With the rapid phase of development in Sri Lanka, its landscape too is changing at a similar pace. As a result, people started encroaching natural habitats, displacing the animals. While the Human Elephant conflict and many other matters are at hand, wildlife activists and enthusiasts are battling to protect these species.
In such an environment, it definitely is not wise to be ‘gifting away’ these resources that we have. But on Tuesday, Deputy Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training Karunarathne Paranawithana suggested the opposite.
Excerpts of his statement are as follows :
While attending an event in Balangoda, the Deputy Minister said,
“Wildlife laws should be amended and new laws should be implemented for common animal species that are considered threat to humans. There are about 6,000 elephants in the country and its population is increasing rapidly. 6,000 elephants are too many for Sri Lankan forests to sustain. 4,000 elephants are more than enough. The laws should be amended to rear elephants as pets and surplus wild-elephants should be sold to other countries to control the elephant population. If laws had been enforced to legalise the killing of wild boars and monkeys, people should be allowed to sell their meat as well. No one fusses about killing of mosquitoes. The social dialog regarding animal rights has become no more practical.”
Hence the Daily Mirror Life contacted a few experts in the field.
The statement has to be taken seriously : Jagath Gunawardena
Environmental Lawyer and wildlife enthusiast Jagath Gunawardena strongly denied the statement made by the Deputy Minister mainly because Asian Elephants are a highly protected species under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO).
“This was done to prevent commercial misuse. On the other hand, the Asian Elephant has been identified as a globally endangered species and hence it has been listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES Convention) as well. In fact we will also be hosting the CITES Convention of Parties (COP) in 2019. The statement has to be taken seriously because it will tarnish the image of the country as it was told by a person in the Parliament. In addition to that he also mentioned about legalizing the killing of monkeys and wild boars. Although wild boars are not a protected species, they neither could be killed nor sold for meat. Since we abide by Buddhist doctrines and speak so much about compassion, the trade of animal flesh isn’t allowed.”
Speaking further Mr. Gunawardena said that a person who gives such outrageous statements should be condemned and ridiculed.
“This will also encourage people involved in nefarious activities or those who are attempting to do them to go ahead with their agendas. I believe that people, who are members of the highest legislative body of the country, should always speak in the best interest of the country.”
The international trade of the Asian Elephant is strictly prohibited : Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya
Airing his concerns regarding the statement, Environmental Specialist and Former Director General, Department of Wildlife Conservation Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya said that the statement made by the Deputy Minister where he proposed that elephants in the wild be captured and sold to foreign countries is one of the most irresponsible statements that could be made by a member of the Government.
“This is because the Government of Sri Lanka is a signatory to the CITES Convention—which is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is an international agreement between governments which aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The Asian Elephant (Elephas Maximus), which includes the Sri Lankan sub-species, is listed as a species where international trade is strictly prohibited. As a signatory to CITES, the Government of Sri Lanka has already accepted that the Asian Elephant will not be traded.”
Speaking further Dr. Pilapitiya said that we now have a member of the Government, a Deputy Minister no less, publicly advocating international trade in elephants, making a mockery of the Government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to CITES.
“The Deputy Minister’s statement becomes even more damaging when one considers the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka has volunteered to host the next CITES Conference in Sri Lanka in 2019. If Sri Lanka sells its elephants to foreign countries as proposed by the Deputy Minister, the Government of Sri Lanka will have the unique distinction of being the first country to be expelled from CITES at the conference hosted by them. The sad plight of Sri Lanka is that politicians think they are experts on everything just because they are appointed as Ministers (and deputies) and make ignorant, irresponsible statements jeopardizing the credibility of a nation, as has been done in this instance.”
The suggestion cannot be justified under any circumstances : Lalani Perera
Lawyer and Animal Rights activist Lalani Perera said that the Deputy Minister’s suggestion to export elephants to control the Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) cannot be justified under any circumstances.
“As of today with a dwindling elephant population, their conservation has become a major issue of concern in Sri Lanka. Besides, it is not elephants, but humans who are responsible for HEC. Experts have recommended scientific measures to mitigate HEC, but have they been considered seriously? Then there is the cruelty aspect. The nation’s elephant acknowledged as the “Star of Sri Lanka’s Wildlife” should be in the wilds, not in foreign zoos where they will live in strange climatic conditions, deprived of their natural habitat where they forage, bathe, play in rivers and roam vast territories with their herds. There are several tragic instances of elephants gifted to other countries, like Mali, in the Manila zoo who remain isolated in a barren enclosure for over forty years, Saheli gifted to Pakistan alleged to have been poisoned, Kadir put down in the Prague zoo when that zoo was flooded, Kaavan in Pakistan suffering from a mental illness due to prolonged isolation and Jayathu gifted to the US when only twenty months old, dying within weeks of arrival, of a mysterious illness. In fact, at present there is a case filed by a group of us seeking court intervention to stop a baby elephant being sent to the Auckland zoo.”
Speaking further she said that today when animals are increasingly being recognized globally as sentient beings with a right to life, it is indeed a shame that a Parliamentarian and a policy maker in this country, where its Constitution gives Buddhism the foremost place, is reported to have spoken about legalizing the killing of animals such as wild boar and monkeys who are perceived as a nuisance to humans.
Since it became a trending topic on social media over the past few days, we asked the social media community about the statement. Here’s what they had to say :
Ramesh : We are a Nation who exports everything thing that we have. So, we shouldn’t be surprised about sending our elephants, monkeys and other animals too. It’s good if it stops only with elephants. Why don’t we export the entire lot (including citizens) who are here so that only the Parliamentarians can stay?
Mangalika : Don’t destroy forests. They must have enough space as we do. When every government comes into power -the first thing they touch is the forests, in the name of development. Sadly some of our people approve of that. So how can you solve that unless children are taught from childhood how to appreciate the environment? The destruction of forests in Uva-Wellassa, by this government has caused a lot of problems. When one talks against that he will be labelled as a person who is against progress. So how do you balance progress and destruction of nature?
Dev : How does he define excess? What qualifications does he possess to come to that conclusion? These are our natural resources and we need to protect them. How does this fall under his remit as a Deputy Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training? I suggest that he stick to his portfolio without talking about subjects he clearly has no knowledge about. Leave wildlife to the experts.
Nirmalie : Please explain where he is thinking of exporting these wild animals too. Zoos are going out of fashion in many counties as natural habitats are being favoured. So if we are going to export our wild animals then we will need to make sure they have their natural habitat and the correct climatic conditions. May be a better idea would be to restrict new birth numbers in a scientific and humane way. Also would be good if we stop destroying their natural habitats.
Shamilka : The first politician I have heard of in Sri Lanka to promote the slaughter of wild boars and even recommending it for selling as meat. So much for a country that is proud of its Buddhist doctrines.
Ana : Wild boar has to be controlled in the hills of Sri Lanka as it destroy many cash crops. The farmers suffer many losses. Hence, there should be a solution for the farming community as well. Illegally they are being shot and even sold for meat. But let the system decide what could be done to control this issue.