From Innocent Freedom to Captive Hell: Abduction of Baby Elephants from the Wild

by Vimukthi Weeratunga1, Sri Lanka, ELP 2014

Elephants and their young, much like a human parent and child, have a deep emotional and binding relationship. Baby elephants depend on their mothers and members of the herd for sustenance, security and comfort, until they are five to seven years old, just like children. Now, imagine if someone were to snatch your child away from you? Imagine your heartbreak from loss, abandonment and grief. Unimaginable, isn’t it?

Image iconvimu-1_2.png Abducting playful baby elephants from their mothers is an unimaginable wildlife crime that adds another threat to elephants in Sri Lanka.

During the past several months, around 50 baby elephants have been forcefully taken away from their mothers. These babies have been abducted from their wild habitats after their mothers had been slaughtered in the process. Almost all these baby elephants have been found injured, starved and cruelly tied to trees, holed up in tiny, dirty enclosures with every one of them frightened and traumatized. One baby elephant was overdosed with tranquilizers by its abductors and now laid pathetically paralyzed from its neck downwards. Another could not put its foot down after being beaten and tortured in the process of its abduction.

The stories go on…

As advocates of the lives and safety of elephants in our country, we are doing all that is possible to protect baby elephants and their mothers. For the past several months, numerous baby elephant abduction rackets have been reported to us. It is believed that baby elephants are isolated from their mothers and then captured and transferred to different locations for sale. They are then sold after obtaining illegal registration documents. This is a very lucrative business and a single baby elephant can be sold for between 10-15 million Sri Lanka Rupees (USD $100,000-$150,000).

Image iconvimu-2_2.png The illegal capture of a baby elephant attempy in Galgamuwa area in the central part of the country. Vigilance of nearby villagers saved this baby from the abductors.

Elephants are a protected species under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO). Section 22A of the FFPO, as amended, states that no person can illegally capture and keep an elephant. The Registration and Licensing of Tusker and Elephant Regulation, 1991, clearly outlines the process of domestic elephant regulations, not only for elephant owners but also for officials who have the power to register and issue a license for domestic elephants. Any action in illegal registrations is directly in violation of not only the above-mentioned Ordinance and Regulation, but also in violation of the Public Property Act. Asian Elephants listed as an endangered species in the National and Global Red Lists due to their value in terms of ecological and cultural attributes is immense. Therefore, the illegal capture of these animals carries the highest penalty.

Image iconvimu-3_2.png A wild captured baby elephant was confiscated by the Wildlife Official at Mirigama. Note the tranquilization patch on its rump area.

As concerned citizens who care about our gentle giants in this country, please come forward and join hands with us. For this, we need your support to make a voice against this unimaginable wildlife crime. Please consider this to be your contribution towards helping save our elephants. The lives of baby elephants deserve more than inhumane abduction, cruelty, torture and trauma.

1 Vimukthi is a Wildlife & Fisheries Biologist, graduated with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Wildlife & Fisheries Biology and minoring in Earth Information Science Technology from the Oregon State University, Oregon, USA. He also has received trainings from Wildlife Institute of India on wildlife management. He was selected for the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program course at the University of California, Berkeley. Vimukthi is working as an Operations Director of Environmental FOundation Ltd. Before he joined EFL, he was Head of the Biodiversity and Species Program of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sri Lanka Country office for 5 years. Vimukthi continues to work for the environmental sector, providing technical assistance to both NGOs and the Government, to support conservation of Sri Lanka's unique biological heritage.