ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 21, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 21

Elephant to Armenia with or without permission?

By Isuri Kaviratne

The Cabinet has approved the gifting of an elephant to Armenia while Wild Life officials were still studying the suitability of the weather and other conditions for the animal. The move has drawn angry responses from various groups closely following the issue of gifting the elephant Asokamala.

The Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) permission should be given by the Wildlife Director to exchange an animal with a foreign country without which, according to international law, the exchange would be illegal. Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka told The Sunday Times that the Ministry is still considering the suitability of the weather and the condition of the zoo before issuing the permission to send the nine-year-old elephant to Armenia.

“We inquired from the Armenian government about the condition of the zoo and the weather but we still haven’t received a reply,” the Minister said. According to internet researches on weather conditions in Armenia the average temperature is +25C in July and -10C in January.

Mr. Ranawaka said before implementing the policy decision taken by the Cabinet, the Ministry will be looking into the law of the country and international law regarding exchanges of animals and then give CITES permission. “Without the CITIES permission, no one can send the elephant,” he said.

Wildlife Director Ananda Wijesuriya said that under-extended programme the Cabinet has decided to send the elephant but still papers had to be submitted after which he would study the condition of the zoo the elephant would be going to before giving CITIES permission since there were objections to the sending of the animal.

However, he said he had been informed that the zoo already contains facilities an elephant requires as there is an elephant already living but assured that confirmation from Armenia was being awaited that those facilities fulfil international standards.“Only if it does will we give permission,” the Director said.

National Zoological Gardens Deputy Director Dhammika Malsinghe said that though the elephant cannot be sent to Armenia without the permission of the Wild Life director, preparations are being made to send the elephant after October 25.

‘Sathva Mithra’ (Friends of animals) president said the Cabinet had agreed to send the elephant to Armenia despite serious warnings by humanitarian organizations which were based on researched facts of the unsuitable conditions in Armenia and the Yerevan Zoo to which Asokamala would be going. Research carried out by Indian humanitarian groups, when the Indian Government decided to send an elephant to Armenia, showed that this same Yerevan Zoo, did not have adequate space to support an elephant and the sub–zero conditions prevalent there for four to six months of the year were unsuitable for an elephant, giving no opportunity for the animal to exercise.

Well known animal activist Maneka Gandhi too had told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that almost all the elephants acquired by the Yerevan zoo had died.

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