Baby elephants-latest status symbol among Lankan elite

Colombo : Baby elephants have become the new status symbol in Sri Lanka, a trend that is giving nightmares to wildlife conservationists in the country.

Even though capturing elephants in Sri Lanka is illegal and intentionally killing an elephant is a crime punishable by death- though no one has been prosecuted in decades- expensive and high-maintenance baby elephants have become the ultimate status symbol for Sri Lanka’s wealthy elite.

The Species Conservation Centre says, baby elephants cost as much as USD 125,000.

Authorities have reported that more than 40 elephants have been stolen from national parks over the last decade and are being kept as pets.

“The new rich wannabes want an elephant at home for prestige. This is for social climbing,” said Asian elephant expert Jayantha Jayewardene, recalling an old Sri Lankan aristocratic tradition of keeping herds of the wild beasts.

Earlier this year, the gift of a baby elephant to visiting New Zealand Prime Minister John Key sparked much anger from animal rights activists, reports Colombo Page.

Jayewardene also pointed out that elephants are being killed to fuel the illegal trade.

“The maternal instinct in elephants is very, very strong. Poachers can’t get at a baby without the mother putting up a fight, and it usually ends with the death of the mother,” he said.

Even the tranquilizer drugs used to capture the calves also been known to kill them.

Activists have been struggling hard to save elephants as no strict actions are being taken against the offenders.

In 2013, wildlife activists also raised suspicions of a cover-up by some in the administration of former leader Mahinda Rajapakse after a registry of domesticated elephants disappeared.

The document later re-appeared with entries doctored and the case is still under investigation.

Some of the country’s most powerful have also been implicated in the case.

In May, Judge Thilina Gamage was also arrested and is now awaiting trial following intense pressure from wildlife activists, who accused him of illegally keeping a baby elephant as a pet.

That followed the arrest in March of Buddhist monk Uduwe Dhammaloka for keeping a 2-year-old elephant at his temple in Colombo, though he says he was unaware he was acting illegally.

The Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera has, however, told the Parliament that he is determined to stop the illegal trade.

The government has stopped the tradition of gifting animals from its elephant orphanage in Pinnawala to Buddhist temples after activists raised concerns.

But it faces pressure from the country’s top Buddhist temple, which says the crackdown on keeping the animals has created a shortage of tame elephants for its annual religious pageant. (ANI)