The Sri Dalada Maligawa Buddhist Temple, which may soon receive 359 elephant tusks.
The Sri Lankan government is planning to give 359 elephant tusks to a Buddhist temple, a move that critics say is flouting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The illegal tusks were seized in Sri Lanka last May en route to Dubai from Kenya; they are believed to stem from hundreds of butchered elephants, including juveniles, inside Africa, possibly Uganda. The decision comes after a high-profile National Geographic article, Ivory Worship, outlined how demand for ivory religious handicrafts, particularly by Catholics and Buddhists, is worsening the current poaching crisis. In 2011, it was estimated that 25,000 elephants were illegally slaughtered for their tusks.
“I don’t believe that Sri Lankan’s who revere elephants would ever condone the brutal killing of elephants for ivory, the general public are unaware of the nature in which this ivory was obtained,” Manori Gunawardena, an elephant researcher in Sri Lanka told mongabay.com.
Critics say that releasing the ivory to a third party, in this case the Sri Dalada Maligawa Buddhist Temple, violates CITES. In addition, Kenya has demanded that the illegal tusks be returned to them.
“We want the ivory back to undertake DNA profiling to establish its exact origin; to use as exhibit in case of any arrest. The Sri Lanka Government should follow the rules of CITES convention as a party to CITES,” Patrick Omondi, the Senior Assistant Director with the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), told mongabay.com. Sri Lanka has been a signatory of CITES since 1979.
Conservationists fear that if the tusks are given to the temple, they could eventually re-enter the black market, driving further demand for a trade that is decimating the world’s largest land animal. In fact, Pubudu Weeraratne, head of the Species Conservation Centre recently told the Sunday Leader that he believed the illegal tusks would eventually be sold back to the “legal owner,” meaning the smugglers who were moving the ivory to begin with.
“The lengths of these tusks are from 1 ½ feet to 8 feet which clearly shows that the poachers have massacred even the baby elephants,” Weeraratne said. “They may have killed a herd of 170 to 200 elephants to obtain these tusks. By gifting this blood ivory to Dalada Maligawa our rulers are trying to bring discredit to this sacred temple.”
According to the National Geographic expose, Buddhist and Catholic ivory handicrafts are partly fueling the rising demand for ivory. In response, the Vatican recently condemned elephant poaching as against Catholic values.
“We are absolutely convinced that the massacre of elephants is a very serious matter, against which it is right that everyone who can do something should be committed,” reads a letter by Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See Press Office in the Vatican. The Vatican has committed to a number of actions to help spread awareness about elephant poaching and ivory.
Manori Gunawardena says that the Sri Lankan government should destroy the tusks, not give them to a temple.
“As a country we should destroy the stock with permission from the relevant country of origin which in this case is Kenya. This is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to make a stand against the ivory trade and publicly destroy the stock.”
The first of Buddhism’s five precepts concerns abstaining from the taking of sentient life, which applies to all animals, including elephants. Buddhists also practice ahimsa, which means to do no harm to any living creature. The Buddha, himself, often used the elephant as a positive symbol in his teachings.
(02/04/2013) Responding to an investigative report by National Geographic, the Vatican has condemned elephant poaching for ivory and pledged three steps to help in the battle to save the world’s elephants. The National Geographic article Ivory Worship, by Bryan Christy, looked at how religions—specifically religious items for Christians and Buddhists—were playing in the growing demand for black-market ivory, which is currently resulting in the violent deaths of tens-of-thousands of endangered elephants every year.
(01/24/2013) By some estimates, more than 30,000 elephants were slaughtered across the savannas and forests of Africa and Asia for the ivory trade during 2012. The carnage represents as much as 4 percent of the world’s elephant population. Accordingly, some conservationists are warning that elephants face imminent extinction in some of their range countries. While the plight of elephants is increasingly visible due to media coverage, less widely understood is the role religion plays in driving the ivory trade. This issue was explored at length in an explosive cover story published in National Geographic by Bryan Christy last October. The story, titled Blood Ivory, detailed how demand for religious trinkets is driving large-scale killing of Earth’s largest land animal.
(01/15/2013) Soon a text message may save an elephant’s or rhino’s life. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is implementing a new alarm system in some protected areas that will alert rangers of intruders via a text message, reports the Guardian. Elephants and rhinos have been killed in record numbers across Africa as demand for illegal rhino horns and ivory in Asia has skyrocketed.
(01/08/2013) Over the weekend Kenya suffered its single worst elephant poaching incident when poachers killed an entire family of elephants. In all, eleven elephants were gunned down and had their tusks removed. Among the dead was a two-month-old calf. The elephants were killed in Tsavo East National Park.
(12/23/2012) Ivory smuggling surged in 2011, reaching its highest levels in nearly 20 years, says a new report released by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
(12/13/2012) Royal Malaysian Customs have just announced the seizure of 24 tons of ivory in Port Klang. This is the largest-ever seizure of ivory in transit through the country. The 1,500 pieces of ivory came from over 750 elephants and were exported from Togo, a tiny west African country that has fewer than 200 elephants. The ivory was hidden in containers containing wooden crates that were built to look like stacks of sawn timber. The two crates were shipped from the port of Lomé in Togo, and were going to China via Algeria, Spain and Malaysia. Richard Leakey, the former Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who set Kenya’s ivory stockpile alight in 1989, responded to the announcement.
(12/12/2012) Malaysian authorities made their largest-ever ivory bust after uncovering 24 tons of ‘white gold’ hidden in crates designed to look like stacks of sawn wood.
(12/12/2012) This week the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) announced a 14% decline in elephants in the Samburu/Laikipia ecosystem over the last 4 years. The decline has occurred in a population whose natural growth rate was measured at 5.3% between 2002 and 2008 according to the previous survey, suggesting that over 300 elephants are dying annually in the Samburu and Laikipia’s landscape, denting the poster child image of one of Kenya’s most important wildlife landscapes. Poaching and drought are the main causes of mortality in this population. The impact of poaching on tourism cannot be ignored, heavily armed bandits threaten more than elephants, if we can’t protect elephants how can we protect international tourists? But it’s the long term consequence that are of greater concern.