Protecting Elephants in Sri Lanka

Yala National Park
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. PHOTO: Sach on Unsplash

Sri Lanka is home to roughly 5,000 Asian elephants, but their numbers are dwindling due to poaching, poisoning, train accidents, exploitation in commercial activities, and other threats. This month, ELAW partners at the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) are celebrating a victory for 48 elephants that were illegally registered and used for commercial purposes.

“Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal ordered that the elephants, currently held by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, should not be released to their supposed owners because they were illegally adopted and registered,” said Dr. Ravindranath Dabare, Senior Advisor of CEJ. This ruling followed outrage in September 2021 when a Sri Lankan court returned elephants to alleged traffickers.

CEJ Staff

Dr. Dabare (middle of photo), along with CEJ co-founder Hemantha Withanage (left) and Legal Officer Samadhi Hansani (right), attended the 2024 ELAW Annual Meeting.

“The knowledge and support we received at the ELAW Meeting were very useful in our litigation to protect elephants and in all our work to protect the environment—especially the flora and fauna,” said Dr. Dabare.

Samadhi joined CEJ in 2021. “Our work protecting elephants is close to my heart,” she said. “These majestic species are vital to our ecosystem and heritage.”

This victory follows years of work by CEJ advocating for elephants in Sri Lanka. CEJ has contributed to several significant cases involving elephants in Sri Lanka, including the following.

In late 2019, seven elephants were poisoned in Habarana, a popular tourist destination and starting point for safaris in the nearby Habarana jungle and the Minneriya sanctuary, which is heavily populated by elephants. No official report was filed, and findings were unavailable. CEJ called for an investigation. At the direction of Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal, in December 2023 CEJ submitted their “Proposal to Mitigate the Human-Elephant Conflict in Sri Lanka.

In 2022, trenches were dug in Udawalawe and Lunugamwehera National Parks, allegedly to prevent human-elephant conflict. Experience has shown these trenches are ineffective and, in this case, were a ruse to exploit minerals and timber in protected areas. CEJ challenged the government’s short-sighted plans, revealing the damage trenches cause to local ecosystems and demanding that an environmental impact assessment be conducted, as required by law. In March 2023, the Supreme Court suspended digging of trenches in national parks.

For more information, see:

Dr. Ravindranath Dabare interviewed outside the court (News First, 31 May 2024)

Supreme Court Suspends Digging of Trenches in National Parks (Daily Mirror, 21 March 2023)

Anger as Sri Lanka court returns elephants to alleged traffickers (Al Jazeera, 17 September 2021)

Maggie Signature

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide