Doubts have been raised over certain comments made by Deputy Wildlife Minister Vasantha Senanayake regarding the two elephant calves that were in possession of former secretary to the ministry of defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
During a press briefing on Saturday, Deputy Minister Senanayake dismissed allegations that have been leveled at Gotabaya on illegally holding two baby elephants, claiming he has not engaged in any illegal actions with concern to the elephants.
“One of the calves has been registered and was held in his possession legally. The process to register the second elephant calf was underway when he decided to hand in both animals to the zoo; he had even submitted the application. The second calf had been given to him by the former President through a grant (sannasa) in January 2014,” Minister Senananayake told media.
However, several issues can be raised over his statement. As environmental law experts point out:
– The President is not entitled with provisions to grant the custody of ANY animal to a private party – the sole authority lies with the Wildlife Director
– Before taking the elephant under the care of a private owner physically, the law dictates that relevant authorization documents including the registration should be completed – which was not the case with the second calf that was in Gotabhaya’s possession
– Minister Senanayake himself admits that the original owner/s of this calf that had not been registered nor its origins are clear since the sannasa does not specify those details. As such, this calf (if it was not given away from Pinnawala) could very easily be a baby elephant that was smuggled out of a national park – a racket that was heavily carried out during the Rajapaksa regime
Animal activists point out that it is vital for a CID investigation to be carried out on this animal and its origins as a simple documentation noting the origins of the animal can be prepared by the authorities in order to cover-up the issue.