The jumbo puzzle besetting the Wildlife Department is getting more and more complicated as attempts are made by environmentalists to get to the truth regarding a missing book. Here are some basic pointers to this puzzle: – There is a big book called the Elephant book. It went missing and was found. With the change [...]


Wildlife hunt for missing Book No. 3: It holds key to jumbo puzzle

Allegations of tampering with entries in register; no police entry was made regarding the missing book

The jumbo puzzle besetting the Wildlife Department is getting more and more complicated as attempts are made by environmentalists to get to the truth regarding a missing book.

Deputy Wildlife Minister Wasantha Senanayake showing the big “Elephant book” last week

Here are some basic pointers to this puzzle:

- There is a big book called the Elephant book. It went missing and was found. With the change of government in January, the book was kept under lock and key as measures were taken to probe irregularities said to have taken place in the Department during the previous regime. The book contains information regarding the name of the people, to whom the elephants are entrusted and the size and weight of the elephants, among other details. Investigations show the book has been tampered with and entries had been Tippexed and altered.

- In addition to the big Elephant book, there are seven CR books. These books, called ‘Movement Registers’ are considered more important than the Elephant book because they contain additional information such as payments made, the Grama Niladhari’s observations and the veterinary surgeon’s report. More importantly, the entries had the signature of the director general. Wildlife officials carry this book when they go on raids.

- The controversy arose when one of the eight books – book number three – went missing in 2010. When this caused an administrative crisis, the Director General of the Department substituted a new book. He had claimed he had made use of the Elephant book to reproduce the new book. However, inside sources say the information fed into the new book raises doubts and allege the supporting documents were forgeries.

- The sources say they began to question the authenticity of the information in the new book when they referred to the new Book No. 3 to get more information regarding an elephant held captive by Kithsiri Kahatapitiya, a former UNP provincial council member. The officials found the original data had been Tippexed and altered.

- The sources insist that until and unless the original third book was found, the truth about the wide-scale corruption in the department could not be exposed.

The sources say Wildlife Department employees, spurred by the new government’s good governance policy, are determined to get to the bottom of the scandal.

Last week, our story quoted Wildlife officials as saying that they found the missing book. But it later transpired that what had been found was the Elephant Book, which had been kept under lock and key under the new deputy minister’s instructions. The decision to protect the book was taken following fears that the information in it could be tampered with.

The sources told the Sunday Times that in terms of the Wildlife Act, the maintenance and the safety of the register and the “Elephant Book” were the responsibility of the Wildlife Director.

When this book went missing in 2010, a committee comprising environmentalists Sarath Kotagama, Charitha Wijesekara and Lalith Kumara who is the Wildlife Department’s legal officer, was appointed to probe. But the probe suffered a natural death when the legal officer was transferred to Trincomalee.

What was intriguing in this whole affair, according to the department sources, was that Director General H.D. Rathnayake, who still serves in this position, had not made a police complaint regarding the missing state document – Book No. 3 three.

It is also not clear what happened to an independent investigation carried out by Deputy Auditor General A.H.M.L. Ambanwela. He had found that licences had been issued on blatantly false information, including forged signatures of officials and on questionable testimonies of veterinarians and grama niladharis. Following his transfer to another unit within the Auditor General’s Department, this probe also ground to a halt.

The non-availability of Book No. 3 has hampered investigations into some of the cases of illegal possession of elephants, the sources say, adding that at the time the book went missing about 160 elephants had been registered and now the number has risen to 359.

There are also allegations that information regarding dead elephants and calves born to elephants in captivity has also been tampered with.
Meanwhile, Environmentalist Nadeeka Hapuarachchi called for the suspension of the director general and the former ministry secretary until investigations were completed. He said such a step was necessary for the smooth conduct of the investigations as these high officials still had powers to transfer officials who could provide vital evidence.

Mr. Hapuarachchi said that some original documents had been tampered with to such an extent that male elephants had become female elephants that have given birth.

Wildlife Deputy Minister Wasantha Senanayake said that registration books, logs and all documents had been handed over to Criminal Investigation Department Office to conduct a full probe. He said after investigations and reports, further action would be taken.

Animal rights activists want action against Wildlife headFive environmentalists of “Murakawalun environmental activists’ alliance have complained to the Inspector General of Police to take action against Wildlife Director General H.D Rathnayake for allegedly preparing forged documents and testimonies.
The five environmentalists are Sujeewa Jayasinghe, Sudarshani Fernando, Udayanga Dayaratna, Supun Lahiru Prakash and Aloka Mahagedra.
Supun Lahiru said the investigations into the forged documents must be transparent and the people who facilitate the illegal elephant trade must be brought before the law.

Wildlife chief denies wrong doing

Wildlife Department Director H.D Rathnayake denied that he had issued false documents or manipulated licences. He said the Elephant Register referred to is the log book and that was not misplaced. What was missing was one of the movement records books.

Mr. Rathnayake said the previous directors have not completed their files and that might have given someone a chance to introduce false documents.

“I have no intention of aiding the trade in illegal elephants but the people conspiring against me are claiming that the loss of a small movement register is a big deal. However the log book has the summary of information,”
he said.

He said after the raids took place the tampering of the register of information was noticeable and the typist responsible for this was interdicted by the former Minister.

“Most of the documents were checked by other officials and I did not inspect every document due to the heavy work load. I signed the documents trusting them,” Mr. Rathnayake said.

Mr. Rathnayake said an independent investigation must take place to resolve the matter.

“I was Wildlife Ministry Secretary but I am not responsible for loss of the movement register. It is departmental staff who are responsible,” the former secretary Udeni Wikramasinghe said.

“I am retired now. I only know former Wildlife Minister Vijith Wijayamuni Zoysa appointed a committee of three after informing me the elephant register was lost,”

he said.

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