Archive for the ‘Wildlife Crime’ Category

Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime – Day2

March 16, 2013

The second day of the “Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime” as a side event to CITES COP16 was started at Queen Sirikit Convention Centre at Bangkok on 11.03.2013. The law enforcement officers and other involved parties in addressing Wildlife Crime have shared their experiences and discussed on ‘how to tackle the ever increasing issue of Wildlife Crime’. Everyone agreed that the penalties for Wildlife Crime is not as severe in comparison with similar crimes such as Narcotics, Gold or Human Trafficking; so that criminals take Wildlife Crime as ‘Low Risk’, but ‘Highly Profitable’ act.

The days topics discussed included Curbing the Demand for Illegal Wildlife and Wildlife Products, Wildlife Crime, Anti-Corruption, Integrity and the Rule of Law, National Policy and Legal Environmental Frameworks, Innovative Wildlife Enforcement Tools and Strategies. The day’s tasks were ended with a Parallel Break-out Sessions of Professional Peer Groups.

Here are moments captured by me during the event…

2 Vote yes for sharks 3

2 a name board

2 a panel

2 Dr.Kala moderating a panel 2

2 Jorge Rios - UNODC

2 a forum

2 Wong Kesh

2 with newspaper

2 wildlife

2 Jorge Rios - UNODC

2 Wild Asia


2 Ven

2 ven.Mae Chee Sansanee

2 ven. at event

2 Steve Galster

2 Shawn Heinrichs

2 Samanth G Panel

2 Samantha G at the panel

2 Samantha G

2 panel

2 panel with ven Mae Chee and Eric Phu

2 panel with Dr.Kala

2 participants

2 Philipine marine activist

2 Trafficking route of ivory

2 Samantha Gunasekare asking a question

2 Pakistan justice - not CITES that made the first list, but Noava

2 panel 3

2 panel 4

2 Onlh way to reduce slaugher of Ivory is to reduce the demand for ivory

2 lineup to ask questions

2 listing to ven.Mae Chee Sansanee

2 Madhava Tennakoon addressing the symposium

2 Marceil Yeater of CITES

2 Marilyne P.Concalves - World Bank

2 KWS addressing the summit

2 Kesh B Shahi - Nepal Wildlife Crime Control Bureau

2 Kala with ven.

2 Justice shah

2 Justice from Malaysia

2 Jorge Rios - UNODC

2 John

2 Jesse Wong = Hong Kong Customs

2 iThink

2 James Compton - TRAFFIC

2 HongKong customs

2 Dr.Kala asking a question

2 Dr.Kala moderating a panel

2 Eric Phu

2 CITES representative

2 checking the schedule

2 Challenges of SL

2 Butan

2 Anna Oposa - Save the Philippine Seas

2 A slides - kids

2 a question

2 a question to the panel

2 a question from panel

2 a question from pakistan justice

2 a question 4

2 a presentation slide

2 a panel 2

2 a forum

2 vote for sharks2

Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime – Day1

March 10, 2013

“The Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime” has been organized as a side event to the 16th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. This is jointly organized by CITES Secretariat and Asian Development Bank (ADB) and participated by law enforcement officers from different parts of the world. Today (10.03.2013) was the Day 1 of the event that is also participated by the Secretary General of CITES; Mr.Johan Scanlon. The Secretary General stressed that the frontline on implementing the CITES law consist of Law Enforcement officers, hence the Symposium play a great significance.

In this post, I capture some of the moments of the Day 01 of the symposium.

z CITES logos

zADB Vice President

zCItes head

zHead of CITES

z wanhua Yang

zData slide




ZFrom a distant

zKala on opening remarks 2

zGroup of participants

zKala on opening remarks

zSession 1

zThin Line


z a panel

z Chinese delegate of CITES

z Cites

z Covering the event

z Dr.Tint

z dr.william - traffic

z Giovanni Broussard - UNODC

z Glen Sant - TRAFFIC

z Iona Botezatu - Interpol - Project Predator

z Joseph Okori

z Judge from Malaysia

z Justice from Lahore

z Last session

z Locations

z networking

z on Rhinos

z Panel on

z panel

z Poached Rhinos and arrest

z Wan Ziming

Z Prof.Fabio

z Question from the participants - judge

z Question from the participants

z Question on Agar Woods

z Shark fining cartoon

z Talking on IUU fishing

z Time keeping

Weni wel the local paracetamol in market hot water

March 10, 2013

Forest officials and experts have expressed serious concern over illegal and unchecked harvesting of weni wel, Sri Lanka’s age-old multi-cure herb, by racketeers and profiteers driven by the high demand for it. �Recently, forest officers in Thawalama arrested four people who were transporting without a permit some 700 kg of weni wel. Thawalama forest officer Sunil Kaluthotage said the suspects pleaded guilty when they were produced before a magistrate.

Prematurely harvested weni wel stems being dried.

The case was the latest addition to the series of detections made in the area. �Mr. Kaluthotage said that during the past 12 months, at least six illegal ‘weni wel’ cases were reported from his range alone and this showed that haphazard harvesting was on the rise to meet the demand for weni wel in the market.�Locally known as weni wel, weniwelgata or ban wel, the plant has Ayurvedic medicinal properties. Described as the Ayurvedic equivalent of paracetamol, weni wel is a much sought after herbal cure for ailments ranging from common flu to tetanus. It is a key ingredient in the famous Pas Panguwa.

Known as ‘False Calumba’ in English and coscinium fenestratum scientifically, weni wel is a woody climber commonly found in Sri Lanka’s lowland wet forests such as Sinharaja and Kanneliya. The plant is also native to South India, Cambodia and West Malaysia. �But unchecked harvesting of weni wel, which takes decades to reach maturity, has raised alarm among experts. They say that some plants take 30 years to mature to the level which gives it a ‘geta’ or knotty appearance – a sign that indicates that it was of best quality.

The herb is also used in a range of commercial products including soap, creating a big demand for it. �Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke, an expert on forests, said he believed that the demand for it in the market had led to unchecked and premature harvesting of weni wel.�“While we can be happy that a traditional herbal product has found new and emerging markets both locally and overseas, can the resource base cope with the current and projected demand?” he asked, stressing the need for a thorough research to find the right balance.

“As biology researchers of both timber and non-timber forest products, we realised this need several decades ago. We have been studying the weni wel’s biology and ecology as well as its propagation and cultivation in a number of habitats with a view to reducing the extractive pressure on the wild populations,” he said.

Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke warned that if this current level of extraction was permitted, weni wel would soon, if not already, be on the list of threatened plants of Sri Lanka.
The eminent botany professor said he had seen large stocks of dried weni wel stems along the Kukule-Molkawa road, ready for transport. He said the people had told him that they had paid for their permits to harvest them.

Prof. Gunatilleke said that since weni wel grew better in partial light and was commonly found in degraded forests and forest edges, the plant could be grown in pine forests in the wet zone and in home gardens. He said the weni-wel plants that were planted at the edge of Sinharaja on experimental basis reached harvestable level within 15 years or so with no fertiliser added, though the quality would have been better if the harvest had been done much later.

A common sight along the Kukule-Molkawa road

The professor welcomed a recent suggestion by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa to set up a forest in every village.�“This concept of ‘one forest for one village’ would be an excellent proposition in managing local ecosystems while providing benefit to the local people. At the same time, it would also be worthwhile to consider how the existing pine plantations could be converted into forests of native plants, both timber and non-timber species,” he said adding that this would help enhance biological diversity and ensure environmental security.

“On our part, we have shown that this could be done in the lowland wet zone using suites of such species of ecological and rural economic importance in Sinharaja and Hantana demonstration plots. More such studies are needed, if we are to conserve and utilise our rich biological heritage, bringing in tangible benefit to the local communities,” Prof. Gunatilleke said.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.03.2013

CITES conference to adopt measures to combat overfishing, illegal logging and wildlife crime

March 3, 2013

The 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) of CITES starts today. This meeting will be particularly important for Sri Lanka as there are few proposal for enlisting Manta Ray (Maduwa in Sinhala) and Sharks in CITES Appendix II which will then need a permit system, if the country needs to export parts of these animals. The Gill Rakers of Manta Ray and Fins of the Sharks are on demand which made Sri Lanka one of the top Manta Ray gill rakers exporting country.

In addition there was a decision to release the 359 African Elephant tusks that has been seized by customs. CITES has banned trading of Elephant Ivory, so it is also not appropriate to encourage releasing ivory to the system and many calls to destroy the stock publicly. Hence, the CITES’ COP16 will be relevant to Sri Lanka in many angles and to follow up the proceedings, please follow Window-to-Nature..!!


CITES came into action in 1973 also completes 40 years in 2013. Here is an extract from CITES COP16 Media Kit..

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will hold its next triennial conference in Bangkok from 3 to 14 March to decide how to improve the world’s wildlife trade regime that has been in place for 40 years. Some 2,000 delegates representing 178 governments, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations and businesses are expected to attend and discuss, among other things, 70 proposals for amending the rules for specific species. Many of these proposals reflect growing international concern about the escalation of poaching and illegal trafficking of wild animals, the destruction of the world’s marine and forest resources through overfishing and excessive logging and the risks that wildlife crime represents for the security of the planet.

The 70 proposals submitted by 55 countries from across all regions of the world seek to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine species (including several shark species) and timber species (including over a 100 species from Madagascar), the vicuña population of Ecuador, freshwater turtles, frogs, crocodiles, ornamental and medicinal plants and many other animals and plants. Proposals addressing elephants, white rhinoceros, and polar bears were also submitted.

This year, the 70 proposals1 will be divided up as follows:
– Animals: 48 proposals
– Plants: 22 proposals
– Transfer from Appendix I to Appendix II: 10 proposals
– Transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I: 12 proposals
– Inclusion into Appendix I: none
– Inclusion into Appendix II: 25
– Deletion from Appendix I: 7 􀃆 from which 6 exctinct animal species
– Deletion from Appendix II: 11 􀃆 from which 4 extinct animal species
– Annotations to the Appendices: 5

Click here to get the CITES PRESS KIT – CoP16 Bangkok 2013

Manta ray struggles for survival

February 25, 2013

Overfishing threatens the magnificent and prized ‘Ali Maduwa’, writes Malaka Rodrigo�

A giant “maduwa”, or manta ray, was netted last week by fisherman in Welipatanwila, Ambalanthota, on the South coast. The ocean creature was pregnant and weighed 1,500 kilograms. A week earlier, another manta ray was caught by fishermen in Akkaraipattu, on the East coast. Both sea creatures have been identified as Giant Oceanic Manta Rays, the largest member of the ray family.

“Maduwa”, or manta ray, that was netted last week by fishermen in Welipatanwila, Ambalanthota, on the South coast

The Giant Oceanic Manta Ray was a common catch a decade ago, but the creature is steadily becoming less common. Known locally as “Ali Maduwa”, the creature is hunted primarily for its gill plates, which are extracted, dried and exported. Dried gill plates are widely used in Chinese traditional medicine. A kilogram can fetch between Rs.15,000 and Rs. 20,000. The manta ray uses its cartilaginous gill plates to filter the plankton that it lives on. The delicate gill filaments also play a role in the manta ray’s breathing system.

Manta rays are slow breeders with long lives. The animal, which can live to 50 years (some are known to have lived to 100 years), has a gestation period of more than a year and gives birth to just one single pup. Young mantas take between 10 and 15 years to reach sexual maturity.

“Manta ray populations simply cannot survive the current level of commercial fishing,” says manta expert Daniel Fernando. “Any target fishing that annually removes even a relatively small percentage of the breeding adults results in a rapid decline in overall populations within a few years. The remaining mature rays cannot breed fast enough to replace those lost to fishing. Manta rays in our waters are already in decline. Fishermen say they rarely catch large mantas in our waters any more.”

Daniel Fernando works for the Sri Lanka Manta Project (Manta Trust) and collects manta ray landings data for his research. �Most of the time mantas are a bycatch of gill nets, says Dr. Rekha Maldeniya, a marine fish expert who works for the National Aquatic Research and Development Agency (NARA). “Our fishermen do not like it when these large creatures get entangled in their nets, because they can damage the net.”

The manta ray comprises only 1 per cent of large pelagic fish catch, such as tuna, Dr. Maldeniya says. “NARA identifies the importance of skates and rays, but we don’t have the funds to carry out comprehensive research on these sea animals.”

Daniel Fernando of Manta Trust says fishermen can release manta rays that get entangled in their nets, but do not because they know the commercial value of the manta’s gill plates. He says the manta would be spared if fishermen used other sustainable methods of fishing, such as the pole-and-line tuna fishing method practised in the Maldives. The gill-net is one of the least sustainable of fishing methods, he adds.

Sri Lanka, like most countries, has not reported manta ray landings to world bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Researchers believe Sri Lanka is among the leading countries that fish manta rays, and the closely related Devil Ray. There is hope on the horizon for the rays if the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) makes a global decision on manta exploitation.

Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil have proposed that the two manta ray species be listed under CITES, an international treaty drawn up in 1973 to prevent international trade from threatening animals and plants in the wild. Proposals to list manta rays and scores of other species in the CITES list will be discussed in March at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) to CITES. CITES has 177 member countries, including Sri Lanka. A two-thirds majority vote is required for the adoption of listing proposals. If this is agreed, Sri Lanka will have to introduce a permit system for the export of manta ray gills, a step that would help monitor and manage this particular fishery.

Manta expert Daniel Fernando said the move was directed at international trade and would not affect Sri Lankans fishing for local consumption. The move would help manage manta ray populations. Alternatives, such as manta ray tourism, as practised in the Maldives, would bring long-term benefits.�Mr. Fernando said a workshop on manta rays was held in Colombo for CITES delegates. It was attended by major countries in the region, including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Maldives. All participants were positive about regulating the manta ray fishery.

In 2011, Shark Advocates International president Sonja Fordham met senior Sri Lankan officials to discuss shark and manta ray conservation.

Ms. Fordham was a leading figure in bringing the Giant Manta Ray under the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS). Through this listing, Sri Lanka and all CMS parties with giant mantas in their waters have agreed to protect the species and cooperate in preserving manta habitats.

Sonja Fordham says equal efforts should be extended to protect the oceanic whitetip sharks and three species of hammerhead, all of which are found and fished off Sri Lanka.

“We are hopeful Sri Lanka will participate in the CITES meeting and support the listing of these vulnerable shark and ray species,” Sonja Fordham told the Sunday Times.

“Support from Sri Lanka would send a positive signal about the country’s commitment to sustainable exploitation of marine resources and can help secure a much-needed global safeguard, before it’s too late.”

Published on SundayTimes on 24.02.2013

Biopiracy on the rise

February 25, 2013

The country’s rich biodiversity attracting a new kind of overseas visitor, writes Malaka Rodrigo�

In the space of a week, two attempts by overseas visitors to smuggle out local flora and fauna were foiled. A German national and four Russians were apprehended for collecting indigenous wild plants and animals without a permit. Environmentalists say Sri Lanka’s rich and unique biodiversity has been attracting outside interest for some time.

Some of the land snails that were confiscated and the group of Russians

Last Saturday, February 9, members of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG) spotted four foreigners behaving in a suspicious way in the jungle of Hiyare, in Galle. Hiyare is a nature reserve and a “hotspot” for biodiversity. The Galle nature lovers informed the Hikkaduwa office of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), which dispatched a team of wildlife officers. The Russians had in their possession an amphibian and a clutch of rare land snails. They were produced in court and fined Rs. 300,000.

The confiscated land snails belong to the Acavus species. Fluid extracted from this snail is used in medication for asthma-related problems, according to WCSG president Madhura de Silva. The Russians could have been collecting the snail species for pharmaceutical research, he said. Tropical countries are a popular target for bio-pirates, said Mr. de Silva, adding that this was not the first time Russians were detected prowling in Hiyare.

Last year, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle surprised another group of Russian visitors combing the jungle for biological treasures. By the time wildlife officers arrived on the scene, the Russians had disappeared. The Wildlife Conservation Society traced the Russians to their hotel, but the hotel management would not allow them to search the Russians. It was later revealed that the Russians were looking for Spray Beetles, which eject a toxic chemical to repel natural enemies. This chemical too, Mr. de Silva said, could be useful for pharmaceutical research.

The second case of bio-piracy was reported from Agalawatte, in the Kalutara disctrict. Forest officers accosted a German national collecting rare water plants in the jungle of Runakanda. Some of the plants are indigenous to Sri Lanka. Ingiriya Range Forest Officer H. M. A. B. Herath said the visitor, a scientist, was carrying information about a rare water plant, Cryptocoryne bogneri, or water trumpet. The visitor claimed to be a member of a scientific organisation called the “Cryptocoryne Society of Germany”, and that he was collecting material for scientific purposes. It was found that the German had visited the same forest in 2008. He was carrying documents and instruments giving exact GPS locations, PH meters, maps and research papers. Cryptocoryne bogneri is a “critically endangered” plant species, and specimens have been rare in recent years.
Last November, Mr. Herath arrested a Russian couple who were collecting orchids in the Sinharaja rainforest. The visitors had amassed more than 300 orchid plants of 32 species from different parts of the country. The plants included one “critically

endangered” species and 11 “endangered species.”

The number of arrests of foreigners caught plundering local flora and fauna is on the rise. In addition to the above incidents, there have been other cases this year, including a group of Bangladeshis who were caught with the medicinal plant “walla patta”, or Gyrinops walla, which produces an agarwood resin that is used in the manufacture of expensive perfumes, and a team of Hungarians who were chasing butterflies in Sigiriya.

Environmentalists say overseas visitors have different motives for collecting animals and plants. Some are genuine scientists with a passion for knowledge about exotic plants and animals; some are looking for commercial gain; some want to study the specimens and then release them back into the wild; and some hope to skip the trouble of getting permits from the Department of Wildlife

Conservation (DWC). Fortunately, there are vigilant local environment lovers who have are bringing bio-pirates to book.
Not all foreigners scouring the countryside for flora and fauna species are bio-pirates. Last year, a group of foreigners was reported to be illegally collecting Horned Lizards in the Knuckles mountain range, but the Sunday Times found that the foreigners were scientists on legitimate research, and had the support of the University of Peradeniya.
Those arrested for wildlife crime usually say they were not aware that they were breaking the law.

“Every tourist should know to respect a country’s laws,” says Vipula Wanigasekare of the Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau, a division of Sri Lanka Tourism. “Saying you didn’t know the law is no excuse. Brochures to educate tourists on what is legal and not legal are readily available. In general, visitors are respectful of the country and happy to protect what is ours, including our biodiversity.”

The Wildlife Department says it will be putting up information boards at the Bandaranaike International Airport spelling out wildlife and environment regulations for the benefit of tourists.

Published on SundayTimes on 24.02.2013

Opposition questions fate of contraband ivory

February 24, 2013

The haul of African Elephant tusks seized by Sri Lanka customs last year are still locked inside the customs stores securely, assured the Leader of the House minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. He made these comments in the parliament on 22nd Friday answering a special statement made by opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe about an attempt to release this stock of ivory.

What will be done for the stock of ivory is yet to be decided after consulting relevant authorities minister further added. Sri Lanka is a signatory of Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) that has black listed ivory as an item that should not be traded internationally. Minister Nimal Siripala stated that the international follow up actions has been conveyed to the relevant international authorities such as Asia Pacific Regional Intelligence Liaisons Office who had tipped Sri Lanka customs to seize the haul of ivory.

Tragedy: The 359 African elephant tusks concealed in a container on a ship sailing from Kenya to Dubai. Pic by Indika Handuwala

Tragedy: The 359 African elephant tusks concealed in a container on a ship sailing from Kenya to Dubai. Pic by Indika Handuwala

The full text of the opposition leader’s statement published in media questions whether this consignment of ivory has been listed with the Wildlife Department. As per the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, when such ivory is taken into custody, it should be listed in the Wildlife Department prior to release from the Customs. However, according to our reliable sources of information, this consignment of ivory had been taken out of the Customs without such a listing, on an order issued by the President’s Office, pointed out the Opposition Leader.

Ranil Wickremasingha also alleged that ivory has been undervalued. According to the market rates, at a glance, they can be valued at a sum over Rs.4,000 million while ivory has been valued at a sum of Rs.450 million, he alleged pointing out that this incident raises a serious concerns as to whether those who are responsible will be up to a racket in the pretext of offering the ivory for the use of temples.

There were 359 tusks in this haul of ivory that was shipped from Kenya, en-route to Dubai. Under the Customs’ Ordinance, the tusks were confiscated. Environmentalists staged their protest to release the tusks claiming that even the international investigation on the ivory is not over. They call either to return this ivory stock to the authorities of country of origin or publicly destroy them since distributing them will add value for the ivory which will create demand.

What is reflected through that offering of blood-smeared ivory to the temples is that our temples agree to any type of inhuman act. Equally, it also brings up a view that it is justifiable to kill tuskers for the purpose of providing ivory to the temples. It also has a direct impact on the population of tuskers in Sri Lanka, states opposition leader’s statement.

Why was the decision to offer this consignment of ivory to the temples taken? Who has taken that decision? Can the list of names of the temples, to which such ivory was decided to be sent, be tabled? Were the Chief Prelates or other priests consulted prior to taking this decision? If so, who are those priests? Is the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs connected with this decision? If so, at what level?; questions the opposition.

Blood ivory is not for showcasing

February 19, 2013

Conservationists and Buddhist monks are against the release of confiscated elephant tusks or their display in temples, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Releasing a cargo of confiscated ivory would only create a demand for more ivory, and this would trigger a surge in the poaching of Sri Lankan tuskers, warn animal lovers.
Environmentalists and conservationists protested on hearing that a consignment of 359 African Elephant tusks seized by the Sri Lanka Customs was to be released last week. Last month, the Presidential Secretariat ordered the Customs to release the ivory for distribution among Buddhist temples.

A majestic sight: Just four days before this African elephant was killed for its tusks. Pic courtesy Ike Leonard

Buddhist groups say the ivory was bought with blood money paid to kill African Elephants for profit, and that the tainted ivory has no place in Buddhist temples or places of veneration. �Prominent Buddhist monk and activist, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, says displaying the ivory in temples would go against the principles of Buddhism, which preached compassion for all living things. The Thera recalled the way tuskers were decimated in colonial times.

“To give the confiscated ivory to temples would be the same as giving any other confiscated goods. This blood ivory is ‘hora badu’ [stolen goods],” said the Ven. Galagodatthe Gnanasara Thera, secretary to the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist activist organisation.

Releasing the stock of contraband ivory would only raise the demand for ivory, said Professor Devake Weerakoon, speaking at a press conference organised by the Federation of Environmental Organizations (FEO) and other environment groups. The African Elephant is being targeted by poachers and the best way to reduce the killing is to prevent the demand from going up, said the professor, who is a member of the International Species Survival Commission for Asian Elephants. The commission comes under the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Trading in ivory was banned internationally in 1989.�Prof. Weerakoon feared the showcasing of African Elephant ivory would put Sri Lankas few remaining tuskers in the wild at risk.

The display of valuable ivory in temples would only encourage looters who were plundering the country for Buddhist artifacts and treasures, said Thilak Kariyawasam of the Environmental Conservation Trust, while Sajeewa Chamikara, also of the trust, said giving ivory to temples was as unacceptable as giving elephant flesh to temples.

Conservationist Rukshan Jayawardane said publicly destroying the stock of ivory would send a strong international message to those who promoted wildlife crime.

2012 peak year for ivory smuggling

While the human-elephant conflict is the main threat to the Asian Elephant, poaching for ivory is the main threat to the African Elephant. Both the male and female African Elephant are blessed – or cursed – with tusks.

Killing elephants for ivory is on the rise, says Dr. Richard Thomas, communications co-ordinator for TRAFFIC, the international conservation organisation. Last year, 2012, was among the five worst years on record for ivory smuggling worldwide, Dr. Thomas said.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times, Dr. Thomas said TRAFFIC would not be in favour of releasing the ivory seized by Sri Lanka Customs. The ivory could “leak” back into the international illegal ivory trade and stimulate further trafficking and concomitant poaching of elephants.

TRAFFIC recommends that any seized ivory be audited and held in secure, government-owned and managed ivory stockpiles to ensure the ivory would not re-enter the illegal trade.

Save-the-Elephants (STE), a Kenya-based conservation organisation, says the number of elephants illegally killed has doubled in the last three years.

Leading African Elephant conservationist Dr. Douglas Hamilton said, “We faced this threat 30 years ago and we know that the situation can be controlled and reversed if the appetite for ivory is reduced. There needs to be united action from concerned individuals, NGOs and governments to reduce the demand for ivory.”

Published on SundayTimes on 17.02.2013

Hakka pataas set to become Elephant Killer No. 1

February 6, 2013

The improvised explosive device put out to kill wild boar killed 35 jumbos last year, reports Malaka Rodrigo

A six-month baby elephant is the latest victim of a “hakka patas” – an explosive device designed to fatally wound an animal when it picks it up in its mouth. The wounded animal was found by Army personnel posted in Nedunkerny, Mullaitivu.

The baby jumbo suffering from hakka patas injuries (c) Dr.Vijitha Perera

One side of the animal’s mouth was split open, and its teeth cracked, but its tongue was not severed, said veterinary surgeon Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe, who is treating the baby jumbo. The elephant is responding to the treatment, and the doctor is hopeful it will survive.

Last year, 35 elephants were killed by hakka patas, making the killer device the second biggest cause of elephant deaths. Ninety per cent of “hakka patas” victims do not survive.

“When a hakka patas explodes, the elephant’s mouth is destroyed and the animal, which cannot use its mouth any more to eat, dies of dehydration or starves to death,” Dr. Jayasinghe explained. Very often, the hakka patas victims is found long after it has suffered injury, by which time the elephant’s wounds are in an advanced state of infection and hard to treat.

In 2012, hakka patas killed 35 elephants, while 44 elephants died of gunshot wounds. Experts fear the hakka patas will become the No. 1 elephant killer in Sri Lanka, unless strict preventive action is taken.

The hakka patas, which is largely used to kill wild boar, is made from gunpowder taken from the “Cheena patas” (Chinese cracker), a firecracker that is readily available in the market. Poachers use the gunpowder of several Cheena patas and sometimes mix in stones. The explosive is tucked inside a food package of dried fish or vegetables and placed in areas frequented by wild boar.

Wildlife Department records show the hakka patas has been in regular use since 2010. The Sunday Times, however, reported use of hakka patas to kill animals in 2008.�The hakka patas is widely prevalent in the East and North Western Provinces, leading to speculation that the knowhow for making the crude explosive has been provided by persons familiar with making explosives.

Young elephants released from the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Udawalawe have also fallen victim to hakka patas. The first victim died, but the second, a female named Neela, was located with the help of advanced monitoring equipment, and veterinary surgeons were able to reach the animal before its wounds became infected. “Neela may be the only elephant in this region to survive a hakka patas,” said Dr. Vijitha Perera, who treated the animal at the Elephant Transit Home.

Recently wildlife officers surprised a poacher in the act of making hakka patas. The man, who had nine explosives in his possession, was arrested and is facing trial. �Wildlife Conservation Department director general H. D. Ratnayake told the Sunday Times that steps are under way to try and ban the Cheena patas, which provides the main ingredient for hakka patas. The department is in discussions with the Registrar of Explosives.

Last month a child was killed after biting on a cheena patas. It is believed the toddler had mistaken the explosive for a toffee.

Electrocuted and knocked down by trains

Twenty-one elephants died from electrocution last year. Only last week, a jumbo in Habarana was electrocuted when it became entangled in a exposed power line strung up round a paddy field. Last year a farmer was arrested for illegally setting up exposed electric wiring to keep elephants out of his paddy fields. The wires had killed an elephant.

Another seven elephants died on the railtrack after being knocked down by trains. In December 2012 alone, trains killed three elephants. These are preventable deaths, says veterinarian Dr. Prithviraj Fernando. Railway drivers have been instructed to “go slow” on railroad stretches that pass through elephant country. Wildlife officers are entitled to board trains to ensure speed limits are kept, but unfortunately this precaution has so far not been taken, Dr. Prithviraj.

Published on SundayTimes on 03.02.2013

Confiscated tortoises were ‘pets’, says Chinese restaurant owner

February 2, 2013

The 14 tortoises seized during a Police raid on a Chinese restaurant in Thimbirigasyaya, Colombo, have been handed over to the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens until the investigation is completed. The raid followed a complaint that cooked tortoise flesh was being served to diners.�

Shells of soft-shelled Terrapin: Considered a delicacy

Hard-shelled Black Terrapin – Gal Ibba (Melanochelys trijuga). Pic by Sameera Karunaratne

Soft-shelled Terrapin – Kiri Ibba (Lissemys ceylonensis)

Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans)

The restaurant owner, a Chinese national, was arrested and released on bail. He told the Police that the tortoises were being kept as pets. The tortoises were found in the vicinity of the restaurant kitchen.

Killing a tortoise or possessing tortoise flesh is an offence under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance of Sri Lanka.

The tortoises are Black Tortoises or Black Hard-Shelled Terrapins, also known as “gal ibba”in Sinhala, according to Sameera Suranjan Karunarathne of the Dehiwala Zoo-based Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA). The tortoises are also referred to as Black Turtle. The gal ibba can grow to more than one foot in length. Mr. Karunarathne said the seized tortoises were full-grown animals and could be up to 10 years old. Tortoises are famous for their longevity, a fact that is of little consequence to those who regard tortoise flesh as a culinary delicacy.

There are also two subspecies of the Black Tortoise, one being endemic to Sri Lanka, said Mr. Karunarathne, who is a reptile expert. The endemic subspecies is rare and found only in parts of the North Western Province. The 14 seized Black Tortoises included the endemic subspecies.

Animal welfare groups and the Police believe that tortoise flesh is in demand in Colombo and towns outside Colombo. They say the growing numbers of Chinese nationals visiting Sri Lanka for work and travel have given rise to an illegal trade in tortoise flesh.

Sri Lanka is home to three varieties of native tortoise. Besides the Black Tortoise, we have the Soft-shelled Terrapin and the Star Tortoise. The soft-shelled terrapin, known as “kiri ibba”, is also a targeted species.�

The Star Tortoise, or “tharu ibba”, is popular as a pet. The tortoise is also a favourite among racketeers who smuggle animals out of the country. The Custom’s Biodiversity Protection Unit has thwarted several attempts to secretly export Star Tortoises.

Sri Lanka’s tortoises are doubly threatened, says animal lover and herpetologist Dr. Anslem de Silva.

They are threatened by greedy diners and profiteers, as well as by natural threats such as climate change. The mud holes that are natural tortoise habitats are drying out.

The Star Tortoise is a “near threatened” animal species, according to the National Red List.

Meanwhile, the Red-eared Terrapin, imported for aquariums, has started spreading in the country’s waterways. A native of North and South America, the Red-eared Terrapin is regarded here as an “invasive” species.

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