Ivory Destruction in Sri Lanka
Today, on International Customs Day, the Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA applaud the Sri Lankan government for destroying more than 350 elephant tusks.
To demonstrate Sri Lanka’s commitment to combatting the illegal wildlife trade, the country’s President, Maithripala Sirisena as well as Ministers, diplomats and other distinguished guests including John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES (Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species) and Born Free’s Country Representative for Sri Lanka, elephant scientist Manori Gunawardena, witnessed the permanent destruction of hundreds of seized ivory tusks.
Manori Gunawardena was jubilant and believed the event signaled a strong willingness for her country to combat illegal trade at the international as well as national level: “I am relieved that it’s finally happening and am thrilled at the buy in from the President and Prime Minister. Sri Lanka is making a very strong statement by going ahead with the destruction with the support of the highest levels of government.”
A somber ceremony held by all Sri Lanka’s religious faiths took place, blessing the elephants who lost their lives for their ivory. The Buddhist spokesperson, The Venerable Omalpe Sobitha Thero, emphasized that ivory from slaughtered elephants could not be venerated, and that since all living creatures were connected in the karmic cycle we should confer blessings on the killed elephants, as we would our deceased relatives.
Within the local context, Ms Gunawardena believed the event “would educate Sri Lankans on the gravity of global wildlife crime and its impact on their country. Culturally the Sri Lankan public will never condone the slaughter of elephants”.
Adam M. Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA, welcomed Sri Lanka’s bold move. He said: “This brave decision by the Sri Lankan government is to be loudly applauded. Overwhelmingly, the world now recognises that ivory belongs on elephants, and nowhere else. Today, Sri Lanka joins the growing number of countries taking bold action to deny wildlife traffickers their blood money and blaze a path for a future with wild elephants.”
The ivory was seized by Sri Lanka Customs in Colombo in May 2012 from a ship en route from Mombasa Port in Kenya to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Had it not been impounded, from Dubai the ivory would have been sent to Thailand. Following a request of the Sri Lankan government, a team from the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime collected DNA samples from the seized ivory and later forensic analysis revealed that the elephants had been poached in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
China, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and the United States all took a stand against illegal wildlife crime in 2015 by holding high-profile events to destroy ivory stockpiles. Earlier this month, Hong Kong also revealed plans to ban the import and export of ivory and close domestic markets.
International Customs Day (26th January), organised by the World Customs Organization, recognises the role of custom officials and agencies in maintaining border security by focusing on the working conditions and challenges customs officers face.