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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2769

Elephants condemned to life imprisonment in Sri Lanka

By Daya Dissanayake

Among humans who claim they are the most civilized, most intelligent and most advanced animal form on earth, another human is sentenced to life imprisonment only when found guilty of a serious crime, by a court of law. Among Lankans who boast of 2500 years of the purest form of Buddhism, which is the greatest non-violent philosophy in the world, even an animal should not be hurt in any way.

This earth belongs to all living creatures. Then we do not have any
right to hurt or kill any of the other animals, because they have an equal right to live. If we believe that God created the world and life on earth, then humans have no right to kill or hurt the other creatures created by God.

Among us humans we are proud that Fundamental Human Rights are now
recognized and when there is any violation we can at least appeal
against it. But we do not for a moment think that there are Fundamental Animal Rights too. We believe that all other living beings and plants and natural resources have been created by God to be used and exploited by man.

Sometimes even acts performed with very good intentions could cause
real, irreparable harm. The new proposal is to solve the human-elephant conflict. Every day we hear of elephants being killed or injured by farmers when they invade their villages. We also hear the sad stories about men, women and even children killed by such marauding elephants. A solution is needed for this, because we have to save the village folk and we have to save our elephants too.

To find a solution we have to find the root cause for it, without
knowing the cause for the illness we cannot decide on a treatment. In this case it is not that we are all unaware of the causes, but it is our reluctance to accept the true causes.

We destroy the forest cover which is the home for the wild elephant
where they find their shelter and their food. We destroy their water resources. We clear thousands of hectares of forest cover to grow sugar cane. We deprive the elephants of their home and when they come into the cane fields, because they love to eat the sugar cane, we kill them.

It could have been justified if at least our sugar industry has been successful. Our sugar industry is a pathetic failure, where the cost of production is very much higher than cost of import of sugar and we are still importing about 80 % of the countries needed sugar. All we have achieved with our sugar plantations was the destruction of vast areas of virgin forest, deprived the elephants of their natural habitat and changed the weather patterns in the area. But a few people would have benefited from the timber and from the commissions earned from setting up and selling off the projects.

Then we build hotels on the paths used by the elephants to move from one jungle to another, and we are happy that such hotels attract foreign tourists and they bring foreign currency. A few dollars become more important than the lives of our elephants. We extol the success of such hotels but do not mourn the fate of the poor innocent elephants.

If we truly love our wild elephants then we should give them back their homes, go for accelerated re-forestation and ensure protection from poachers. If we cannot do that, then we must control the growth of the elephant population, and let them gradually become extinct.

If the elephants had their own place to live and had enough food and water, they would not come into the farms or the villages. They would not attack humans. Even now we do not hear of elephants attacking any other animals. There has to be some reason why they attack only human beings. That is something our experts should study.

May be the elephants hate humans for the way they have been treated for thousands of years, by enslaving the elephants and because of the cruelest ways humans had found to torture wild elephants. We call ourselves Buddhists, but do not hesitate to place nail studded planks on the elephants path, throw gunny bags soaked in petrol on the backs of the elephants and setting it alight, or keep poisoned pumpkins for them to eat.

Because such acts are wrong, and because we have to protect our
villagers, the new proposal is to capture the wild elephants, tame them and use them for heavy work. The elephant is not a beast of burden. He has his rights, the way we have our rights. He has not committed a crime and he has not been found guilty. But we are planning to imprison him for hard labor for life.

Just because he is a huge animal, he has enormous strength, which does not mean God created the elephant to serve mankind to do his dirty jobs. Their trunk was not made to lift heavy logs. Their strong body and huge legs are not meant to drag huge boulders or machinery around. Their majestic gait is not meant to be paraded at temple ceremonies.

Unless the elephants have listened to sermons and have decided to become Buddhists, and very devoted Buddhists at that, we have no right to force them to take part in processions. Elephants in a Buddhist procession are a total contradiction of all what Buddha tried to teach us. We are hurting the poor animals, by making them to walk for miles and miles on hot asphalt to reach the temple and then keep them chained all the time. We take pride in parading the elephants; even the priests of these temples vie with each other to have the greatest number of elephants in their procession.

No one should have the right to gift an elephant captured from the wild or looked after in an orphanage. Even the person making the gift had fathered the elephant or has received his vote to come to power, that does not give this person the own or give away an elephant.

If they are not criminals and not convicts we have no right to place them on chains, forever or to keep them confined. We have no right to parade them on religious processions, and then expect them to behave well. We blame them if they protest or get angry and once in a way hits back by killing his tormentors. Just because he can’t talk to us, tell us of his pain and suffering, or how he is missing his home and his children and family, just because he is patient when he is made to walk through crowded streets, are we to believe that he likes what he is doing?

We also like to force the elephants to carry tourists on their backs, walking round and round like on a treadmill, just to earn a few dollars.

And we are proud about our "tourist attraction", and talk about it
without any shame in our travel publications. If torturing elephants to attract tourists is not evil, then prostituting our women and children to attract tourists is also not evil. If capturing child elephants and torturing them under the guise of training is not evil, recruitment of children to fight a war too cannot be evil.

Capturing and taming the elephants means taking them away from their habitat, separating them from their families, taking children away from the mothers, taking mothers away from the children, breaking up families, breaking up groups. Then after capture, these animals have to be trained. Training means torturing them, because the trainers are not animal psychologists, they do not have any proper training themselves and they have all forgotten the basic tenets of their religion.

Conflict arises when peaceful coexistence breaks down. Here again one of the main reasons is because we have forgotten, or prefer to ignore that 'Small is beautiful". If we had our farms and our irrigation work on a smaller scale, there would be less destruction of the elephant habitats and they would not bother the farmers.

There is a character in our folklore named Mahadenamutta, a know-all, who always finds the most absurd, most impractical, and sometimes the most harmful solution to any problem. Our children are told that this know-all lived a long time ago. We also believe in rebirth.

- Asian Tribune -

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