A much-talked-about forfeited blood ivory in 2012 will be destroyed at the Galle Face Green under the patronage of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday the 26th of January. For this historic occasion, President Sirisena invited the Secretary General Mr. John E. Scanlon of the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Mr. Scanlon will be the first Sec. Gen. of the CITES to visit to Sri Lanka and perhaps the South Asian Region. Also this ivory destruction event will be held for the first time in the South Asian Region.
Gamini Jayawickrema Perera Minister for Sustainable Development and Wildlife has been in the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) since it came into power early last year. At the time he was a Minister for Food Security, but he took up the ivory issue with the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet as well. The writer of this article persuaded him many times on this issue. Fortunately he became the subject Minister for Wildlife in October last year and has speeded up the process to destroy the blood ivory with an international gathering in Colombo. Ravi Karunanyake Minister for Finance and Planning has given fullest support through the Sri Lanka Customs which is bearing the cost in order to show that Sri Lanka government’s keen interest and support for the eradication of the international illegal wildlife trade, particularly the blood ivory trade.
The previous government tried to steal the blood ivory in the guise of distributing it to Buddhist temples, which became international news and tarnished the image of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a state party to the CITES since 1979, and a state party cannot do such a thing. Thanks to the brave officials of the customs, local and international media, INGOs and NGOs this issue was further raised in Parliament at the time by Ranil Wickramesinghe as Opposition Leader. The writer of this article had urged that the new government destroy the blood ivory in public in Colombo. This month celebrates the new government’s first year in office and is fulfilling a long-awaited blood ivory destruction. Thanks are due for this to the Government of Sri Lanka.
The crushing of blood ivory in Sri Lanka is important for many reasons. Among them, that this will be the first ivory crush in the South Asian Region, and the country will join with the international community to curb the illegal international trade of wild fauna and flora and zero tolerance policy on blood ivory. This event will help in reapplying for GSP plus since the CITES is one of the conventions that come under the GSP Plus. Inviting the CITES Secretary General John E. Scanlon for the ivory-crush event will speed up the process of ratifying the convention to which Sri Lanka has been signatory since 1979. Due to the policies of previous government’s it was not able to ratify the convention. For the first time Minister level participation occurred at the recently concluded 66th Standing Committee Meeting of CITES by Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera. With the CITES Secretary General’s presence in the country, the government could announce that it would ratify the convention soon.
There is no doubt that the event of blood ivory crushing will get world attention through the international media. With this event Sri Lanka will be able to show that the country has diverse land and sea fauna and flora and is considered to be one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. This can boost tourism in the future, particularly wildlife-related tourism. The Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka named seven flagship animals the “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka” which is giving priority for their conservation. They are the elephant, leopard, bear, back-necked stork, saltwater crocodile, leatherback turtle and blue whale. Sri Lanka’s wildlife tourism industry will survive only if these critically endangered animals live in land and sea. The Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka is either classified as ‘Protected’ or ‘Strictly Protected’ under the Fauna and Flora Protection Act. No. 22 of 2009 of Sri Lanka, ‘Threatened’, ‘Nearly Threatened’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as well as they are listed in the CITES. At the blood ivory crushing event, stamps on “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka” will also be released as a gesture which will show the world the country’s commitment on conservation.
The ivory-crushing event will be followed by a religious ceremony which will include Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. This will be a ‘first time’ at a destruction of blood ivory. At the ivory crushing event, the 10th issue of the Wildlife Journal will be launched and there will be paintings and a book exhibition on elephants at the Galle Face Green to educate people. It will show the world Sri Lanka’s commitment on conservation, and its zero tolerance policy on blood ivory. Having books on elephants and their images are more meaningful than collecting ivories and having elephants in homes for many good reasons. No religion promotes ivory worship and the Buddha never preached on ivories and elephants at homes or temples. Elephants will be extinct soon from the earth as conservationists predict. The human-elephant conflict is no more considered as a conservation issue. It is rather a developmental issue. In addition, if humans do not allow elephants to live freely in their own habitats, humans will be responsible for the extinction of elephants soon.
*Vidya Abhayagunawardena can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org