Mixed signals on Sinharaja elephant relocation | Sunday Observer

Mixed signals on Sinharaja elephant relocation

The issue surrounding the relocation of the two last remaining wild elephants in the Sinharaja forest reserve has become a political battle of sorts, environmentalists claim.

While commending President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent decision to temporarily halt a possible relocation till a thorough scientific research is conducted by experts, they say the Minister and Deputy Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife have inform the Wildlife Department to carry on with the relocation of the elephants.

“I have been given orders to continue with the capturing process” Director of the Department of Wildlife, Chandana Sooriyabandara said when contacted. However, he said he had no knowledge if the President’s decision has been reversed.

Despite repeated attempts, the Sunday Observer was unable to obtain a clarification from the President’s office and no reversal of the original decision made has been announced yet.

According to Chairman of the Surakimu Sri Lanka Organisation, Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera, the decision by the President was timely. He alleges that the move is being influenced by large-scale illegal loggers and illicit alcohol brewers with political connections in the area whose activities are being hampered by the presence of the elephants.

Sources said two Wildlife Department veterinarians attached to the Udawalawe National Park were brought to the area yesterday with the aim of relocating the elephants after the two veterinarians of the Air Force sent for the purpose were recalled on Friday according to orders of a highly placed official.

As the controversy over the relocation of the elephants grew, the President aptly halted the controversial move after heeding the concerns of environmental groups but also advised relevant authorities to take action to protect the people by erecting an elephant fence while also collaring the elephants in order to monitor their movements.

While agreeing with the decision made by the President, eminent environmentalist Jagath Gunawardena said any further decisions on the part of everyone involved including that of environmental organisations must be taken rationally without being moved by emotions. Speaking to the Sunday Observer at an earlier occasion he said the decision to remove the elephants from the reserve appears to be politically motivated.

“It is not a decision based on any scientific evidence or with the welfare of elephants in mind,” he said.Speaking to the media, Minister of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development, Sarath Fonseka had said the stance of the Ministry with regards to the elephants remains the same. “People want us to move the elephants as they are being attacked,” he said, adding that he has explained the situation to the President and therefore will continue with the process.

According to him, the decision was taken for the safety of the people as well as the elephants. “We promised the President we would protect the elephants,” he said. Various environmental organisations had written to the President requesting that he step in to halt the relocation of the animals, while UNESCO had also urged the government not to change the ecosystem of the world heritage site. The elephants are the last two remaining elephants in the Sinharaja forest reserve.

Environmentalists had warned that moving wet zone elephants to the Horowpothana holding centre in the dry zone would not bode well for them. Questions were also raised about the track record of the centre. The decision was made to relocate the elephant after a villager in Pothupitiya was killed on May 20 after being attacked by one of the elephants.


These animals survived millions of years without the intervention of humans (worst pest ever to trespass the earth)- and the humans are not the solution but the problem of their very existence!