The Sunday Leader

Jumbo Issue Rumbles On

By Hafsa Sabry

Elephants can be kept at Pinnawala and Udawalawe elephant orphanages and hired out to the temples for peraheras

The Chief Incumbent of the Rajamaha Viharaya Kotte, the Ven. Aluthnuwara Anuruddha Thera is being accused of not informing the Department of Wildlife Conservation about the death of the 25-year-old temple elephant, Hemantha, last week and for burying the carcass in secret.

Director General, Department of Wildlife Conservation (WDC) Chandrasiri Bandara said that although it is mandatory to inform the department of any birth or death of an elephant to help maintain records of domesticated elephants, Anuruddha Thera had not followed the DWC guidelines and had not informed the authority the sudden death of Hemantha.

According to Bandara, it was the Divisional Secretariat Kotte that had informed the DWC although it was the temple that should have informed the department.

“Upon receiving the information, our officials visited the temple and made inquiries about the elephant’s death. They requested the temple to submit a post-mortem report of the elephant to ascertain the cause of death,” Bandara said.

According to Animal Rights Activist Irangani de Silva, the 25-year-old Hemantha, who died on Tuesday, March 15, was gifted to the temple by the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage on January 30, 1996.

“We are unaware of the cause of the sudden death of the animal as it is alleged that the owner Anuruddha Thera did not want to inform the DWC as it could have inspired an investigation into the cause of death. It is now up to the DWC to conduct an investigation and find out from those who come to the temple whether the animal was sick before its death,” De Silva said.

De Silva further said that the DWC should now exhume Hemantha’s body and conduct a post mortem to find out what caused the death of such a young animal as speculation is rife that the death was due to some wounds in the animal’s legs being infected.

According to de Silva, the mahout had attacked the animal a few months ago when he became violent during a perahera in Bellanwila which is said to have caused severe injuries to one leg.

“The mahout had beaten the elephant on its leg and we suspect that the untreated wound could have led to the animal falling ill and subsequently dying. There are two more elephants in this temple and if Hemantha was beaten and the wounds were not treated, then the DWC must take quick action and take the remaining two elephants into their care as soon as possible. Strict action could be taken against those who ill-treat the elephants,” De Silva said.

It has also been reported how yet another elephant owned by Anuruddha Thera died three years ago due to a lightning strike while the animal was tied to a tree at a paddy filed near the mahout’s residence in Gampaha. According to De Silva, although it was stated that the elephant died of lightning strike, it is speculated that the animal too had died of injuries caused by the mahout.

“The truth is yet to come to light. Although several complaints were made to the DWC to conduct an investigation as to why that elephant died suddenly, the department failed to conduct any inquiry,” De Silva said.

Meanwhile, Buddhist monks involvement in the elephant smuggling business over the years for the prestige of their temples has caused concern amongst Buddhists.

“Most of the monks who possess elephants do not have licences for the animals and use them to earn money for the temples. If elephants are kept only to take part in peraheras and are well looked after, it is not an issue but if they are not cared for, not given proper medication when they fall sick and if monks hire the animals out for work, then strict action must be taken without their political affiliations being taken into consideration,” De Silva said.

De Silva further explained how the Diyawadana Nilame of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth, Nilanga Dela had forcibly taken away two elephant calves from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in 2009 and inflicted burns on them to stop them from crying for their mothers. “These two elephant calves were sucking milk from their mothers when Dela came with his security and dragged them to the Temple of the Tooth. These calves Sindhu and Raju were only 3 years old at the time they were separated from their mothers. These elephant calves were tuskers even though their parents were not. They were considered to possess a very high level of biological value and researchers were hoping to carry out certain experiments on them. Even though  animal rights activists filed court cases against this and made complaints to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) action was not taken against Dela as he got the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s blessings for all his illegal matters,” De Silva said.

De Silva claimed that Dela was very aggressive in taking away the baby elephants from the Pinnawala Orphanage with the help of the armed forces.

“Although we wrote to Mahinda Rajapaksa seeking his intervention to get the two elephant calves released and to re-unite them with their mothers, Rajapaksa did not take any action nor did the Department of Wildlife Conservation. We thought that after the change of government, strict action would be taken against those who keep elephants illegally. Although the DWC has taken away some elephants held illegally, there are many more temples and private parties that still keep these elephants illegally in their possession,” De Silva claimed.

According to De Silva, if the monks say they keep elephants to be used in peraheras, the government should train the elephants and keep them in elephant orphanages to be given out only for peraheras. These elephants can be kept at Pinnawala and Udawalawe elephant orphanages and hired out to the temples for peraheras.De Silva said that the government should implement strict regulations against the monks who are adamant about having elephants at temples for their prestige but do not bother about taking care of them.

Animal rights activist and Attorney-at-Law Lalanie Perera told The Sunday Leader that the laws relating to animal cruelty were enacted in 1907 and should be amended with some new regulations enabling the authorities to take stern action against those who violate the laws.

“An Animal Welfare Act to address the current challenges and weaknesses in animal cruelty was approved by the Cabinet recently. We hope that it will be passed in parliament soon,” Perera said.


2 Comments for “Jumbo Issue Rumbles On”

  1. ranjith chandrasekera

    Information given in this letter is more than enough to nab those who keep elephants illegally. However, these endangered animals should not be allowed to be kept in either temples or by individuals. They should be returned to elephant orphanage until an elephant sanctuary is made available for them. It is cruel to keep any animal chained denying their freedom to live in their natural habitat, with their own kind.

  2. janaka

    Monks should remain in temples and Elephants should live their lives in jungles…this issue is as simple as that.

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