28 October, 2021


Curbing Illegal Possession Of Elephants & Cruelty To Animals

By Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha Wijenayake

The case of elephants in Sri Lanka has come to the forefront of public discourse due to the incident involving the baby elephant which is claimed to have been abandoned at the temple of Ven. Dhammaloka Thero. While the facts remain questionable on the arrival of the elephant to the temple, the case of the unregistered elephant which was reported to be kept in Ven. Dhammaloka Thero’s temple has succeeded in bringing the attention to a much needed discussion on the plight of elephants in Sri Lanka, their ownership, and the ongoing yet not so spoken of baby elephant trade in the country.

Possession of an unregistered elephant is a punishable offence in Sri Lanka, and it is reported that since 2015, the Department of Wildlife has been able to uncover 30 cases of unregistered elephants. This article is not an attempt to analyse the truth of Ven. Dhammaloka Thero’s statements, but an attempt to help better understand the laws that exist, need to be strengthened and better implemented for the protection of animals in Sri Lanka, in this case the wild elephants illegally held in captivity.

Registering and Licensing

According to the Flora and Fauna Act 22 of 2009, possession of an elephant that is not licensed and registered is a punishable offence. The Act provides “no person shall own, have in his custody or make use of an elephant unless it is registered and unless a licence in respect of the elephant has been obtained” in accordance with the provisions of the Act. Among other requirement that fall within the duties of a custodian of an elephant that is being registered under the Act includes registering the elephant with the prescribed officer, paying a registration fee as prescribed, obtain an annual licence in respect of the elephant.

Uduwe DhammalokaThe Act further provides that “where a person becomes the owner, or obtains the custody, of an elephant by virtue of sale, gift, the death of the previous owner or in any other manner whatsoever, such person shall immediately inform the Director or prescribed officer and, if the elephant is registered or licensed, take such steps as may be prescribed to have the previous registration and licence cancelled and to have a fresh registration made and a fresh licence obtained.”

Unlawful Possession

Unlawful possession of an elephant is a punishable offence under the Sri Lankan law. According to S. 23 (1) of the Act this includes upon conviction being liable to a fine not less than one hundred and fifty thousand rupees and not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand rupees, or to imprisonment of either description for a term not less than ten years and not exceeding twenty years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Could one shelter an elephant that walked into one’s premises? Only if abiding by the above regulations, registering the animal as prescribed by law, and gaining a licence.
If an elephant is not registered under this section, then it shall be presumed to be taken or removed from the wild without lawful authority or approval. Elephants kept in captivity are deemed to be public property, and the provisions of the Offences Against Public Property Act, No. 12 of 1982 shall apply against those who are violate the law.

Cruelty to Elephants in Captivity

The case of elephants in captivity does not restrict itself alone to the illegal possession of the animals. It further stretches to the inhumane treatment they are subjected to in captivity. There are many cases of inhumane treatment of the elephants by their mahouts which are not addressed.

This is due to the law in Sri Lanka on addressing cruelty to remaining inefficient and lacking teeth. As highlighted by animal welfare activists, the need for reform on this front is an immediate need. Cruelty to animals is defined by Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No. 13 of 1907 a law that dates to over a century, and archaic which fails to reflect the situation of current Sri Lanka.

Further, the lack of deterring impact of the law which only provides a fine that may extend to hundred rupees, or imprisonment (maximum 3 months) or both as the penalty for those who inflict cruelty on animals has prevented the law serving the purpose for which it was enacted. This highlights the need for reform of the law, and stressing the need to pass the proposed Animal Welfare Bill that would address issues of cruelty and inhumane treatment to which elephants in captivity are subjected.

Yahapalanaya and Elephants

In President Maitripala Sirisena’s presidential manifesto, in page 32 it is provided that under a compassionate governance that the “Flora and Fauna Act will be strictly implemented without fear or favour.” Such statement is definitely very promising, and the promised implementation would ensure that the issues concerning the elephant trade, illegal possession of elephants are addressed.

Further in order to address the illegal possession of elephants, it would be beneficial if the Elephant Registry was disclosed to the public which would facilitate the saving of elephants that are illegally kept in captivity.

On the World Wild Life Day, it is the hope of many that the compassionate governance will uphold two things that will address the issues raised: The implementation of the Flora and Fauna Act in an efficient and robust manner as promised, and the passing of the Animal Welfare Bill against the cruelty and inhumanity towards animals in the country.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    There is absolutely no need for anyone to keep any wildlife in captivity. Making such keeping lawful is an open gateway for abuse. All wild animals belong in their own habitats.

    Sri Lanka must actively protect such habitat and return any animal that strays into human areas or left abandoned or injured in the forest must be rehabilitated and returned to the forest in the shortest time possible.

    Pinnawela where elephants are abused to the maximum and the Dehiwala zoo which is a national shame must be shut down and the animals rehabilitated and returned to their native habitats.

    No exceptions.

    • 4

      Elephants being dressed up and marching in Peraheras and all CHAINED up is a very cruel and inhuman Sinhala Buddhist practice that is not done in other countries.

      Sinhala Buddhism’s cruelty is visible in the Perahera where elephants have to where garments with lights on them and boil in the heat.

      Burning blood ivory but continuing the practice of dozens of elephants in Peraheras is a joke! Typical Sinhala Buddhist Hypocrisy!

      Elephants in Peraheras, demand for baby elephants from Buddhist Temples and dayakayas and the illegal trade in baby elephants are all related: The hot shot MEGA EGO Buddhist monks want dozens of elephants in their Perrheras to show how important they are.

      This is a violation of What the Buddha taught in every sense – non-ego, non-self. Ahimsa, anichcha, anattha.

      • 4

        Sinhala gon modaya:

        does that elephant calf in the photo look like abused ?

        Prince Phillip in england is the head of the World Wild life fund.

        there was a photo of a highly abused Sri lankan elephant in England. elephant looks malnourished, photos show she is being kicked by and and is beaten.

        • 2

          Look at the picture…..I see the two legged elephant well nourished, don’t ask me any questions please!!!!

    • 0

      Vositha Wijenayake

      RE: Curbing Illegal Possession Of Elephants & Cruelty To Animals

      Curbing Illegal Possession Of People and Women & Cruelty To Humans

      International Women’s Day March 8,, 2016


      Published on Feb 29, 2016
      In celebration of International Women’s Day, Alltime10s brings you our list of 10 inspirational, badass women from history.

      From the suffragettes who campaigned tirelessly for the female vote to the teenage Joan of Arc who led the French armies during the Hundred Years War, these women defied conventions and stood up for what they believed in.

      If you want to find out more about the day and how to get involved, visit http://www.unwomen.org or http://www.internationalwomensday.com.

  • 5

    So everybody who keeps elephants in captivity abuses them and treats them cruelly ?

    Just because of a few examples…can this be extrapolated to Dogs and cats and all other fauna ?

    Yes, and don’t forget the jibe at pereheras, after all the sworn objective of the perpetrator of all these articles is to see the Dalada relic being transported in a pick up truck ! All the NGO funding is to achieve this .

    What a load of unmitigated horse manure !

    Not Elephant manure it has some use and can be used to make paper !

    • 0

      @Don Quixote

      “So everybody who keeps elephants in captivity abuses them and treats them cruelly ?” – No. Who said that ? But people who treat them inhumanely should be brought to book. At the moment, there are no adequate laws in the country to do this and no enforcement.

      Peraheras are fine. Let those who participate in them, participate out of consent. An animal has no recourse to consent. It will go when the mahout goads it to go and stop when it is goaded to stop. i.e. they have no choice. If I take a stick and beat you to force you to go live in the jungle, I would be removing your choice in the matter. I am sure you would object to such treatment. It is the same thing

      And for good measure, I’d also tie your legs together with a chain!

      The Dalada relic would not object to being carried on a truck – only foolish people will assume that.. here’s an idea. Why not carry it on a palanquin carried by humans ? There is choice AND merit to be gathered in such an act

      It is time we put some archaic thinking aside

      • 1

        Malu miris,

        Do you know the first thing about controlling an elephant ? No real mahout needs to use the goad to make an elephant go forward or stop.

        Before you threaten personal harm hiding behind your pathetic pseudonym,try not to expose your total lack of knowledge on the subject you are talking about !

  • 2

    Understand how many millions of chicken, cattle, pigs are brought up, treat abusive, slaughtered inhumanely.

    Every animal is fed large amounts of chemicals in order to fatten fast. They are fed chemiclas and hormones in order to keep them healthy.

    Just video how they are treated during their short life time.

    Pepole eat pork and beef knowing that those can contribute to cancers and other physiological conditions.

    Write about those things. Even if elephants are abused, publish photos and that should be stopped.

    Because, you don’t take Jesus on an elephant, it is not fair to criticize buddhist culture.

    • 0

      @jim softly

      Who is criticising Buddhist culture?

      Buddhist culture did not use computers, message boards, internet. yet you are using all of these now. Why ?

  • 0

    To people interested. Look for “Gods in Shackles”. A very revealing documentary

  • 0

    stop illegal possession of humans first

  • 1

    Lucien Rajakarunanayake and his NGO are the people behind each and every one of these articles against elephants in captivity. This man has made a fine living out of indiscriminately attacking an age old tradition that belongs to the cultural heritage of our very civilization.

    Cruelty to animals happens not only with elephants. There is also much love and affection shared among humans and elephants.

    Can no one stop this insidious creature ? He seems to survive under all regimes !

  • 0

    @Wal Aliya

    “Cruelty to animals happens not only with elephants. There is also much love and affection shared among humans and elephants.”

    Yes, some do respect their charges

    In the majority of cases that do not, what would you do ? Say the atypical “monawa karannada ?” and do nothing ?

  • 0

    Do you know that Elephant owners believe that if an elephant comes to your family, it is a debtor from a past life come to pay his debts.

    When the debts are paid the elephant can kill you in a flash…if you have mistreated it.

    No one with a history of caring for elephants would ever mistreat an animal deliberately. Sometimes when a six ton truck is out of control one is forced to brake viciously !

    All you do gooders must realize that it is much better to domesticate elephants “properly” than to cull them in whole herds as will happen for sure as the land is claimed by humans.

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