By Springer –
The plight of the elephants of Sri Lanka is getting to a very grave stage indeed. Today, to be an elephant and walk from Dondra to Point Pedro is far more risky than a woman wearing jewellery and walking on her own as the old saying goes. In fact the jumbo will be stolen before going even a kilometer. This is driven by greed and prestige, when a German Shepherd dog is no longer sufficient as a status symbol. Now every temple and every politician, every businessman must have a JUMBO.
Over 60 baby jumbos who have been stolen cruelly and illegally, very often from the jungles of Habarana, Udawalawe and even Trinco are in the ‘keep” of extremely influential people including politicians and iconic Buddhist priests. This corrupt act is legitimized by the Director General of Wild Life, HD Ratnayake who can be coerced or gently persuaded to issue some sort of a permit. Most often false papers of an older or dead elephant are produced to get away from the law that is crumbling in Sri Lanka anyway.
The pathetic case of Baby J, who was raided and found in the premises of the Kandalama Walauwa, Giriulla Road Mirigama, on the night of February 28, 2014 is a very good illustration of what befalls these gentle giants. The Wild Life Department officials on a tip off, raided the Walauwa of Nilanthi Bandara late in the night of the February 28, 2014. Another older jumbo too was found on the premises. The officers despite not having much support from the top did a fantastic job of going in search of the Magistrate of Attanagalla, getting an order after much difficulty and worked with the Police on getting both elephants out. Many were the strong arm supporters of the network that steals, who watched powerlessly until the jumbos were taken away. For those who may not be familiar there is an organized ring in Sri Lanka that coordinates the stealing of elephants and the Kandalama Walauwa is one such transit point. This ring is headed by Roshan from Maharagama, also known as Hamuduru Putha. However it is unclear in this case as to what extent Roshan is involved in the robbery of Baby J from the jungle. (Nilanthi Bandara in the meantime has furnished many affidavits claiming her lack of involvement in the crime, though the Walauwa is owned by her)
Baby J was initially put into quarantine in the Wild Life facility in Lunugamvehera and then taken to Eth Athuru Sevana, the wild life transit orphanage run by the Dept in Udawalawe. Baby J was happy and free among other jumbo friends despite the trauma of being taken away from mum.
Magistrate’s clear dereliction of duty
The case filed by the Wild Life Dept, in the mean time was being heard by Kavindya Nanayakkara, the Magistrate at Attanagalla. False claims by way of bogus permits were submitted twice and the Magistrate chose to award Baby J on the second set of false papers submitted by the well known elephant addict, Kolonnawe Sumangala priest, who has a great following of hysterical followers. Her grounds for awarding was “ first you said there were no papers for this baby. My decision is to award the baby to anyone who furnishes some sort of permit”.
The Magistrate clearly ignored the facts, systematically furnished by the second level officers of the Wild Life Dept, who stated the discrepancies in the case very clearly. The question is who connived with these elephant robbers even to support them with “false papers”. The Department is today in total disarray. Middle level managers and junior officers try to do an honest and sincere job, while people at the top connive with very high level politicians or their relatives and with other elephant robbers. This really demoralizes those officers who want environmental justice. Poor Baby J will now be in shackles and traumatised mercilessly to be knocked into shape for the exploitative life that it leads in the future. Concerned groups have absolutely no confidence in the Director General Wild Life to do the correct thing.
Animal welfarists, environmental activists, professionals and other members of the public need to fight on several fronts as the elephant crime network in particular is running through the fabric of Society in the most insidious manner. When very influential people are also involved the situation is dangerous and complex.