Killing of Galgamuwa blind tusker Grama niladhari among those arrested

By Risidra Mendis

As the remains of the Galgamuwa blind tusker lay on the ground deep inside the forest of the Kahalla Pallekele Sanctuary, six suspects were taken into custody in connection with the killing of the elephant.

The worst fears of environmentalists and animal welfare activists were confirmed when the carcass of the elephant found at the Kahalla Pallekele Sanctuary on 29 November was identified as that of the blind Galgamuwa tusker. The tusker was around 45 years old and nine and half feet tall at the time it was killed.

Environmentalists and animal welfare activists have blamed the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) for the death of the elephant who they say should have been protected since the animal was blind and was also a tusker.

“A total of six suspects have been taken into custody in connection with the killing after the carcass was discovered. The alleged shooter responsible for bringing down the tusker is also believed to be among those arrested,” environmentalist Shashikalana Rathwaththa told Ceylon Today.

News of the missing tusker came to light after two suspects were taken into custody while attempting to sell a pair of tusks to an interested buyer, by sleuths from the Walana Police Anti Corruption Unit. The pair was later handed over to the Polpitigama Police for further investigations.

Initial investigations have revealed that the chief suspect in the incident is the Grama niladhari of the area, while another suspect is the brother of an engineer attached to the Irrigation Department. He is also the driver for the priest of the village temple.

After the tusks were identified as that of the Galgamuwa tusker a search operation commenced to find the remains of the elephant that went missing about a month ago.

According to environmentalists villagers in the area had informed Police that the missing tusker was seen close to the house of one of the suspects. Following a search operation by the Special Task Force (STF) a decomposed carcass of an elephant was discovered inside the Kahalla Pallekelle Sanctuary, which was later identified to be that of the missing tusker,” they explained.

Wildlife Director Dr. Tharaka Prasad who led the post-mortem on the carcass said that the tusker was identified by a growth on the back of his left leg and that it had died about an hour after it was brought down.

“The tusker was a healthy animal at the time he was killed. We found three pellets inside the animal’s stomach. The fourth pellet had travelled through the base of the trunk and damaged the skull. The tusker had also suffered injuries to its stomach. We believe the tusker finally died due to internal bleeding caused by bullet wounds. The tusker had gone blind around 10 years ago after it was shot in the eyes,” Dr Prasad added.

Zoologist Dilan Peiris said that many years ago he had spoken to wildlife officers and told them that the Galgamuwa tusker should be protected from poachers. “Another tusker was killed at the Tabbowa sanctuary. This is a very dangerous situation where so many tuskers are being killed. No effort has been made by the Government or the DWLC to protect these tuskers for future generations. When an elephant is killed the government asks for an investigation into the incident and a big fuss is made in the media. But two months later the investigation and incident is forgotten by everybody,” Peiris explained.

He added that all senior officers at the DWLC should go home and hand over the Department to somebody who can take measures to protect the remaining tuskers from facing a similar fate.

“President Maithripala Sirisena is the Environment Minister. He should take responsibility for the death of these tuskers. Where are all these NGO people who shout about elephants been taken in peraheras? Where are the animal welfare people who shout about injured dogs?

These NGO people are only interested in the dollars they earn and are not genuinely concerned about animal welfare,” Peiris further said.

Environment Lawyer Jagath Gunewadena said that under Section 12 to 24 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) elephants are protected. “Under Section 12 of the FFPO it is illegal to kill or injure an elephant. It is also an offence to keep elephant tusks or parts of the animal under the Public Property Act (PPA). A person can be charged under the FFPO and the PPA for keeping elephant tusks,” Gunewardena said.

He said he has noticed that people have become bolder in the recent few years with regard to the killing of elephants because no action is taken against to apprehend the culprits. “So, killing an elephant and taking its tusks is not a big issue these days. People should be made to respect the law,” Gunewardena explained.

Media Secretary Sustainable Development and Wildlife Ministry Pabasari Waleboda said that on the orders of the subject Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera two investigations are currently underway in connection with Galgamuwa tusker slaying.

The slain tusker was finally laid to rest at the spot it was discovered after Buddhist monks performed the final rites.


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