Archive for the ‘Elephants’ Category

Sinharaja elephant attacks raise villager fury

July 31, 2017

Published on SundayTimes on 28.05.2017 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170528/news/sinharaja-elephant-attacks-raise-villager-fury-242684.html

Sri Lanka’s biodiversity hotspot, Sinharaja, is home to two elephants – but pressure is mounting to translocate them after one killed two villagers. Last week, some angry villagers demanded the elephants be removed as a man and a woman were killed in Cypresswatte village.

The recent photograph that shows an elephant in musth

The incident happened on May 16. The woman was killed at about 6:45 p.m., while the man was fatally attacked around 8 p.m.

A few days earlier, on May 13, the same elephant attacked a Wildlife Department jeep when the vehicle was involved in chasing the animal back into the forest. This incident was near Kudawa, Weddagala around 8.30 p.m. The panicked animal turned back and crushed the bonnet of the vehicle, slightly injuring those inside.

The elephant had been seen at other locations. It had paced around the tower on top of the Gongala Mountain. A photo taken at Gongala shows the elephant is in musth, which is the periodical rise of reproductive hormones of a bull elephant. At such times the animals are irritable and aggressive.

According to DWC records, the two Sinharaja elephants are responsible for 16 human deaths in villages such as Kopi-kella, Manikkawatte and Cypresswatte. Tea cultivations block their natural passages, forcing them to sometimes wander into populated areas.

Madura De Silva, the president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, said that there were three elephants sometimes back – one female and two males. The society setup camera traps as a part of a project related to leopards and the cameras captured the movements of an elephant. With the data they mapped its range.

DWC director general, W S K Pathiratne, said a decision had not been taken yet to translocate the killer elephant. More wildlife officers will be sent to the are.

When asked if a radio collar could be fitted to track the animal, he said trapping the elephant would be challenging in the difficult terrain.

The elephant was in fact caught in 1999 by a team led by Dr Nandana Atapattu – a veterinary surgeon who was also a deputy director of DWC then. It took a team of 20 and a week-long effort. But villagers at the time, particularly the students of Kajuwatta School protested against removing the elephant saying it was an asset to the area. Dr Atapattu released the elephant.

At that time, there were records that the elephant charged but did not kill anyone.Environmentalist Jayantha Wijesinghe said these elephants roamed widely around Sinharaja, but attacked people only in some places. “The reason being that the villagers in these areas have harmed the duo, so the elephants become more aggressive,” he said.

The president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, Mr De Silva, said that in many areas, the local villagers understand the elephant’s movements and that helps to avert a potential disaster. He also said that because of the elephants, illegal activities such as felling trees for ‘walla patta’ and gem mining has been under control. “These elephants are the jewels of Sinharaja. it is better to let them be.”

The Sinharaja rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage Man and Biosphere Site.

Ocean-going jumbos possibly disoriented

July 31, 2017

Wildlife experts have not been able to adequately explain why a few elephants had been sighted in distress in the oceans closer to shore in the east and even in the deep seas. Some suspect they had been disoriented. Elephants are known to be able to negotiate lakes, reservoirs and rivers. Once again, this week, the navy helped to rescue two elephants seen in the waters off Trincomalee.

The rescue operation in progress

They had been detected by sailors on a patrol boat about one kilometre from shore near Round Island at about 6:30 am onSunday, July 30. A team of divers and three more fast attack craft were called in to guide the jumbos back to land. The divers secured a rope around the elephants to help drag them to shore.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation Trinco range office was also alerted to the incident. Around 11:40 am, the two elephants reached the shallow waters around Foul Point in Trincomalee. From there, the wildlife team took control and drove the elephants back to a nearby forest patch.

Trincomalee wildlife range officer, K A Srimal, said they were two young elephants and appeared to be in good health. Two weeks ago, the navy helped to pull to shore another elephant which had gone swimming.

On July 11, a lookout aboard a Dvora patrol craft saw an object about 8 nautical miles offshore from Kokkuthuduwai in Kokilai at about 9:00am, Lieutenant Commander MBC Perera later recalled. It turned out to be an elephant in distress. The rescue was complicated and dangerous and it took nearly 12 hours, ending only at late at night.

He recalled heavy rains at the time and rough seas.

Divers called to the scene took major risks trying to wrap a rope around the belly of the beast to help pull it to shore, slowly. Videos show that the creature appeared spent from struggling against strong currents and could not react aggressively to the human presence.
A navy diver did however recalled being struck by the struggling elephant’s foot and being pushed 10 feet under water as he attempted to cast a rope around the animal. It was about 4:00pmwhen the sailors began to haul the animal, stopping on occasions to allow it to catch up. When they reached the shallows, it was7:30 pm. Wildlife officers came in to help once the creature walked on to shore. The elephant was chased back in into the forest around Pulmuddai.

Wildlife ranger Mr Srimal said elephants had been seen in inland reservoirs such as Gal Oya, Udawalawe, and Maduru Oya.
There are also historical accounts of jumbos swimming on to islands in Trincomalee from the mainland.

Howard Martenstyn remembers seeing a swimming pachyderm back in the 1960s when one swam to Elephant Island from the Trinco dockyard area. Elephant researcher Dr Prithiviraj Fernando suspects that the elephant seen far from shore in the deep seas may have been disoriented and was dragged away by a strong ocean current.

He also remembers that in 2010, an elephant was seen in the seas near Norway Island off Sampur. It has been a translocated animal and had a radio collar. Dr Fernando believes it ended up in the sea in an attempt to find its way back to home. The elephant, named ‘Brigadier’ was found dead, later, having fallen into an abandoned agro-well.

Published on SundayTimes on 30.07.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170730/news/ocean-going-jumbos-possibly-disoriented-252509.html

Deadly garbage dumps pose elephantine problems ?

March 5, 2017

Agonising death: The elephant which died after suffering for more than a month after eating garbage at Manampitiya. Pic by Karunaratne Gamage

An elephant which had been regularly eating garbage at Manampitiya died last Saturday after suffering from a sickness for a month.

This well grown male, about 20 years of age, was part of a herd that fed on garbage from a dump at Manampitiya. It had fallen ill in the third week of January. A veterinary surgeon and a team of wildlife officers tried to flush out any non-digestive materials from its stomach. One even inserted a hand through its anus to manually pull anything that remained. At first they pulled out about 15 kilograms of polythene in a day and over a month about 30 kilograms were removed.

Dr Pramuditha Devasurendra who had treated the elephant, rejected the idea that the polythene was the cause of death. He said toxic bacteria in rotting food may have been the cause. “The garbage pit contains lots of lunch sheets with rotten food. Deadly bacteria can grow on the food. This is main reason for the death of the elephant.”

Dr Devasurendra revealed that a post-mortem did not find any polythene in the bowels of the dead elephant. Its liver and spleen were damaged.

He said he had treated another elephant about half a kilometre away from the garbage dump at Manampitiya. “That elephant too died and I have been unfortunate to witness deaths of at least 10 elephants since I assumed duties in this area four years ago,” Dr Devasurendra said.

The Manampitiya dump is not the only one that attracts elephants. A garbage dump in Dambulla attracts elephants. Yet another dump in Hambantota is protected by an electric fence. Dr. Devasurendra said an electric fence was needed at Manampitiya.

Meanwhile, Dr Prithiviraj Fernando, estimates that there are at least 50 locations where elephants come to forage at the dump. They are mostly in the dry zone.

Dr Fernando said piles of vegetables, over ripe fruit, flour, rice, bread and the like are more nutritious than what is found naturally. Elephants which rummage for these at the dumps are in better health, he said.

But he said every day 500 elephants may be eating garbage. “In a year, how many of them would die as a result? How does this compare with other ‘unnatural’ causes of elephant deaths? Such as being shot, hakka patas, injuries from trap guns and nooses, train or vehicle accidents, starving to death inside parks after being driven in and restricted with electric fences,” he asks.

It is mostly adult males living outside Wildlife Department protected areas that eat garbage.

The Manampitiya dump: Veritable death trap for wild animals. Pic by Kanchana Kumara

This also means the elephants are not raiding farms. So if they are to be prevented from raiding garbage dumps would it increase the human elephant conflict, and how many of them would be injured and killed? And how many people would be injured and killed? Dr Fernando asks.

“So before jumping in and trying to ‘fix’ something one should first find out what the problem is, figure out the cost and benefit of ‘fixing’ and make an informed decision. Otherwise the cure may be worse than the disease,” he warns.

Dr. Fernando suggests separating the organic matter from the plastics, metals, and glass materials before being dumped.

Published on SundayTimes on 05.03.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170305/news/deadly-garbage-dumps-pose-elephantine-problems-231517.html 

Minneriya gathering may turn sour for elephants

January 29, 2017

 

At Moragahakanda, a dam was built at Elahara across the Amban Ganga to create a reservoir. A second dam will be built at Pallegama in Matale across Kalu Ganga to create the Kalu Ganga reservoir. These two larger water bodies are about 10 kilometres apart and will be linked by a tunnel.

The project aims to provide water for drinking and irrigation for areas in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee districts. The project also includes a hydropower plant to generate 25 megawatts of electricity.

About 3,500 families had to be resettled due to the project.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of the area affected by the project is forested land and it is believed that the conflicts between elephants and humans will increase. As the project aims to take water to Rajarata, tanks like Minneriya will remain filled during the dry season that lasts from July to about November. Minneriya National Park is famous for being the gathering place of large numbers of elephants every year between June and September. Environmentalists say that Minneriya being filled would be detrimental to the large herds of elephants that come feed on the lush grass growing on the plains in the dry season.

NOTE:

During Workshop on the Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wild Elephants organized by WNPS on 24th January, the repercussions of the plan to keep the Minneriya Tank at spill level throughout the year from recently commissioned Moragahakanda project was highlighted. Herewith I’m sharing my past articles written on the same to renew the debate..!!

* “Is it too much ‘Water for Elephants’..?” (08.05.2011)
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110508/News/nws_20.html

..sections of following articles also highlighted the issue.

* “Don’t leave conservation solely to Wildlife Dept: Former DG Pilapitiya” (25.09.2016)
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/…/dont-leave-conservation-solely-…

* Minneriya gathering may turn sour for elephants (22.01.2017)
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/…/small-creatures-of-moragahakand…

 Small creatures of Moragahakanda get a helping hand

Pix by Kanchana Kumara

Operations to rescue and relocate small wild creatures trapped by the waters of the Moragahakanda reservoir are continuing.

Filling of water at the reservoir began on January 11. Department of Wildlife Conservation officers with support from volunteers began rescuing wildlife species that had been trapped by the rising waters.

“Giant squirrels, squirrels, wild cats, reptiles, lizards, monitor lizards and snakes top the list of animals that we rescued,” says Wildlife Department’s chief veterinary surgeon, Dr Tharaka Prasad who led the rescue.

These operations are sometimes risky. Video footage show occasions when frightened animals could endanger rescuers. Dr Prasad said rescued animals were released into nearby forested areas that will not be affected by the waters.

He said rescuers had so far not seen any large animals such as deer, wild boar, and elephants. He believes large animals have already moved to safer ground. The filling of the reservoir has created 22 small islands which could become refuges for animals.

Earlier, a team lead by the IUCN Sri Lanka (International Union of Conservation of Nature) carried out animal rescues in the area. IUCN Sri Lanka’s Sampath Goonatilake who participated in the operations said a number of plant species that are important and threatened were translocated. The team had also relocated some freshwater fish.

According to IUCN, 80 animal species and 202 different plant species were identified from the affected area. The operation translocated 916 plants belonging to 58 species and a total of 2,414 animals belonging to 46 faunal species (fish and other species) according to IUCN. It also states that monitoring reveals an 84 per cent survival rate of transplanted plant species.

Dr Prasad of the Wildlife Department, said officials will account for the animals saved once the rescue is complete.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.01.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170122/news/small-creatures-of-moragahakanda-get-a-helping-hand-225706.html

Sri Lankan elephant families don’t have a dominant figure, study finds

January 16, 2017

Dominant behaviour: Trunk-over dominance gesture between
two adult female elephants.

The accepted norm is that elephant society comprises distinct family units dominated by the oldest female, or matriarch, who adopts a central role in co-ordinating group movements and responses to threats. But recent research has revealed that this is not so with elephant families of Sri Lanka.

“We found out that unlike African savannah elephants, the Asian elephants (elephas maximus) do not exhibit clear dominance hierarchies or matriarchal “leadership,”’ researcher Dr Shermin de Silva told the Sunday Times.

Adult males are expelled and it is the females, calves and young bull elephants that form social groups. Dr de Silva studied how elephants interact within these social groups particularly observing dominance behaviors in Udawalawe National Park.

Researchers interpret ‘dominance’ as a concept indicated by behaviours such as one individual threatens, shows aggression toward another, or interferes with the other’s actions. Subordinates can be indicated by behaviours such as one individual allowing themselves to be manipulated, actively avoiding another, waiting to approach a resource until the other has moved away etc. “We have also observed specific dominance behavior such as the trunk-over gesture where the dominant puts its trunk over the head/neck/back of the subordinate,” Dr de Silva explained.

The African savanah elephant (loxodonta africana) has a matriarch, usually the oldest female. The whole group depends on the experience her wisdom to locate food and water particularly during droughts. In Africa the elephant also has natural predators such as lions that could kill young calves, so having a leader is an advantage.

But in Sri Lanka, the environment is more stable compared with Africa where food and water historically had not been difficult to come by. The elephants in Sri Lanka do not have a threat from wild predators such as tigers or lions. The researchers think that this frees up elephant individuals to make their own movement decisions, without needing to rely on the knowledge of others, or tolerate being dominated by them.

Having a clear leader also has other benefits. It will prevent unnecessary confrontations or unrest within a group.

“We suggest that in the absence of a dominance hierarchy, the Asian elephants must rely on spatial separation to avoid direct competition and conflict. When two completely unfamiliar groups meet, there can at times be physical aggression (although this is rare). So if they are constrained by being squeezed into smaller bits of habitat where they can’t get away from each other, it might lead to greater stress and conflicts,” Dr de Silva points out.

The findings also challenge other beliefs.

“It has also been sometimes assumed that social units consist of only those individuals observed together at any given time and that capturing the “matriarch” will draw other family members, ensuring their capture or cooperation. Our findings do not support such assumptions.”

These findings can be useful in elephant conservation and management. They may be important for interpreting results of previous management actions such as translocations and elephant drives that alter the social organization of populations of elephants.

Such displacements would not only disrupt long-term social bonds because social affiliates may not be close together at any given time but result in difficulties for the displaced individuals if habitats are already saturated with other elephants. Forced displacement could result in crowding and competition, with likely disproportionately negative impacts to the displaced individuals, the research found.

Dr. de Silva is now attached to the Colorado State University and the Smithsonian Institution. The study was done between 2007 and 2012 in Udawalawe and the findings were published last year. Other experts George Wittemyer and Volker Schmid too, were part of the study.

They say preserving the remaining range and its connectivity for elephants to have healthy, stress free lives should be a priority.

Researcher Shermine de Silva with elephants at Udawalawe

Researcher Shermine de Silva with elephants at Udawalawe

Published on SundayTimes on 15.01.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170115/news/sri-lankan-elephant-families-dont-have-a-dominant-figure-study-finds-224870.html

Yala elephant gulps tourist’s bag with money and travel docs

December 26, 2016

December 2012: Gemunu looking for food

Gemunu, Yala National park’s iconic tusker has a bad habit of stealing food from visitors. What initially started off as begging for food, with time Gemunu became more aggressive– standing in the path of safari jeeps until it was given some food or sticking his trunk inside the jeeps and stealing food.

However, things went wrong this week for Gemunu when it put its trunk into a jeep in which a German couple was riding in and picked up a bag, thinking there would be a bagful of food. But instead the couple watched in horror and disbelief as Gemunu downed the bag containing cash and the travel documents.

It is reported that the tourists reported the incident to Wildlife officers so that they could obtain a letter as proof to claim insurance and get their travel documents renewed.

As Gemunu gets bolder wildlife experts worry that a fate far worse than gulping a bagful of of money and documents awaits the elephant. In addition to Gemunu there are other elephants being fed in Yala and other forest reserves of Sri Lanka. Sithulpawwa – a famous Buddhist temple located in Yala is also frequented by a tusker in search of food.

While feeding wild animals started with good intentions, people should understand it would ultimately have a negative impact on wild life – even resulting in possible fatalities, points out Prof.David Newsome of Murdoch University of Australia who studied nature-based tourism and its impact on wildlife in many different parts of the world. “Every case of feeding wild animals is different, so each needs to be carefully analysed to provide a lasting solution,” Prof. Newsome said.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Prof. Newsome gave the example of  Fraser Island in Australia where tourists closely interact with the dingo – a wild dog found in Australia. Things changed drastically when a boy was killed by dingos. Wildlife officers had to kill a number of dingos in Fraser Island following this incident.

An army soldier shoot to air to make Gemunu let go a jeep in 2013 stirred controversy in 2013.

An army soldier shoot to air to make Gemunu let go a jeep in 2013 stirred controversy in 2013.

Prof. Newsome who was in Sri Lanka recently commented on the Yala incident when he delivered the key-note address at the 21st International Forestry Symposium organised by the University of Sri Jayawardanepura annually.

“I’m not going to visit Yala as a tourist again,” prof. Newsome said. “Every wilderness has its limits in tolerating visitors and Yala being Sri Lanka’s most popular National Park needs an action plan immediately. Quality of the visitor experience is more important and just don’t forget ‘word-of-mouth’ is quicker in this era of social media – so in future tourists may avoid Yala” prof.Newsome,” said reiterating what local experts have been saying for sometime.

“Take a step back, review the situation properly, take informed decisions leading to sustainability of Yala to make sure its status as both a haven for animals as well as a tourist destination,” the expert on ecotourism advised.

This video shows Gemunu’s bold behavior in search of food and signs that a worse disaster is in the making – 2013.

Close encounter: Gemunu looking for food inside a jeep in 2013 - A thrilling, but scary view from inside Pic by Riaz Carder

Close encounter: Gemunu looking for food inside a jeep in 2013 – A thrilling, but scary view from inside Pic by Riaz Carder 

Published on SundayTimes on 25.12.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161225/news/aussie-expert-calls-for-action-plan-for-yala-following-gemunus-money-gobbling-incident-221783.html 

 

Ecological survival a shared responsibility

October 10, 2016

World Bank binds communities into visionary project – published on SundayTimes on 18.09.2016

Sri Lanka and the World Bank have signed a $US45 million loan to help protect the country’s natural habitat and resources from degradation and over-exploitation. The Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP) aims to address key issues in conservation while assisting to improve the lives and livelihoods of neighbouring communities.

ESCAMP was initiated in 2009 when the former Rajapaksa government asked the World Bank for a $US30 million loan. The bank, with assistance of number of experts, come up with a proposal including a science-based action plan to address number of conservation issues including the Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) in selected areas.

Conservationists had high hopes for ESCAMP as a landmark project but in the latter stages of negotiation the Ministry of Finance requested fundamental changes and the World Bank decided to drop the project in 2011, fearing the changes would harm its objectives.

The Sirisena government showed interest in reopening the project and made a formal request. After updating the proposal both the WorldBank and Cabinet signed approval of the project on September 5. Most of the main components remain intact and this time the amount being given is $US45 million.

“The project will improve responsible planning and management of protected areas and other biologically and ecologically important locations throughout Sri Lanka,” said World Bank Senior Environment Specialist and Project Task Team Leader Darshani De Silva.

Importantly, it will create partnerships of environmental guardianship with local communities, she said. “It will help to create sustained linkages with communities living adjacent to protected areas to ensure participation in protection of critical ecosystems and benefit sharing, promote compatible developments within and around sensitive ecosystems, raise quality of visitor services and revenue potential of forest and wildlife resources, while developing the capacity of Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation to deliver on their institutional mandates.”

There are four main components. One is a Pilot Landscape Planning and Management for Conservation scheme in two particular areas in the dry zone and biodiversity-rich wet zone. The second component, Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and Human-Elephant Co-Existence, includes financing the scaling-up of successful human-elephant coexistence pilot projects along with identifying economic incentives for affected communities.

The third component, Protected Area Management and Institutional Capacity, has the biggest funding allocation, $US 24.2 million. It aims at supporting the Protected Area (PA) network, support of nature-based tourism development and strengthening of the institutional capacity and investment capability for conservation and management. Project management is funded as the fourth component.

Conservationists view ESCAMP positively as it clearly looks at long-term solution for many issues including human-elephant conflict. The proposal clearly specifies that project funds should not be used for failed solutions such as elephant drives or the capture and domestication of problem elephants.

The Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment will lead the implementation of the project in partnership with the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife. It is expected that ESCAMP will conclude in 2021.

A wild elephant attempting to cross the iron barrier along a main motorway in Hambantota (c) Rahul Samantha

A wild elephant attempting to cross the iron barrier along a main motorway in Hambantota (c) Rahul Samantha

Activists back plan to source perahera jumbos from Pinnawela

October 1, 2016

Published on SundayTimes on 10.07.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160710/news/activists-back-plan-to-source-perahera-jumbos-from-pinnawela-200107.html 

An illegally caught wild elephant.
Pic courtesy Animal Welfare Trust

Wildlife activists have welcomed Cabinet’s decision this week to have a herd of 35 captive elephants from Pinnawela trained to take part in cultural events while under the care of the Department of Zoological Gardens.

The move follows a proposal submitted by the Minister for Wildlife, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera in the aftermath of the seizure, from private owners, of some 30 elephants believed to have been caught illegally from the wild. Preliminary investigations into this matter have been completed and the elephants, of varying ages, have been transferred to a facility in the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Udawalawe.

Forces opposing the confiscation of the elephants began a campaign of fear that the confiscations would disrupt cultural events, claiming even major events such as the Temple of the Tooth perahera would be threatened due to lack of elephants for the processions. There have even been claims that wildlife activists and conservationist groups were being bribed by western countries to disrupt Sri Lanka’s cultural life.

The setting up of a unit of trained elephant to be used for cultural events was first proposed by a former director of the Zoological Gardens, Brigadier H.A.N.T. Perera but was blocked by captive elephant owners, and the former government was not interested in implementing the proposal.

The Director at Species Conservation Centre, Pubudu Weeraratne, who voiced the need to bring those behind the jumbo racket to justice said keeping trained elephants at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was the best solution. “This solution will help the elephants’ welfare and they will get the chance to move around with other elephants when there is no work,” Mr..Weeraratne said.

The elephant calves have to be sourced only from Pinnawela and not from the Elephant Transit Home, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Environment Conservation Trust emphasised.

The Pinnawala orphanage was started as a facility to house elephant calves found abandoned or orphaned in the wild. But since 1995 all such orphaned elephants are housed at the ETH with the intention of rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild. To take an ETH elephant for training would be to deny its chance to return to the wild, Mr. Chamikara said.

Pinnawela has now has become an elephant management centre, with several births annually, and as the animals there have more interaction with humans activists agree it provides best option as a source of calves to be trained for use in pageants.

Prior to Cabinet’s decision this week, the Secretary of the Tamed Elephant Association, Dhamsiri Bandara Karunaratne, told media there was a dire need to have more captive elephants trained for cultural events and that the removal of 30 captive elephants from private hands had left a large void. He said that while there were 19 tuskers among Sri Lanka’s captive elephant population only three were suitable for carrying the relic casket of the Temple of the Tooth.

The veteran environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardene, said the wildlife activists’ fight was only against the illegal capture of animals: they were not opposed to using elephants for major cultural events.

“Even by the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, which is the main legal document, the using of elephants for the main cultural events is honoured. We never proposed anything to block the elephants from being used in cultural and Buddhist events,” emphasised Mr.Gunawardene, saying those who wanted to keep elephants in private hands for their own satisfaction were trying to hide behind religion.

“We know that traditional elephant owners too get into some difficulties. But it is mainly due to those who acquire these elephants illegally” he concluded saying that the justice should be delivered without delay.

“Don’t use the Dalada Esala Perahera for to let the elephant thieves escape,”  the Anti-Corruption Front’s Ulapane Sumangala Thera said in a separate interview.

Elephants in Esela perahera of Sri Dalada Maligaya (c) newsfirst.lk

Esela perahera of Sri Dalada Maligaya (c) newsfirst.lk

Budget allocates Rs 4,000 million to Environment sector

December 1, 2015

budget

Budget 2016 has an allocation of Rs 4,000 million for the environment sector for three years, to resolve the human-elephant conflict and conserve Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity.

The Sunday Times learns that the Government will seek these additional funds through a World Bank project interest-free loan of US$ 30 million, which did not materialise during the previous regime.

This 5-year initiative called ‘Eco-system Conservation & Management Project’ is to improve the management and stewardship of Sri Lanka’s sensitive ecosystems in selected locations.

Expectations among environmentalists are high that it will enhance conservation and bring benefits to the people.

A large portion of the project’s funding is to initiate innovative programmes that would reduce human-wildlife conflict through co-existence, while enhancing the management of Protected Areas for both conservation as well as nature-based tourism,

Another important component of the project is to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Forest Dept and Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).

Currently, more than half of DWC’s budget goes to mitigate human-elephant conflict (HEC), which environmentalists insist is also important, while action is also being taken to protect other threatened species as well, an area the project also expects to shed some light on.

Environmentalists had high hopes for this project in 2011 when, at its final stages, the then Finance Ministry Secretary P.B. Jayasundara reportedly wanted drastic changes to the project which would have affected the project’s sustainability in the long run.

The World Bank felt it would compromise the project’s very aims of finding lasting solutions to conservation issues, and withdrew the project. Several key conservation groups wrote to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to intervene and prevent unnecessary influence on the project, but to no avail.

The Sunday Times learns that the new Government had, had several rounds of talks with the World Bank to revive this project, and a few weeks back had submitted an official request seeking same.

Reliable sources indicate the signs are positive and the inclusion of a Rs 4,000 million commitment for the Environmental Sector is a sign that the Government is confident of securing this project, whose budget has now increased to US$ 40 million.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.11.2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151122/news/eco-friendly-budget-allocates-wb-aided-rs-4000-million-to-environment-sector-172527.html 

Will baby jumbos snatched from the wild find justice?

November 17, 2015

Published on SundayTimes on 01.11.2015 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151101/news/will-baby-jumbos-snatched-from-the-wild-find-justice-169830.html

Wildlife Conservation Director-General H.D. Ratnayake has directed his officials to work speedily with the CID to capture dozens of elephants caught illegally from the wild and kept captive in private hands following a stern order by the Colombo Chief Magistrate.

Ali Roshan’s lawyers say that confiscated elephants are not being treated well in Pinnawalala, but this is the fate of one of the elephant’s given to a temple in Ragama. This elephant Kapila died after suffering several years in captivity

Environmentalists say as many as 47 elephants have been caught from the wild illegally, Twenty of them were recently taken into the custody of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and are currently quartered at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage.

Mr. Ratnayake said a new facility to keep confiscated elephants would be set up at Udawalawe.

He gave this information when asked by the Sunday Times to comment on the recent ruling by the Colombo Chief Magistrate who ordered the CID to complete investigations into the whereabouts of more than 21 elephants snatched from the wild, reportedly warning that if results were not delivered in time the 20 formerly captive elephants now safe at Pinnawela could be returned to their owners on payment of a bond.

The 20 elephants were taken as babies from the jungle on the orders of a suspect known as “Ali Roshan”.

Ali Roshan’s lawyers, reportedly claiming that these elephants, now in the custody of the Wildlife Department, are being badly fed, have requested the magistrate to entrust the elephants to the owners from whom they were taken.

In the midst of this a group of monks gathered at DWC headquarters demanding an end to confiscations of elephants in private hands. They say elephants are used traditionally for Buddhist events and temples need tamed elephants to perform these tasks.

The group threatened to bring more monks to protest if the raids did not stop.

Responding strongly to the issue, the Minister of Wildlife, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, said he would not hesitate to take into custody anybody keeping an illegally caught elephant, irrespective of their position. He said only those who have involved in wrongdoing will be affected and others need not panic.

Debunking the claim that elephant calves need to be caught from the wild to take part in cultural activities, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara says the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage provides elephant calves to fill the void left by the deaths annually of three or four kept in captivity.

He blames the owners’ failure to look after the captive elephants as the main reason for the early deaths of so many tamed elephants.

Mr. Chamikara said it appeared from data at the elephant registry that from 2006-2009 as many as 95 tamed elephants died. Conservationists doubt the authenticity of register entries purporting to state that the mothers of many calf elephants in captivity had died.

They believe these false entries were made to support claims that baby elephants in private hands had not been illegally taken from the wild but had been born to animals owned legally.

If indeed such a large number of elephants in captivity had died, Mr. Chamikara said, the fatality rate could be due to the elephants not being fed properly, not being treated for illnesses, cruelty and overwork. He called for an investigation.

He also alleged that elephants released to the temples from Pinnawela are, in fact, being used for non-ceremonial purposes such as carrying tourists or dragging logs.

The government banned the capture of wild elephants in the 1970s, and after that the Pinnawela orphanage became the main source of providing tamed elephants, mainly for temples.

If there is a captive elephant aged under 45 years that has not been released from Pinnawela, it is an illegally caught elephant.

Raids have at times resulted in elephant calves being taken into custody but because high-ranking people are behind the captive baby elephant racket investigations have stagnated despite environmentalists publishing a list of owners of suspect elephant calves.

It is mandatory to register captured elephants with the DWC but it is believed bogus licences were created with assistance of internal sources, making seizure of the captive elephants difficult.

Following the change of government, however, then then deputy minister Wasantha Senanayake led the capture of several illegally kept elephants, some in temple premises.

One argument given by the captive elephant owners is that the elephants are part of Buddhist and cultural events. But many people point out that true Buddhism does not encourage animal cruelty and that particularly during the training period the elephants suffer stress.

While the current initiative to capture illegally-held elephants is a very good first step it is pointless unless the root cause of the issue is addressed pointed out an elephant conservationist who wished to remain anonymous.

All the illegal captures occurred because the perpetrators were confident of getting “permits” for them or did not consider it a problem to keep an elephant without a permit.

Those who issued fraudulent permits have to be brought to book and all illegally captured elephants should be confiscated, he added. It is also important that those who held such elephants should be penalised.

A transparent and strict permits system is vital. No amount of regulation will be effective if people engage in fraud. Even DNA typing of elephants would not help as it was open to abuse and there cannot be any public oversight of it, the expert said.

He suggested that public viewing access to the permit system would prevent it being abused. A publicly accessible website could have details such as name of owner, history of ownership, age and height of elephant, with pictures of the elephant.

This would be easy to set up as there are only a few hundred elephants in captivity, the conservationist said.

Do Buddhist rituals need captive elephants?Although a compassionate religion such as Buddhism would not promote animal cruelty in any form, Sri Lanka has a rich cultural history in which where elephants – especially tuskers – are used for cultural events.

A tusker is used to carry the sacred casket in pageants, so many elephant owners trying to justify the need of captive elephants name this practice in their arguments.

A disastrous mooted solution was to train rogue elephants to take part in cultural events, the justification being that these elephants would be killed soon anyway while raiding crops and settlements.

As an experiment, two rogue elephants were captured from the wild for rehabilitation. One was given to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage while the other was handed over to temple authorities.

This brought disastrous results. The elephant given to the Maligawa to be trained tried to escape, suffering severe cuts from his chains as a consequence.

It died following months of suffering. The other elephant spent nine years chained at Pinnawela with no training attempted.

A former director of the Zoological Gardens and the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Brigadier. H.A.N.T. Perera, suggested training a unit of elephants kept at Pinnawela to perform in cultural events.

In that way, the unit would be trained centrally and looked after well at Pinnawela, making monitoring easier. Unfortunately, this innovative proposal was stifled.

Environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara points out that there is a lack of trained mahouts to look after captive elephants in private hands and that because of this elephants are often subject to unnecessary beatings and other cruel treatment which increases their stress and ultimately shortens their lives.

This would make the creation of a team of elephants kept under a single roof at Pinnawela even more logical as the establishment had trained mahouts, environmentalists point out.

The seizure of the 20 captive elephants could provide another opportunity to try out this idea.

..in search of solution for Human Elephant Conflict

September 20, 2015
DWC concerns should be welfare of jumbos, says top elephant researcher – Dr.Prithiviraj Fernando 

With the new Government’s manifesto promising a solution to the human elephant conflict, the new Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera says he will treat it as a priority, calling for a report by Tuesday.

Dr.Prithiviraj Fernando

Many blame Wildlife Officers for not providing a viable solution to the problem. However, the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) alone cannot provide a solution, points out Sri Lanka’s foremost elephant researcher Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando.

The solution for the HEC can only be brought about by the main stake holders of this issue – the people affected by the conflict itself – becoming the main players in its mitigation.

Everyone expects the DWC to act, but it does not have the network, capacity, access to funding or the relationship with people, required to effectively manage a problem that has worsened in many parts of the country.

Instead the people affected, together with agencies responsible for the people’s welfare and governance and development should be the main players in finding a solution, says Dr. Fernando.

The main concern and responsibility of the DWC should be the welfare of the elephants, he asserts.

While over 200 elephants fall victim annually, pushing them to ‘endangered’ status, about 70 human lives are lost due to elephant attacks. However, as much as 80% of these deaths are preventable, emphasises Dr. Fernando, taking the Samagipura incident, where a provincial journalist was killed, as an example.

In each incident there are two parties involved – the human being and an elephant. As an elephant cannot be made to understand the problem or to look for a solution, it is the human who should be responsible.

Housing scheme in elephant territory - intensifying the conflict

A housing scheme in elephant territory – intensifying the conflict

Similarly in cases of crop raiding or destruction of houses, appropriate steps should be taken to prevent such occurrences. If crops are cultivated in an area where elephants roam, they will raid the crops unless preventive measures are taken.

Many people store paddy in their houses, resulting in the elephants breaking into their houses. The Government can assist people to construct protective fences or give priority to buying paddy from areas at risk.

Electric fences have been the traditional solution to the problem, but other alternatives have been used such as beehives, palmyrah fences and spiky lime to keep elephants away from human settlements and crops. However, these take up a lot of effort and resources or have limited success.

Hence Dr. Fernando thinks properly established electric fences are still the most effective way to keep elephants at a distance. However, most fences are erected demarcating protected areas such as National Parks managed by the DWC, while in many places the other side of the fence is Forest Department land.

Such inappropriate use of fences results in fences inside forests with elephants on both sides of the fence. Such fences are difficult to maintain, communities cannot and will not play a part in maintaining them and very soon they become non-functional.

Instead, human settlements and permanent cultivations should be protected by fences and people who are benefited by such fences need to take the responsibility for maintaining them.

Hambantota which experienced rapid development under the previous government is elephant country. With assistance of radio collars, Dr. Prithiviraj’s team in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation identified the area that is critical for elephants.

These findings were taken into consideration in the Strategic Environmental Assessment conducted under the auspices of the Urban Development Authority and the Central Environmental Authority.

The zoning plan developed under the Strategic Environmental Assessment identified the areas suitable for development, and demarcated the area that was critical for elephants as a Managed Elephant Range (MER) so humans and elephants can co-exist together in the Greater Hambantota area with little conflict. But this plan was not implemented as Dr.Fernando said that there are lots of unplanned developments disregarding the zoning plan and continued encroachment for cultivation and settlements in the MER area.

The elephant expert also repeated that translocation or elephant drives would not solve the HEC. Even establishing elephant corridors will have limited success, if implemented without obtaining actual data of elephant movement in an area.

The concept that elephants constantly migrate from one forest to another covering large areas is an outdated concept that belongs to the colonial era, whereas modern research has shown that elephants in Sri Lanka do not migrate long distances but have limited home ranges of 50-500 square km in extent, to which they show a high level of attachment.

Dr. Fernando and the team were the pioneers of observing elephant movements using satellite collars that proved Sri Lankan elephants are not migratory. However, within a home range there are places or routes that elephants use to cross from one area to another or to cross a main road etc. and these need to be established as ‘Elephant Corridors’.

Blocking of such ‘corridors’ by development or encroachment causes increase in HEC as elephants then have to cross in spite of the development or through alternative routes, which brings them into conflict with people. So Dr. Fernando suggests more research to understand elephant movement patterns before establishing these corridors.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka already formulated a National Policy for Elephant Management and Conservation in 2006 with consultation of experts in the field and the participation of all the relevant line agencies, led by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Many see this as comprehensive enough to provide sound suggestions with a scientific base to address the HEC and elephant conservation. However, this remains only a document, as it was not implemented.

So without reinventing the wheel, updating this National Policy, which is now a decade old and looking at addressing the issue on a scientific footing would be the thing to do, says the elephant expert.

Finding why the National Policy for Elephant Management was not implemented too should be a priority, as otherwise, new efforts too will end up in the ‘hamas pettiya’.

Published on 20.09.2015 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150920/news/solution-to-man-beast-conflict-lies-with-stakeholderstop-researcher-164878.html

Elephant on Mattala Road - a frequent encounter (c) Dr.Prithiviraj Fernando

Elephant on Mattala Road – a frequent encounter (c) Dr.Prithiviraj Fernando

Human Elephant Conflict – should all blame DWC..?

September 13, 2015

Last week, provincial journalist Priyantha Ratnayake was killed by a wild elephant while he was filming the beast that came to a village. Nearly 50 human deaths are reported annually as a result of intensified Human Elephant Conflict (HEC). Prime responsibility of taking care of the Elephants is with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). But can they solve the issue of HEC on their own..? Should all the blames goes to DWC..?? 

This is my article written on 2011 about the issue aftermath of a protest by villagers over someone got killed by a wild elephant. http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110731/News/nws_18.html 

Villagers block junction demanding solution to Human-Elephant Conflict

Short-term elephant drives not the answer say conservationists adding that villagers must cooperate more with Wildlife Dept. – By Malaka Rodrigo
Residents of the area blocked Palagala junction last week, demanding a solution for their Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) issue. About 1,500 villagers gathered at this junction on July 20, protesting the death in the last two months of 7 villagers killed by elephants, according to media reports. Traffic from Kekirawa, Galewela and Mahawa was blocked, causing severe inconvenience to the public. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) had to assure the villagers that they would relocate the troublesome jumbos and for the protesting villagers to disperse.

Protesting villagers. Pic by Kanchana Kumara Ariyadasa

This was not the first time villagers blocked roads in protest. It is now becoming a common occurrence to bring a victim’s body to the road or, to the Wildlife Field Office, demanding a remedy to their life-threatening issue.

Apparently, the Wildlife officers’ immediate solution is relocation of the elephant. But elephant expert Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando points out that the present form of mitigating the HEC is very much from the human perspective, and it only worsens the problem.

In the long term, it is detrimental to the very people it is meant to protect. He emphasises that people and politicians need to understand that translocation or elephant drives are not long term solutions.

Experts also point out that the DWC cannot be alone held responsible for the HEC. HEC is a very complex issue with multiple causes fuelling it, resulting in the annual loss of at least 200 elephants and 50 people.

Even though scientific evidence clearly indicates that translocations or elephant drives don’t work, the DWC opts for the easy way out, when political pressure and people pressure override scientific evidence.

Manori Gunawardena, another elephant conservationist also points out that elephant management decisions such as drives are politicized, and therefore, will not mitigate the conflict in the long term.
The DWC usually engages in HECs only after development plans have been drawn up. For example, the resettlement process in the North and East are under way, but elephant conservationists haven’t noticed any plan in place to minimise potential HECs.

Manori pointed out that the resettlement plan is based on land tenure, from as long ago as the early 80’s. But most of these ‘original places’ became jungles and now a rich wildlife habitat. People have no choice but to settle there, in dense forest, along with leopards, bears, elephants etc. Nowhere in the resettlement process do they address the elephant factor, complains Manori.

She points out that the DWC lacks the capacity to assist and implement conflict mitigation at this level with the development authorities, which will create another warfront of HEC in North. At a Stakeholder workshop on HEC, initiated by Born Free Foundation, it was pointed out that the protests were not regular and took place only if a next of kin was a victim.

It was pointed out that villagers were anything but cooperative of the DWC’s efforts at mitigation of HEC, preferring to sit it out on the sidelines, while expecting the DWC to go it alone. The villagers’ apathy towards cooperating with the DWC, even went to the extent of pilfering wires connected to the electrified fence, for its sale afterwards.

Sri Lanka has much scientific data to manage HEC, with the drafting of the National Policy for the Conservation and Management of wild elephants in Sri Lanka, several years ago. But this is yet to be implemented. Sri Lanka’s conservationists also had high hopes that the US$ 30 million World Bank (WB) loan for Ecosystem Conservation & Management Project would facilitate new conservation oriented programmes to alleviate HEC in the long term.

However, the Ministry of Finance informed the WB that this project did not address the development priorities of the government, and suggested modifications to the project design and the inclusion of additional activities which were not conservation oriented.

This resulted in the loan’s cancellation and with that went the efforts of the scientists. HEC needs a well-planned conservation approach, and if the Government and the policymakers are not willing to address the problem in conservation terms, these kind of protests are inevitable. The DWC alone will not be able to provide a solution.

Illegally kept baby elephant found from temple

January 28, 2015

An elephant calf being kept in the temple premises of popular monk Uduwe Dhammaloka without a license has been raided by a team of Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) officers on the evening of Thursday 28th of January. According to the wildlife officers, the elephant calf is only about 2 and half years old and believed to be snatched from the wild illegally.

The Deputy Minister of Wildlife Conservation, Mr.Wasantha Senanayake too came to the temple premises to assist the Wildlife Officers. Another elephant aged around 20 were also found in the premises. The Dep. Minister requested to handover any elephant calf being kept illegally elsewhere in the country without getting into trouble.

Environmentalists accused that dozens of elephant calves were illegally caught from the wild, also releasing a list of culprits. DWC officers raided an elephant kept by big wig of previous government Sajin Vas, but later he submitted a license leading to the elephant calf’s release back to the owner. However, environmentalists allege that the licenses are fake and sometimes being created with the help of the corrupted officers in the Wildlife Department.

The Auditor Generals’ Report also revealed misconducts in issuing licenses for the baby elephants. Fourteen such cases were among the highlights of Auditor General’s report. (Photo courtesy: Lankadeepa Online)

RDS_1035 RDS_1062

Captive elephants helpless against TB spread

May 28, 2014

Experts fear there could be an outbreak of tuberculosis among captive elephants if quick action is not taken.As elephants in Dehiwala Zoo show signs of TB the zoo authorities have stopped the popular elephant performances.Zoo director Anura de Silva told The Sunday Times that five out of the zoo’s 10 elephants have tested positive in a preliminary TB anti-body test but further tests were needed to confirm a TB diagnosis.“The elephant dance is a public event that is enjoyed by children so we were compelled to stop it as a precautionary measure,” said Mr. De Silva.A group of workers staged a protest on Thursday saying the show should not be stopped. They said the advice of veterinary surgeons had been questionable in the past so the authorities should wait for solid evidence that these elephants were TB positive.

TB is caused by mycobacteria and animals can get infected by the same bacteria that cause TB in humans, so there is a possibility that sick animals or humans could pass the disease to each other through body fluids. TB spreads through the air on infected droplets that are aerosolised when an infected person or animal sneezes, coughs, or in the case of an elephant, sprays. Captive elephants can get TB by inhaling infected droplets from infected humans or other infected elephants.

Elephant-to-elephant transmission may occur when one elephant places its trunk inside another elephant’s mouth – a common practice.Asked if the decision to halt the elephant dance should have been taken earlier, Mr De Silva said, “There is nothing to panic. We have checked all the 12 mahouts who handle the zoo elephants but none of them were positive for TB. Mahouts are the first line of contact with elephants living very close to these captive elephants.”

Elephant activists warn that Sri Lanka’s captive elephants have been at risk of a TB outbreak for some time. The issue became highlighted last year when two elephants from the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage tested positive for TB. Dr. Anoma Siribaddana, Consultant Respiratory Physician, said her unit has been continuously screening mahouts, especially in Pinnawela after reports of a possibility of a TB outbreak.It is suspected that the death in February of the Waweladeniye Raja – a majestic tusker entrusted to carry the casket of the Dalada Maligawa – was caused by TB.

The chief monk of the Weweladeniye Temple did not allow a post-mortem, saying it was cruel to cut up a majestic tusker.“This denied us the chance to prove the exact cause of the tusker’s death,” lamented Dr. Ashoka Dangolla, a senior lecturer attached to the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Peradeniya, who found that the animal could be TB positive based on a blood sample taken a year before its death.

Raja was chained up with other Maligawa elephants during the last Dalada Perahera in Kandy, so there is a high chance that the other elephants could have been infected.The first case of TB in elephants in Sri Lanka was reported by Dr. Dangolla himself about eight years ago, in an elephant named Mata. In humans, the signs of TB include weakness, weight loss, exercise intolerance and coughing. Elephants too can show weight loss and leaking of some nasal fluids but may not show signs until the disease is quite advanced.

There is a need to test all the captive elephants in Sri Lanka but activists fear some elephant owners might hesitate to do so and administer proper medication as the TB treatment for elephants are expensive – the daily drug dose costs Rs. 10,000-15,000. Dr. Dangolla says this is not a situation for panic, and he is trying to organise a meeting with the Association of Captive Elephant Owners to take measures.The Sunday Times recently reported that Sri Lanka is becoming a hub for TB as the number of cases increases.

Trunk wash the surest test
It is not easy to check whether an elephant is TB positive. When infection from TB sets in the body starts creating antibodies to fight the intruder. However, the increase of antibodies can occur due to other factors too, and could also mean the body’s immune system could beat the bacteria and the infection could be defeated.

So vets recommend a test known as Trunk Wash to be 100 per cent sure that an elephant is infected with TB. The trunk of the elephant is filled with saline water, then the trunk is elevated and the elephant is instructed to forcibly exhale into a collection bag. Obtaining an adequate trunk wash sample is not easy according to elephant handlers as some elephants do not permit their trunk to be handled and not all can be trained to forcibly exhale.

The resulting sample may be from the end of the trunk instead of from deeper in the respiratory tract as intended. A research paper published on Journal of Commonwealth Veterinary Association’s 2012 January issue indicate that attempts to collect trunk wash from 60 captive elephants failed.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140427/news/captive-elephants-helpless-against-tb-spread-93921.html

Attempt to snatch baby elephant from wild

February 10, 2014
Cries all night from the jungle alerted villagers..!! 
Hearing a baby elephant’s cries from the forest all Tuesday night, villagers called wildlife officials who thwarted an attempt to snatch the baby from the wild and sell it into captivity in private hands. The officers had been expecting to find the elephant injured from an accident but instead found it tightly tied to trees with strong nylon ropes. Two armed men guarding the elephant fled when the officers appeared. 

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Saved in time: The captive baby elephant tied up to surrounding trees with strong nylon ropes 

The incident was reported from Pahalagama in Galgamuwa which is famous for its elephants and tuskers. Wildlife Department sources say that the elephant was a male about two years old. It was well-built for its age and aggressiveness. The tactics used to separate the baby elephant from the herd remain a mystery. It did not appear to have been physically harmed. Officers later released it close to the resident herd of about 30 wild elephants and saw it reunited with its family.

It is believed the baby elephant, found on Wednesday (February 5) had been caught the previous day. This is the first time Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) officials have thwarted a wild elephant kidnap at the scene of the crime. News of a racket of snatching baby elephants from the wild emerged several years ago. It is believed about 60 such baby elephants have been taken. Elephant calves released by the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) have been particular targets of these criminals.

Habarana and Udawalawe are the other major areas in which these racket are in operation, environmentalists say. Last year, the Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT) released the whereabouts of 22 elephants believed to be illegally caught from the wild but no action has so far been taken. The list contains some high-level names. Many of these elephants have ended up in temples and kept on public view and paraded openly in many of the key peraheras in the country.

In Sri Lanka, births of privately owned captive elephants are not known. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is the sole source of releasing baby elephants to private owners. A few elephants have been donated from countries such as India and Thailand for religious purposes. Other than these avenues, the existence of any young elephant in private ownership is questionable.

Although all captive elephants in Sri Lanka are supposed to be registered with the DWC it is alleged that these racketeers obtain fake birth certificates that purport to show the elephants are captive-born.

The DWC register was recently found to have been “lost”, and the head of legal affairs of the Department has been interdicted over the affair. An attempt by the DWC to give a deadline for registering illegally-caught elephants enraged environmentalists who pointed out that the announcement gave gangs a window of opportunity to seize baby elephants from the wild and legalise their ownership as captive-born animals. It is feared that this week’s attempt at Galgamuwa is linked with this situation.

Private owners of elephants lament that the number of captive elephants is decreasing and constantly urge the need of new blood, mainly to continue cultural activities that include elephants as an attraction. Many people, however, argue that this is against core Buddhist philosophy.

DWC Director-General H.D. Ratnayake rejected claims that his department is turning a blind eye on illegal elephant captivity even though all the details are given to the authorities. He said an investigation is being carried out to find those involved in attempt to rob the Galgamuwa baby elephant.

Published on SundayTimes on 09.02.2014 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140209/news/attempt-to-snatch-baby-elephant-from-wild-85117.html

Wildlife Diaries- Memoirs from the wilderness

October 23, 2013

“Rajiv is different to the new crop of wildlife photographers that Sri Lanka is producing. Firstly he doesn’t concentrate only on the national parks. Secondly he is deeply concerned about conservation,” says veteran wildlife photographer Namal Kamalgoda of Rajiv Welikala who is preparing for his maiden wildlife photographic exhibition “Wildlife Diaries: Memoirs from the Sri Lankan Wilderness”.

Back to back - the young tuskers of Kalawewa herd

Back to back – the young tuskers of Kalawewa herd

Armed with his camera, Rajiv has braved wildernesses across the country, been chased by elephants while trying to photograph tuskers in Kalawewa and once had a narrow escape in an encounter with a bear in Lunugamwehera while on foot. But he is undeterred in his passion for bringing out the true beauty of Sri Lanka.

Rajiv has a passion for photographing tuskers. He believes documenting them is the first step towards protecting these gentle giants before they all vanish. The majestic tusker known as ‘Medha’ (weather god in Sinhala) hidden in a jungle patch in Wilpattu is his favourite tusker photo. “We had to wait over 15 minutes as many vehicles passed the spot even without noticing the majestic tusker taking shelter in the jungle. Slowly but surely the tusker started coming out. I captured this image at the right moment, when a beam of sunlight hit the side of his face, giving this amazing picture,” he recalls. The photograph captures the sense of mystery and awe the tusker inspires, and the landscape Wilpattu is famous for, he adds.

Photos of several tuskers showing different characteristics will be part of the exhibition. “I like to focus on locations outside national parks to search for tuskers especially in the North Central and Wayamba Provinces. The best time of day is evening, roughly between 4.30-5.30 p.m. which I like to call “Magic Hour” where the light is golden and optimum for photography,” Rajiv revealed. Rajiv Welikala

But Rajiv’s love for nature goes beyond tuskers as the over 70 such photographs exhibited will reveal- birds, mammals and reptiles among

his subjects.

While he loves to spend time in the wild, he points out that wildlife is all around us and one does not necessarily need to look to far-off jungles to photograph wild animals. Even closer to Colombo, there are many locations which are a haven for a multitude of species. Home gardens provide opportunities to capture photos of birds and other creatures, says Rajiv showing us a photo of a Brown-headed Barbet he had taken at his grandparents’ garden in Bambalapitiya.

Nature is so diverse and full of surprises there is never a boring day if you learn to open your eyes and broaden your horizons, he says, pointing out that many wildlife enthusiasts looking only for leopards in sanctuaries such as Yala, totally ignore the other species found in plenty there.

Rajiv started wildlife photography at the age of 13 while at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. He did his higher studies at the University of Wales and now aged 28 is currently reading for an MBA from the Cardiff Metropolitan University, while working at MAS Intimates as a merchandiser.

‘Wildlife Diaries – Memoirs from the Sri Lankan Wilderness’ will be held from October 26-27 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo 7.  http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131020/plus/the-true-beauty-of-sri-lanka-66097.html

The whisper - sambur family

The whisper – sambur family

Ulama - the Devil Bird or Forest Eagle Owl from Wilpattu

Ulama – the Devil Bird or Forest Eagle Owl from Wilpattu

Megha - An elusive Wilpattu Tusker - Rajiv's favorite Tusker photo

Megha – An elusive Wilpattu Tusker – Rajiv’s favorite Tusker photo

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

September 18, 2013

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

Environmentalists concerned over increase in illegal abduction of elephant calves

September 12, 2013

Caption: An elephant calf believed to be snatched from the wild. Pic courtesy Environmental Conservation Trust

Environmentalists have raised fresh concerns over the possible increase in the illegal abduction of elephant calves, following the Wildlife Conservation Ministry granting an amnesty period for the registration of wild elephant calves. Environmentalist, Sanjeewa Chamikara, Director of the Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) said in a statement that teams have already been dispatched to the wilds in Habarana and Udawalawe on ground information received by the trust. According to the statement it is believed that more than 30 elephant calves have been illegally snatched from the wild during the last decade.

This turn of events were reported after the registry used to enter Elephant registrations had gone missing from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) eventually leading to the dismissal of the head of the legal division. Reports also claim that the legal division of the DWC has been sealed off by the Police. Subsequently, Director General of DWC, H.D.Ratnayake revealed that the book had been recovered, following which came the grace period to register elephant calves. The Report of the inquiry into the matter of the missing registry is to be handed over to the Minister on September 29.
Environmentalists believe that racketeers and unscrupulous businessmen are using this grace period to illegally capture wild elephant calves and also using this period to register a large number of elephants calves stolen from the wild. Mr. Chamikara calling this a clear violation of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) aid “the culprits should be punished according to the law, but the grace period will only encourage catching of more elephant calves from the wild.”
According to a press release by ECT, there are total of 359 domestic elephants registered with the DWC. Out of these, 94 elephants are in the Dehiwala zoo and Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and 60 have died. The statement claims that it is estimated that 205 elephants are the possession of private owners.
The government has decided to charge a Rs. 1 million fee for the registration of an elephant calf. Minister of Wildlife Vijith Vijayamuni Soysa was quoted by media as saying that the elephant calves that are not registered during this period would be taken into custody and the holders would be penalized in court.
Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT) alleges that 22 baby elephants have been abducted from wild during past few years. Sajeewa Chamikara of ECT shares the following list.
list-of-abducted-elephants-as-provided-by-environmental-conservation-trust
Click below to read the complete Press Release issued by Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT).
Threat to Elephant Calf – press release by ECT
See related stories 
  • Abductions go to the wilds (24.08.2008)

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/080824/Plus/sundaytimesplus_00.html

  • Balangoda calf linked to baby elephant racket (09.08.2009)

www.sundaytimes.lk/090809/News/nws22.html

  • Baby elephant abduction: Vet. granted bail (22.11.2009)

www.sundaytimes.lk/091122/News/nws_17.html

Published on TimesONLINE on WEDNESDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 2013 11:11 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/latest/37475-environmentalists-concerned-over-illegal-abduction-of-elephant-calves-during-registration-grace-period.html

Microsoft Word - Elephant

Another elephant calf believed to be snatched from wild (c) Environmental Conservation Trust