed court that sufficient evidence has been gathered to take legal action against Ven. Dhammaloka Thero under the Wild life Ordinance.

On February 18, 2016 Dhammaloka Thero challenged the authorities to arrest him if nurturing an elephant calf that had been abandoned in his temple was an unlawful act. “If I did something wrong by caring for it then take me into custody,” the Thero said at a news conference held at the Allen Methiniyaramaya Temple. The remarks were made after a decision was taken by the Attorney General to order the arrest of the monk.

Dhammaloka Thero has meanwhile advised his attorneys to ensure he would not be sent to the Prison Hospital but a regular cell instead. He welcomed donations of Rs.10 from anyone wishing to help which he said should be sent to the temple, as he had no money for legal fees if he was arrested. The Thero however had recently published a newspaper advertisement costing several hundreds of thousands of rupees where he claimed that he did not have “enough money” to take legal action.

Many have expressed differing opinions regarding this move of the Thero. Propaganda Secretary of the JVP, MP Vijitha Herath said the Thero’s conduct has not only degraded the law but also the norms of Buddhism.

Meanwhile, the caretaker at the temple had given a statement to the CID that he had been with the elephant since the beginning and that it had been donated to the temple by the infamous ‘Ali Roshan.’ According to reports, Roshan had frequently visited the temple to see the elephant. Although Roshan had claimed the calf was registered, the caretaker had said he had been aware that it was an unregistered elephant.

A similar incident was reported in March 2015 when Ven. Kolonnawe Sumangala Thero was accused of holding an unregistered wild elephant. On March 20, 2015 Colombo Chief Magistrate Gihan Pilapitiya issued an order preventing the Thero from travelling overseas. The police had presented to court evidence against Sumangala Thero regarding his involvement in the elephant racket.

After continuous investigations conducted by the CID, sufficient evidence has now been gathered to take legal action against these persons. However, reasons such as the retirement of the Attorney General have delayed the proceedings. However, since a new Attorney General has been appointed, proceedings would start soon, an official at the AG’s Department said.

Meanwhile, inside sources at the Attorney General’s Department have revealed that several powerful ministers in the UNP have strongly objected to the decision to take legal action against the monks. The matter has been directed to both the President and the Prime Minister but no directives have so far been issued. Sources have further said that the accused would soon be produced before court.

On 21th July 2014, on a tip-off received by the main office of the Wildlife Department regarding a baby elephant in Ali Roshan’s custody, Director General of the Wildlife Department dispatched officers of the Raid Unit to Maharagama. On this occasion there were two elephants which had been illegally captured from a forest, mentioned in two licences, numbered 163 and 164.

 

More calves

The team from the Wildlife Department had randomly selected the elephant calf with the license number 164 to carry out an investigation. It is possible that the Wildlife Department had received a telephone call only regarding one baby elephant. However, the raiding team had informed court that there had been two elephant calves at the time of the raid. If so, they should have launched an investigation into both elephant calves. For reasons unknown, they did not do so and randomly selected one baby elephant for investigation. Even then the Wildlife Department had allegedly carried out their duties in a manner advantageous to Roshan.

In another instance, this time in regard to the baby elephant said to belong to Roshan found in a shelter in Nawala, Rajagiriya without a licence and taken into custody on 31 August 2014, Wildlife officials had acted in a questionable manner.

The Colombo Magistrate’s Court had ordered that the elephant calf be handed back to its owner in agreement with the Wildlife Department. A request was made by the lawyers representing the elephant that until the truth was revealed in court, the elephant calf be provided shelter at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Wildlife officials however did not agree to this proposition and instead said they were not opposed to the elephant being in possession of the owner until such time a DNA test was performed and a report obtained. Accordingly, court ordered that the elephant calf be handed back to the owner for the time being.

At the same time the accused party requested permission to allow the elephant to participate in a perahera and Wildlife officers did not object to that either. Although elephant calves in the wilds are public property, Wildlife Department officials had not acted against the illegal capture of public property and intervened as required. Environmentalists meanwhile allege that the Director General of the Wildlife Department had even allowed Roshan to earn money by hiring out such public property. This is how Ali Roshan had engaged in the elephant racket together with the help and involvement of others. Although Roshan was arrested, the persons at the beginning, middle and end of this racket still remain free. There are politicians of high standing among them as well. It is clear that elephants captured from a forest cannot be put into a matchbox in a pocket like a beetle or brought within a curled up fist like a small insect.

Police media Spokesman, ASP Ruwan Gunasekera said, “To investigate there must be clear facts and it is only upon strong evidence that we can take legal action. However,  in several instances regarding the illegal possession of unregistered elephants we have taken the owners and responsible wildlife officials to Court and they have been given bail. The matter involving Dhammaloka thero has been sent to the AGs department for further instruction. The CID is conducting the investigations. There is no delay.”

 

People will see results very soon – Wildlife Minister

Even last week we found 10 more unregistered elephants. We however have limited resources at our disposal. There are only three suitable trucks available that can be used to transport the animals. Of these, two are undergoing repairs. However, even with such limited resources, we are doing our best to find unregistered elephants and arrest those who possess them despite rank and wealth. At present we see certain people trying to spread false information regarding our effort. But no matter what they say, if found guilty there shall be no excuse for them. Some monks have even claimed that these elephants were abandoned in their temples,” Minister of Wildlife Gamini Jayawickrema Perera said,

“Investigations are still going on. It takes time to gather enough evidence. If someone feels that he is not guilty, then instead of holding media shows he should come before court and prove it. There is a delay in the law but that does not mean that someone is making any undue influences. The retirement of the Attorney General was also an issue that caused this delay. But now everything has been solved so the results will be seen very soon.

The Wildlife Department and the Ministry are doing their best to bring the culprits before justice. If anyone is in possession of information regarding these activities, we request them to divulge that information to us. Then it is easier for us to conduct raids and take necessary legal action.”

 

 

5 Comments for “Twists And Turns In Elephant Tale”

  1. kaputa

    Thero’s conduct has not only degraded the law but also the norms of Buddhism.
    Pitiduwwe hamuduruwo must also be investigated for degradeing the law and also the norms of Buddhism.

    • Perumal

      Kaputo, this is a matter connected with unregistered elephants. What has it to do with Ven. Pitidoowe Siridhamma?

  2. Why only these foolish Buddhists Priests steal elephants? We never hear that Catholic Priests have stolen any of these majestic creatures.

    Cyril

  3. ranjith chandrasekera

    If the difficulty in confiscating the elephants is transport, and the vehicles belong to the ministry are out of service they don’t get repaired just sitting there unless the ministry get them fixed. Hope these elephants are rescued without further delay. Police can go ahead and take necessary action against the people responsible for keeping the elephants, for their part of the crime.

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