By Sarasi Wijeratne/www.counterpoint.lk
Colombo, April 3: Rewatha, who was about 45- 50 years old and the biggest tusker in the Kalawewa area, died after he was electrocuted by a fence which surrounded a sweet corn farm in Aliyawatunuwewa in Kekirawa.
The manner in which the fence was powered was allegedly illegal.
At the hearing in the Kekirawa Magistrates court last Wednesday (March 31st) President’s Counsel Anura Meddegoda told the magistrate Weraniyagoda that according to the law the offence for which the suspect ought to have been charged is not a bailable one. The manner in which the fence was powered was allegedly illegal.
Counsel Meddegoda was appearing for intervening petitioners in the case which are the Centre for Environmental Justice, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society and Justice for Animals and Nature. He is supported by attorney at law Anuruddha Wijeyeratne.
The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) which conducted the initial inquiry into the death brought the case to Court under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance. But because the case involves a tusker there is provision for it to be brought under the Public Property Act which has harsher punishment. Whether the tusks are public property will be a legal point which will be mooted in Court.
According to Counsel the report on the elephant’s death which was provided by the DWC to Court was not comprehensive. The Attorney General’s Department which has stepped in has sought the assistance of the Kekirawa police to conduct the inquiry.
During the hearing the Kekirawa police gave an undertaking to Court to complete the inquiry and hand over the report to the Attorney General’s department which will ascertain the merits of the case.
The suspect was not present at the hearing. He was given notice to appear in Court for the next hearing on 17 May.
‘I expect the Police to produce the suspect in Court on this date’, said Counsel.
The suspect was granted surety bail when the case was first heard soon after the tusker’s death. It was based on the evidence presented in Court by the DWC.
The number of elephants dying of electrocution is on the rise. In 2019, there were 43 elephant deaths due to electrocution. After gun shots, it was the cause for the second highest number of elephant fatalities that year. In 2020 there were 14 elephants that were electrocuted, a statistic which is attributed to Covid -19. In the first three months of this year, 19 elephants have died of electrocution.
There has been public fury and sadness over Rewatha’sdeath. He was one of 57 tuskers the country has lost over the years. Behind the imposing exterior Rewatha, whose home range was Kahalla Pallekele, had been agentle giant who had not harmed man nor damagedcrops. The locals loved him because of this and elephant enthusiasts would converge on Kalawewa to get a glimpse of him. His death has been alikened to the sun setting in Kalawewa.
The writing is on the wall for Sri Lanka’s elephant population which is dwindling rapidly.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of elephants that died was 2806. With a few exceptions in the years in between, elephant deaths have been on the increasewith a discernible jump since 2017. The number of elephant fatalities in 2017 was 256 and this figure rose to 319 in the following year. By 2019 it had risen dramatically to 407. In 2020, the number of elephant deaths stood at 175, with the drop attributed to the lack of movement because of the Covid lockdown.
Between 1 January and 31 March this year anunprecedented 90 elephants are reported to have diedwhich is averaging one elephant a day. On the 26th of March three elephants died on the same day, two of whom died of electrocution.
Despite being a devoutly Buddhist country the majority of elephant deaths have occurred because of theinvolvement of people.
Between 2010 and 2020 the top three recorded causes of elephant deaths were gun shots, hakka patas, and electrocution.
The number of elephant that died from gun shots was 420. A large number of elephants in Sri Lanka are reportedly living with bullets embedded in their bodies, causing lead poisoning and a slow death.
In these years 348 elephants fell victim to hakka patasor jaw bombs. A crude home- made device, it is used to keep elephants away from crops.
171 elephants also died of electrocution during these ten years.
In addition to these known causes of elephant deaths there were hundreds of elephants whose cause of death remain unresolved. The number of fatalities from unknown causes was more than 450.
The other causes of elephant deaths are poisoning, train and road accidents and other accidents, the onset of septicemia, worm infestation, falling into wells and other injuries.
The number of human deaths linked to elephants was 685.
Conservationists are sounding alarm bells about the dire state of Sri Lanka’s endangered elephants as attempts to reach out to the authorities to talk about the matter have failed. A National Policy on the Management of Elephants has been in limbo for years.