Environmentalists: Grace period a cover to register newly captured jumbo calves

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The grace period given for registering illegally caught wild elephants is being made use of by certain dishonest people to register baby elephants newly captured by them, environmentalists charge. Several environmental groups raised a concerted voice at a news conference, against this move to give a grace period for registering illegally kept wild elephant calves.

The existence of a racket of capturing wild baby elephants for domestication came to light about a decade ago and it is believed that more than 30 baby elephants have been snatched during the past few years. It is mandatory to register all domesticated elephants; however, these people who having high level connections evade the law.

Elephant calves that are believed to have been snatched from the wild. Pix courtesy Environmental Conservation Trust 

Based on some ground information, Sajeewa Chamikara of Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) says his organisation came to know that teams have already been dispatched to the jungles in Habarana and Udawalawe to snatch new jumbo calves to register them during the grace period.

He says the grace period given by the Department of Wildlife to register unregistered baby elephants is also an attempt to legitimise a large number of baby elephants captured from the wilds. Mr.Chamikara calls this is a clear violation of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

“The culprits should be punished according to the law, but the grace period will only encourage capturing of more baby elephants from the wilds,” he states. ECT has also released a list containing information on owners who are keeping the illegally captured elephants. If the authorities really want they could act on it, he said.

Recently, there were stories that the Elephant Registration book had gone missing leading to the sacking of the DWC’s legal division head. The legal division of the DWC had also been sealed off by police, but the DWC Director General H.D.Ratnayake later confirmed the Elephant Registration book was found.

This drama has taken a different twist with Wildife Minister Vijith Wijayamuni Soyza saying the DWC will offer a grace period for registering illegally held baby elephants by paying a million rupees. “I just want to finish off this unlawful act. But first I must clean the mess, so I offered a grace period with paying a fine” said the Wildlife Minister.

But environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardane said that if there was a need to get the mess cleared, it could be arranged for the offenders to present the elephant to courts, pay a fine, after which the elephant could be handed over to the government.
A news release from ECT states that there are 359 domesticated elephants registered with the DWC. Of these, 94 elephants are in the Dehiwala Zoo and the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage while 60 had died.

There should, therefore, be about 205 elephants in the possession of private owners. However, the elephant owners claim they need more elephants for traditional purposes such as for parading in peraheras as the present elephants are getting older.

In the past, the DWC’s Flying Squad had detected illegally kept baby elephants, but the subsequent legal battles failed to trace the real offenders.

Meanwhile, Thailand Police have recently busted a similar racket of snatching wild baby elephants. Fourteen unregistered or illegally registered elephants were taken in by police on simultaneous raids at tourist destinations.

Published on Print edition of the SundayTimes on 15.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130915/news/environmentalists-grace-period-a-cover-to-register-newly-captured-jumbo-calves-62280.html

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