Mahout, driver fined for unsafe, illegal transport of elephant calf

Two people were fined Rs. 43,000 last week by the Colombo Magistrate, for the unsafe transport of an elephant calf belonging to the Devramwehera Raja Maha Vihara.

The mahout and the driver pleaded guilty to the charges of transporting this elephant calf without proper permits and in an unsafe manner. It was an offence to transport elephants without prior approval of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), while all domesticated elephants must be registered with the Department.

The chained baby elephant
The truck that was used to transport the calf

The calf had been chained so that one of its legs was suspended above the floorboard and wedged against a wooden pole placed across the open truck.

A headlight of the truck was also not properly working and the vehicle wasn’t in a condition to transport an elephant according to eyewitnesses. Spotting this unsafe transport of the elephant calf, an environmentalist had followed the lorry and complained to the police.

The truck had been stopped at Pitakotte junction around 6.30 pm on Tuesday and taken to the Welikada Police Station.

The driver neither possessed the registration certificate, nor permission from the DWC to transport the elephant. However, the driver and truck were released, after environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardane pointed out the legal background. The truck was then stopped again at Narahenpita.

The calf was later handed over to Wildlife officers. Later that night, the owner of the elephant calf - Ven. Kolonnawe Sumangala Thera, chief incumbent of Devramvehera - had visited the DWC office and handed over the registration certificate of the elephant. DWC, Flying Squad head Upali Padmasiri said that after examining the certificate, Wildlife officers had returned the calf to the Thera, but had taken legal action on two charges of unsafe transport and without proper permits. He also praised the environmentalists for being alert to the welfare of animals.

A leading animal rights activist, Pubudu Weeraratne was also instrumental in stopping the vehicle. Later a gang had turned up in a vehicle at the Wildlife Office, threatening the environmentalists who had taken action to stop the elephant. On complaining to the police, the police had intervened to provide safe passage to the environmentalists. Ven. Kolonnawe Sumangala Thera alleges that this was an act to inconvenience the monks. The Thera claimed that the calf had proper documentation, countering an allegation made by environmentalists that it was illegally caught from the wilds.

Abducting baby elephants illegally is an ongoing racket, and the DWC has already investigated three such elephants.

However, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara, who was also present at the scene, said that, though there are documents, it is highly suspicious that the calf was born to a captive female elephant as mentioned in the registration document. The calf could only be around one-and-half-years-old, though the registration indicates it is older.

Sajeewa also says that the mother elephant known as ‘Kalu Amma’ died a long time back and it is highly doubtful that this calf was born to that elephant. He also points out that the features of the picture of the elephant in the registration are different from that of the actual elephant. Female elephants have long gestation periods and owners do not like to keep an elephant that long. Also, there are no known elephant pregnancies in Sri Lanka, say environmentalists.

They say that the Pinnawala elephant orphanage has been the only known place for successfully breeding elephants, so all other baby elephants have a suspicious record and need to be investigated. Besides an elephant pregnancy is also something that cannot be hidden from the public, as they are big animals.

On checking with Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) Director General H.D. Ratnayake, he confirmed that the elephant calf was registered with the DWC in 2009. He said that a Divisional Secretary has confirmed the birth, so the calf has been registered.

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