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Sri Lanka: Amnesty for Illegal Holding of Elephants

(Feb. 5, 2015) Sri Lanka recently announced a two-week period of amnesty for those illegally keeping elephants, if they hand the animals over to the government voluntarily. The decision, designed to save the lives of the elephants in question, was announced by Wasantha Senanayake, the Deputy Minister of Tourism. The policy follows a crackdown involving raids on locations where authorities suspect the animals are being kept. Only people with valid licenses are permitted to keep elephants in Sri Lanka. (Disna Mudalige, General Amnesty Period to Hand over Illegally Kept Elephants, DAILY NEWS (Feb. 2, 2015).)

One illegally kept baby elephant was seized from a temple in Colombo, the capital city, on January 28, and two others were recovered from the former Defense Secretary and given to a zoo. According to Senanayake, “[t]hese elephants had been caught illegally from the wild and kept with no valid document.” (Id.)

The Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, No. 2 of 1937, gave full legal protection to elephants in Sri Lanka; that legislation was subsequently amended several times. (Fauna and Flora Protection, Cap. 567 (as amended to 1970), FAOLEX.) In late 1979, Sri Lanka ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) (CITES text (signed Mar. 3, 1973, amended June 22, 1970), CITES website; List of Contracting Parties, CITES website (last visited Feb. 2, 2015).)

These steps resulted in owners of elephants being required to register with the government, but a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study notes that in fact domesticated elephants are treated the same as any other domesticated animal and are bought, sold, and cared for as their owners wish. (Richard C. Lair, Sri Lanka, in GONE ASTRAY – THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF THE ASIAN ELEPHANT IN DOMESTICITY (1999), FAO website.)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that there are between 2,500 and 4,000 Sri Lankan elephants and states that the “Sri Lankan elephant population has fallen almost 65% since the turn of the 19th century.” (Sri Lankan Elephant: Overview, WWF (2015).)