AG’s Dept. To Decide On ‘Nandi’s Fate

by  Ifham Nizam

  • Nandi was due to be brought to Auckland this month
  • A Sri Lanka court has put the transfer on hold after animal activists said it would be cruel to separate the baby elephant from its family
  • The on-going court case here in Sri Lanka is challenging President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to gift a baby elephant to New Zealand

Former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

The much discussed and debated baby elephant Nandi’s fate would be decided by the Attorney General’s Department, Zoo officials said.

Top officials of the National Zoological Gardens told The Sunday Leader that they would stick with the decision  of the  Attorney Generals Department.

The six-year-old calf was a gifted to former Prime Minister John Key by President Maithripala Sirisena in February last year. Nandi was due to be brought to Auckland this month.

It is the second elephant given to New Zealand by Sri Lanka. An eight-year-old female, Anjalee, was flown to Auckland in June 2015.

However, a Sri Lanka court has put the transfer on hold after animal activists said it would be cruel to separate the baby elephant from its family.


Experts on baby elephants

The Department of Wildlife Conservation has informed the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust that on an average 65 humans and over 200 wild elephants are killed each year due to the escalating human-elephant conflicts.

Jayantha Jayewardene, Managing Trustee, Biodiversity & Elephant Conservation Trust told The Sunday Leader: “I have suggested to Ministers in successive governments, that since the Department has identified trouble causing elephants in the wild and which elephants will be killed anyway due to the human-elephant conflicts, in the next few years, be captured and tamed. Here we must be careful not to capture the strong bull elephants since they are best suited for mating.”

Jayewardene, one of the topmost authorities on elephants, also stressed that the captured elephants could then be given/sold to suitable persons who are registered with the department.

Registration would depend on the new owner being able to afford the management (mahouts), food and veterinary services necessary to keep the elephant in good health.

Referring  to the latest on the baby elephants being sent overseas, he said that some enthusiasts have filed a case in the courts in an effort to prevent a baby elephant being sent to a zoo in New Zealand.

“The conditions there are much more conducive for the elephant to have a better quality of life than at Pinnawela. This zoo has large areas with trees, streams, etc., where the elephants can move freely unfettered,” he added.

However, he said that the concern that it will not be able to stand the low temperatures in winter  that there is a big barn with temperature control for the use of the elephant in winter.

“We must look more closely at the situation with regard to the baby elephants that were captured from the wild after the mother was killed. Efforts must be made to recover all the baby elephants that were captured illegally.

“Up to now only a few baby elephants have been recovered. Pressure should be exerted on those who are taking action, to ensure that the criminals are punished severely and properly and that permanent arrangements are made to ensure that the babies grow up in an atmosphere that is suitable for their healthy growth,” he added. He believes that the biggest stumbling block to elephant conservation is that the department has no strategic conservation plan for the long term future.

The department now is only active in resolving elephant issues and problems as and when they arise. By this they will only be able to watch when the elephant population starts to decline.  The department also needs, as a matter of policy, to accept help from knowledgeable persons outside the department in order to do the best in terms of elephant management and conservation.

Meanwhile, the on-going court case here in Sri Lanka challenging President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to gift a baby elephant to New Zealand, has brought back focus on the protection of the country’s or Lankan elephant – Elephus maximus maximus – an endangered species as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Sunday Leader learns that on a writ petition filed by animal rights activists and Buddhist and Christian organisations, the Court of Appeal has fixed May 26 as the next date for hearing the case.

The Attorney General had appointed two committees to revise the regulations relating to the export of baby elephants to other countries. The committees are expected to give their reports before May 26.

It was in 2016, when the then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key visited Sri Lanka, that President Sirisena had announced that he would gift to New Zealand the baby elephant Nandi kept in the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. But opposition to this rose both in Sri Lanka and in New Zealand. The grounds were similar. The New Zealand animal rights organisation SAFE said in a statement that it was ‘deadly opposed’ to bringing another elephant into the country.

“The first of many reasons for this being that transporting and caring for an elephant in captivity is more expensive than maintaining them in the wild. It is also shown through studies that elephants do very badly in captivity.

However, the most important reason is that female elephants often never leave their mothers or mother figures. Even though Nandi was orphaned, she will be brutally ripped away from her family and sold to solidify foreign relations.

“Just a short time ago, the world was applauding Sri Lanka for banning ivory and destroying confiscated ivory they had in storage. One would think, with this apparent show of support for the protection of elephants, that they would be more wary of shipping off their own. Nandi is being taken from her home and shipped thousands of miles to a foreign land with foreign people and a foreign environment to live in a cage as entertainment.”

“Elephants are living creatures, they are sentient, and they deserve better than being reduced to bargaining chips between politicians.”. Nandi is also not the first elephant to be sent to New Zealand from Sri Lanka, as another was sold to them last year,” SAFE said.

Since the Sri Lankan elephant is special species known as Elephus maximus maximus, and is part of the culture and religion of both the Buddhists and Hindus in the island, it is sought after in zoos across the world.

While in ancient times, Sri Lanka exported elephants to other countries to be part of their armies and pageantry, they are still used in Buddhist and Hindu temples across the Indian sub-continent to lend colour to religious processions. Since the elephant is very closely linked with Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan leaders have often gifted them to visiting foreign dignitaries to make a lasting impression. Zoos across the world have also taken Sri Lankan elephants as breeding them in captivity is a challenging task.

Steps taken to minimise the man-elephant conflict resulted in the population going up to 3,435 in 1987. However, the war in the North and East which escalated in the late 1980s claimed the lives of many elephants, mainly due to landmines. Between 1990 and 1994, 261 elephants had fallen victim to landmines. The country had lost two thirds of its elephant population by 1993 when the number came down to 1967.

The 2000-2004 peace process brought some respite. The population rose to 4,400. However, the resumption of war in 2005 brought the population down to 3,156 in 2006. It came further down to 3,000 in 2007. The end of the war in May 2009 again brought relief, and the population grew to 5,879 in 2011.

Environmentalists, animal rights activists and Buddhist organisations say that the export of elephants must be regulated if not completely stopped. From the action of the Attorney General in the Nandi export case, it appears that regulation is what the government has not opted for.



Meanwhile, steps are being to conserve the vanishing Elephus maximus maximus. The government has created Elephant Corridors in areas in which there has been man-elephant conflicts so that elephants can cross without being confronted by human beings.Elephant orphanage at Pinnawala and also the National Park at Uduwalawe enables the elephant to live in its natural habitat without being disturbed by developmental activities.


2 Comments for “AG’s Dept. To Decide On ‘Nandi’s Fate”

  1. Brainmaster

    I am sure that this baby elephant will have a good life in NZ. The cool periods shouldn’t be a problem. After all there are many Srilanks living in cool countries, and they do well. Just look at the poor condition of most of our captive ellephants, malnourished, sores and wounds allover, and sometimes cruel treatment.

    • live and let live

      How can a Baby elephant torn away from his surroundings and from his given Family will have a better life in a foreign land? In the first place he’s sopposed to be in a jungle far away from human contact. Sure, there are Srilankans living abroad even in colder countries than NZ and doing well. cos’ they are living free and able to decide when to visit their loved ones back at home. This Baby elephant might live in a golden Cage and will have to obey golden rules for the rest of his life time. Seperation is never good. Why don’t we deliver a beatiful wooden elephant to those who wish to have them? Foreign Tourists do take with them, wooden elephants instead of demanding for the real ones. By the way an animal is not a Thing and meant never to be traded. Hope this will open a few hearts!

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