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Authorities keep mum over plea not to build another Elephant Holding Ground



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Neither President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nor a government representative had responded to a letter sent by environmentalists requesting that the new Elephant Holding Ground (EHG) project at Lunugamvehera National Park be stopped, Supun Lahiru Prakash of the Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle told The Island yesterday.

Prakash said that they had brought to the President’s notice that the project, funded by the World Bank, would be a colossal waste of money, at a time when the country was trying to reduce unnecessary expenditure.

“We pointed out that the existing EHG in Horowpathana had been a failure, and a recent report by the Auditor General proved that we were right. AG has said that future EHGs should be established only if the one at Horowpathana could be successfully run.”

However, Wildlife officials have already started work on the EHG in Lunugamvehera National Park and over 10% of the total park area encompassing 3,500 hectares have been earmarked for the project. The establishment of that holding ground would only lead to more elephant deaths and an increased human-elephant conflict in the surrounding areas, environmentalists have warned.

Prakash said: “The AG’s report says that according to the elephant census conducted in June 2019, out of all the elephants retained in the holding ground, 12 died; five died of malnutrition and lack of sufficient food. Another two elephants died due to being translocated to the holding ground. It was observed that the health condition of the elephants retained at the holding ground remained poor, and no follow-up action has been taken on the health of these animals.”

Prakash said that usually when elephants faced food scarcity, male elephants would raid homesteads in search of food; female elephants and calives remained in the EHG and suffered. A large number of other animals also lived in the Lunugamvehera National Park and the establishment of the EHG would also affect their habitat and survival, the environmentalist said.

“This whole concept that an elephant could be ‘rehabilitated’ by placing it in what is essentially an open air prison is ill-conceived. This idea is not based on science. Recently, a committee was appointed by the President and it submitted a report, which says the human-elephant conflict can only be solved by protecting the forests and home ranges of the elephants. Elephants are emotionally attached to the area that they are born and grow up in and there have been many instances where the animals sent to Horowpathana returned to their original habitat.”

Prakash said that over 50 elephants had been sent to the EHG at Horowpathana but only a handful were left there now and that Wildlife officials had no idea what had happened to the elephants that had left the Holding Ground.

“These animals then move through areas in which people have no experience in dealing with them. These encounters are deadly for both humans and animals. Hundreds of millions of rupees were pumped into making Horowpathana work and all that money was wasted. That is why we urge the government to stop doing the same thing in Lunugamvehera.”

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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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