Saturday, 21 September 2013 00:00
It has been reported that the Minister of Wildlife Conservation recently declared an amnesty, where any person illegally owning an elephant calf can get it officially registered after paying a fine of Rs. 1 million. Many environmentalists have found fault with this and rightly so. The Department of Wildlife Conservation has, however, not been formally communicated of this directive, according to sources.
On the face of it, declaring such a moratorium or amnesty to bring people who have broken the law back into the ‘fold’, is a strategy that is used sometimes by the Government and other institutions effectively. E.g. there have been instances where tax amnesties have been given to people who have evaded taxes where, after paying a penalty, they are brought into the formal system without any investigations into past misdeeds. Similarly the Army announces amnesties periodically to bring back deserters, who have deserted the Army and left without proper procedures and notice.
However, this baby elephant registration amnesty has some major fundamental differences to the above examples, which have worked well. In the first place, the elephant amnesty relates to a wild animal being kept in captivity and is not related to any human being nor to any specific fiscal aspect. Secondly, there does not appear to be any timeframe or ‘window’ given for this amnesty.
Hence, if one were to look at this in a broader sense, it effectively means that anyone can now to go into the jungle, capture a baby elephant, and then pay a Rs. 1 million fine and have it registered.
In Sri Lanka capturing elephants is prohibited by law. Hence, what this amnesty is providing is a ‘carte blanche’ for capturing elephants and owning them by paying Rs. 1 million. This is what environmentalists are very greatly agitated about.
Given the fact that the authorities cannot establish between an already captured elephant being registered, and against one that has been captured after this amnesty has been publicised makes the whole system an entire farce.
In any event the amnesty could have been limited just for one month at the most. This time period would be more than enough for anyone who was illegally keeping an elephant in captivity, to have it formally registered.
There is adequate proof that fears of this amnesty being misused is becoming a reality.
Two weeks ago at the Uda Walawe National Park, an emaciated elephant calf was spotted with a noose around its rear foot. There obviously had been an attempt to capture this calf, which has managed to escape and was now handicapped due to the noose around its leg. Due to timely action from the Senior Resident Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Vijitha Perera and his team, the noose was removed and the calf rehabilitated with its family.
If this is what is going on in a popular national park, then one dreads to think what would be happening in the other unprotected jungle tracts of Sri Lanka.
In fact, the authorities still have concerns with regards to releasing into the wild another set of elephants from the Elephant Transit Home in Uda Walawe, fearing that they, being more acclimatised to humans, may fall prey to such unscrupulous poachers.