By Nirmala Kannangara
Environmentalists and elephant enthusiasts have come up strongly against the National Zoological Gardens and the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage for giving away elephants to ruling party politicians and their stooges.
Sources from the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) confirmed to The Sunday Leader that five elephants from the best breeds have been given away to politicians and their stooges secretly, bypassing the normal procedure.
“Over the past five months five elephants – two elephant cows and three male elephants out of which two are calves have been given away. Normally when elephants are given away the NZG comes to an agreement with the other party. This agreement entails powers to the NZG to take back the elephant if it is found that the animal is not properly treated. However the NZG has not signed any such agreement with the other parties and has instead given sole ownership to them,” said the sources.
The agreement stipulates that while the new owner can use the elephant for pageants it is strictly prohibited to get private work done by the animal. In addition the animal has to be shown to a veterinary surgeon once in two months and has to be well fed. In the event these guidelines are not honoured the NZG has the authority to take back the elephant according to the sources. The sources further claimed that, Public Coordination and Public Affairs Minister Mervyn Silva and former Parliamentarian and a close associate of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero were two beneficiaries of this dubious ‘scheme’.
“Atlas, a young male elephant brought from the Udawalawe elephant transit home has been given to Minister Silva and Sama, a well bred elephant cow has been given to Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero’s temple Allen Methiniyaramaya in Polhengoda. Lasanda yet another elephant cow has been given to the Natha Devalaya Devundara while Haritha and Charaka the two baby male elephants have been given away to Vimalarathanaramaya Deniyaya and to the Defence Ministry respectively,” claimed the sources.
According to the sources, both Minister Silva and Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero had come to the elephant orphanage with government security officers. “We have learnt that these two had come with the ministerial security division (MSD) officers. What was the reason for them to go to the elephant orphanage with their security? Certainly it was a dubious deal and that was why the MSD officers had accompanied them,” added the sources.
When contacted, Director General Zoological Gardens Baswara Gunaratne said that he cannot answer any question over the phone and wanted The Sunday Leader to forward questions in advance to him. “Once you forward the questions I will send you the answers,” he said
However when asked about whether the NZG signed agreements with the new owners in order to retain ownership in the event they dishonour the rules, Gunaratne said that the elephants have been given away under agreements.
But Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero said that he did not come to any agreement with the authorities and had taken away the elephant without any regulations being stipulated.