Court halts elephant registration by ‘owners’

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Court of Appeal, which heard the writ applications filed challenging the recent release of 14 illegally captured elephants to their so-called original “owners” yesterday (29), has issued a temporary order to halt the registration of the 14 elephants by their so-called original “owners”, Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) President Ravindranath Dabare told The Morning.

Last week, the Court of Appeal also informed the Colombo Magistrate’s Court to temporarily prohibit the release of one of the 14 elephants, “Sujeewa”, who had given birth to a calf while with the Department of Wildlife Conservation Department.

The writ applications follow a Magistrate’s Court decision on 6 September which directed 14 elephants that the National Zoological Gardens Department and the DWC are in charge of, to be released to their so-called original “owners” for registration, following a recently issued gazette notification by the Wildlife Protection, Adoption of Safety Measures including the Construction of Electrical Fences and Trenches, and Reforestation and Forest Resource Development State Ministry. It is part of an ongoing legal procedure into illegal elephant trafficking that took place primarily between 2010 and 2015. Since 2015, 34 such elephants, including baby elephants, were taken into custody and held with the DWC and the National Zoological Gardens Department.

National Zoological Gardens Department Director General Ishini Wickremesinghe has resigned following the events, and has raised her opposition towards the gazette and the Magistrate’s Court decision.

This Magistrate’s Court order also noted one of the so-called original “owners” as being an individual named N.G. Rajapaksa. Environmentalists and members of the Opposition however allege that the name denotes and is a reference to President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose elephant they claim is “Charana”, one of the 14 elephants.

The aforementioned gazette has called on all those who “own” an elephant by a licence, a “sannasa (grant)”, other legal documents, or by succession, to register their elephants under these new regulations. However, environmentalists and animal rights organisations claim that it would aid in the capture of wild elephants, lead to more mistreatment of captive elephants, and support the commercial use of elephants in the tourism industry.