Cry in the wilderness to save last two elephants of Sinharaja

Prez, CJ, AG urged to prevent SF from translocating them


by Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) yesterday urged President Maithripala Sirisena to reverse a decision taken by Sustainable Development and Wildlife Ministry to relocate the last two elephants in the Sinharaja Rainforest, a World Heritage Site.

In a letter addressed to President, with copies sent to the Chief Justice, Attorney General, Secretary, Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, Secretary, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife and Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO, the CEJ has stated that the decision was taken by Fonseka and Deputy Minister Palitha Thewarapperuma without any scientific assessment as to whether these wet zone elephants could survive in that harsh dry zone conditions.

CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage told The Island that many years back there had been around thirty elephants in Sinharaja area, but the number had drastically decreased and now there were only two male jumbos.

"Instead of bringing a female elephants to Sinharaja to increase their population, the Minister has taken an emotional decision after the death of a person in a village called Pothupitiya, Ratnapura at the border of the forest," Withanage said, adding that the elephant attack was an isolated incident as the elephants were not restricted to a small areas; they were roaming all over the forest.

The elephant relocation process would cost millions of rupees, and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) would have to spend only half a million rupees to equip the two elephants with a GPS tracking collars to enable the villagers to monitor their movements and thereby take precautions if they were reaching the villages, Withanage said.

Highlighting the fact that the government was obliged to protect the world heritage site from illegal activities, the environmental organisation has stated, in the letter, addressed to the president, that the removal of the two elephants would have negative impacts on the natural ecosystem of the Sinharaja and, therefore, such a decision should be taken only on a strong scientific base.

According to the CEJ, taking the elephants born and bred in the wet zone to an alien environment of the dry zone in Horowpothana, would not bode well for the elephants. The capture and transportation to the far off area could also be traumatic to the elephants.

Withanage said: "The two elephants act as the guardians of the Sinharaja forest and their presence stops animal poaching, illegal logging and illegal brewing of alcohol. As far as we know these poachers and loggers are behind this decision. We, therefore, feel taking away the remaining elephants could lead to the eventual destruction of Sinharaja."


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