News

Zoological Gardens DG resigned over elephant issue: Union

  • Workers’ unions claim Ishini Wickremesinghe disgruntled
  • State Minister claims resignation for personal reasons

BY Pamodi Waravita and Ruwani Fonseka

The Sri Lanka Podujana National Zoological Gardens Department Workers’ Union yesterday (9) claimed that National Zoological Gardens Department Director General (DG) Ishini Wickremesinghe has resigned as she is unhappy about a recent court order to release 14 elephants to their original “owners”.

“Wickremesinghe is extremely unhappy about this order, as it would release the elephants to the owners who have allegedly captured them from the wild. We stand with her and support her as she has been an extremely progressive leader and has worked to protect animals over the last year, including attempting to eliminate the ‘caging’ culture from the zoos,” Sri Lanka Podujana National Zoological Gardens Department Workers’ Union President Krishantha Christopals told The Morning yesterday (9).

The Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision on 6 September directed 14 elephants under the charge of the National Zoological Gardens Department to be released to their original “owners” for registration. The gazette, released by the State Ministry on 19 August, states that a licence card will be issued using modern technology to all those who currently “own” elephants. Accordingly, the 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.

It is learnt that Wickremesinghe’s resignation letter to Wildlife Protection, Adoption of Safety Measures including the Construction of Electrical Fences and Trenches, Reforestation, and Forest Resource Development State Minister Wimalaweera Dissanayake, had cited “personal reasons”.

Speaking to The Morning yesterday, Dissanayake dismissed speculation that her resignation was because of the court order, claiming it was solely based on personal reasons and nothing more. However, he did confirm that in the past, Wickremesinghe voiced her disapproval of this issue.

Meanwhile, Christopals added that all unions attached to the National Zoological Gardens Department support Wickremesinghe and are against both the aforementioned court order and the gazette notification.

The gazette has received criticism from many environmentalists and animal rights organisations who 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.

Former Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) President Rukshan Jayewardene claimed that the return of these elephants to their “owners” is akin to stolen property being returned to thieves.

“This was an ongoing legal procedure into illegal elephant smuggling 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. However, the court ruling on 6 September allows the return of 14 of these elephants back to their original ‘owners’ – although we regard it as stolen property being returned to thieves,” he said.

The WNPS has further urged the DWC to, as per the powers vested in them by the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance and the mandate entrusted to them by the Sri Lankan people, to challenge this decision in the courts.
Meanwhile, Centre for Eco-Cultural Studies (CES) Managing Director (MD) Sujeewa Jasinghe has written to the Attorney General (AG) President’s Counsel Sanjay Rajaratnam, stating that the release of the 14 elephants to their so-called original “owners” is against the law.

Attempts to contact Ishini Wickremesinghe regarding the matter proved futile.