Posted on October 6th, 2021


Regulations on the registration of tame elephants were first issued in the Registration and Licensing of Tuskers and Elephants Regulations, 1991 published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 662/4 of 14 May 1991 in accordance with Sections 71 and 22a of the Wildlife Conservation Ordinance. In this gazette elephants are not allowed to be used for work or tourism. Every licence issued under this gazette stated that these animals can only be used for cultural activities, including processions. 

In 2014, Minister of Wildlife Resources Conservation had submitted a Cabinet Memorandum to update the 1991 Orders under the title “Preparation of Regulations on Registration and Maintenance of Tame Elephants”.

In 2016, Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, prepared a series of directives to regularize the registration of elephants and to provide protection and improvement and submitted them to the Cabinet. The Ordinance did not mention the use of the animals for work, nor mentioned their use for tourism.

Then on August 19, 2021, an extraordinary gazette on Protection, Wellbeing and Regularisation of Registration of Tamed Elephants Regulations No. 1 of 2021 was published. These orders were issued in accordance with Sections 71 and 22A of the Wildlife Conservation Ordinance.

 Under the first part of this three-part series, orders have been issued for the protection and welfare of tame elephant, the second part to regulate the registration of tame elephants and the third part to obtain tame elephants for historical and cultural processions.

The new gazette is an improvement of the previous gazette and has some features that help elephants, said Jayantha Jayawardena. These include registration of elephants, numbering, and microchips. We wanted to microchip tame elephants earlier so that they could be identified but it was sabotaged. The new law provides for control

. The new gazette is beneficial to elephants if it is implemented. The law has been there all this time but not implemented Jayantha said. Later there could be another gazette that is better than this. We must remember that we have to work within a framework of politicization. 

However, the animal rights fraternity has frowned upon several clauses which seem to be causing more harm than good for elephants, which ideally belong in the wild. They have raised concerns over a few loosely drafted clauses.

The gazette states ‘reasonable steps using minimum force in keeping with traditional methods could be taken to control an elephant that behaves violently’. Who would determine ‘minimum force’ and ‘unnecessary pain’ asked the NGOs. This clause looks like an attempt to justify a certain level of abuse and torture.

Earlier, limitations were imposed on using elephants for advertisements, tourism-related activities, carrying people etc. the gazette seems to be legalizing some of these activities.

The use of the bullhook and knife has also been made legal in this gazette.The pointed bullhook is an instrument of harm and torture. The traditional bull hook had a globular edge that added pressure to an elephant’s pressure points was more friendly. But now, this friendly instrument has been made illegal and the more damaging one has been legalized.

These gazetted regulations do more harm to elephants than help,”  said Rally for Animals Rights and Environment (RARE).

  Part 1 on ‘Regulations for Protection and wellbeing of tamed elephants’ are just loose and vague sentences without definitions and have no legal enforceability. The use of such imprecise terminology leaves many of these regulations open to the cruelest of interpretations and effectively renders them useless. On the other hand, no penalties or punishments have been stipulated. These rules have been  drafted by those who seek to exploit and profit from elephants

RARE thinks hat Tame Elephant Owners Association was behind these regulations. The Association  has  no interest in elephant welfare but of increasing the number of captive elephants and use them for commercial purposes.

the gazette states that that an application for obtaining tame elephants for any temple or devalaya where a historical or cultural procession is organised should be submitted to the Tame Elephant Owners’ Association and recommended to the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs and subject to the approval of the Secretary to the Ministry in charge of the subject on his recommendation. .

Rally for Animals Rights and Environment (RARE) said the new gazette will –

  • Exempt perahera from these regulations as well as any other animal welfare laws,
  • Legally accept traditional methods of elephant control without defining what they are.
  • Give authority over registration process to Tame Elephant Association and Ministry of Buddhasasana, two bodies that have vested interest. it will dilute powers of Director Generals of DWC and DNZG
  • Give Ministry of Buddhasasana sole approving authority over gifting captive elephants in the custody of DWC and NZG Department to temples. These include 88 Zoo/ Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage elephants, 37 Court object elephants.
  • Help elephant smugglers to register their illegal elephants by giving provisions to register any unregistered elephants they have in possession 
  • There were serious concerns about wild baby elephants meant to be released at Udawalawe ETH as there have been occasions where ETH elephant calves have been gifted to the army and temples by changing custody. 
  • Revive and legally recognize elephant riding, towing vehicles and pulling weight using elephants, and mandate the lowest and cruelest standards for the like mandate the howdah or saddle for riding and traditional mouthpieces for logging.
  • Deceive the eco-friendly foreign travelers that have been avoiding Sri Lanka’s captive elephant attractions due to the cruelty that have been exposed. ( continued)

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