Zoological Gardens DG Ishini’s resignation accepted 

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Wildlife and Forest Conservation Ministry will be accepting the resignation letter of the National Zoological Gardens Department Director General Ishini Wickremesinghe, according to Ministry Secretary Somarathne Vidanapathirana. 

“I have been forwarded a copy of Wickremesinghe’s resignation letter, which cites personal reasons for her resignation. We will be accepting that,” Vidanapathirana told The Morning yesterday (15).

Wickremesinghe’s resignation followed a Court decision on 6 September which directed 14 elephants under the charge of the National Zoological Gardens Department to be released to their so called original ‘owners’ for registration, following a recent gazette notification issued 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 ongoing legal proceedings into incidents of 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 Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) and the National Zoological Gardens Department. 

Taking to her social media account after tendering her resignation, Wickremesinghe had expressed her disappointment at having to watch the aforementioned elephants being taken away from their life of freedom to their so-called “owners”. 

“I was helpless in protecting the elephant, Sri Devi, and the other elephants from being forcibly taken from Pinnawala. What cruelty it is to take away their freedom for personal interest,” she said on 10 September. 

In another social media post on 14 September, she added that another elephant, Bhanu, has been handed over to his captors, after nearly five years of freedom. 

“Have we as a nation forgotten the tenets of Buddhism – Ahimsa (non-violence) and Karuna (compassion)? How can we cause the needless suffering of these innocent animals and claim that it is justified in the name of Buddhism?” she questioned. 

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 organizations claim that it would aid in the capture of wild elephants, lead to increased mistreatment of captive elephants, and support the commercial use of elephants in the tourism industry. 

Last week’s Court decision also received widespread criticism from various quarters, as concerns were raised about the return of elephants to so-called “owners” or traffickers who had illegally and cruelly captured them from the wild. 

Vidanapathirana declined to comment on allegations about the said gazette and the Court decision as being part of deliberate attempts by elephant traffickers to reclaim these elephants to a life of servitude to them.