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Monday, 22 May 2017 05:08

From protector to executioner! Wildlife official shoots wild elephant

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) has strongly protested the shooting of a wild elephant by Wildlife officials as an act of alleged self-defence.

It said as the oldest conservation organisation of its kind, the founder of the initial national parks and prime instigator in the setting up of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), this act of needless destruction of a nationally-protected species by those who should be protecting them counters every principle of conservation on which these institutions were established.

In a statement WNPS said over the last few days, the press and social media have had extensive coverage of the shooting of an elephant in Omanthai, Vavuniya, after a group of four had been rescued from an open agrarian well into which they had fallen.

“The available video coverage of the incident clearly shows that at no time was human life in danger during the incident, and the need to shoot the elephants dead, rather than just frighten them away as has been done before, is called into question. The video also shows another elephant being shot at and falling, though the DWC claims that only one died.

“The DWC is the main statutory agency set up for the protection of all wildlife, including elephants. If they have now taken to shooting the animals they are supposed to protect, then an already-endangered species is doomed to extinction,” WNPS asserted.

While it is learnt that both the DWC and Ministry of Wildlife and Sustainable Development have each instigated an inquiry into this killing, WNPS hopes that they will both be carried out with a degree of transparency that leaves nothing open for question.

It noted that as per the available video footage of the incident, the ‘circus’ that surrounded these tragic killings, and might have contributed to the resulting ‘online’ killing, highlight the following alarming lapses in procedure, and gaps in the law:

1. Astoundingly, the DWC does not have an official protocol or procedure to deal with situations like this, the extrication of wild elephants from unguarded irrigation pits/wells, despite it being an all-too-frequent occurrence of late. Had they done so, the army of onlookers would have been cleared and appropriate measures taken to channel the rescued animals away from the rescuers.

2. If a human falls into an unguarded well or pit, the person or persons who made the excavation are legally liable for any resulting injury and costs. Yet, when an elephant falls into such a hole, then the DWC it not only held liable for its extraction, but it also has to bear the resulting costs. These wells/channels are often paid for by aid Agencies and they should ensure that basic measures are taken not only to prevent elephants and other animals from falling in, but also humans. Those who dig these holes and leave them unguarded should be held liable to pay for the costs of anyone or any animal falling in. Such legal measures, if enforced, would soon result in proper safety measures being implemented for the wellbeing of all – human and animal.

WNPS expressed hope that this tragedy would result in the DWC and the relevant Ministry commencing discussions and consulting the relevant elephant and legal experts to formulate a protocol to deal with such situations where the destruction of the animal will be the last resort, rather than the first, trigger happy choice.

“It is too late for this unfortunate victim but the world will be watching to see whether justice will prevail in her killing, and whether there is any hope for the conservation of the wild elephant under the present political and administrative institutions responsible for their protection, and under the law,” WNPS added.

The Patron of WNPS is President Maithripala Sirisena and its President is Rukshan Jayewardene.