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Smuggled Ivory Confiscated by Customs Should be Burned and not Given to Temples

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Tharindu Muthukumarana

Recently, Sri Lanka Customs seized a massive quantity of illegal ivory. The container which the ivory was transported in was being shipped to Dubai from Kenya via the port of Colombo. Probes revealed there were 600 raw tusks which would have been worth millions of dollars. Today, officials have decided to donate those tusks to Buddhist temples but the question is, should that be the end of the story?

Activists point out that the smuggled ivory should be destroyed, since Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of wild fauna and flora, since 1979. According to CITES, any confiscated body parts of dead animals should be returned to the country where they came from. Those can be used in identification processes, educational research or should be stored if not destroyed. The destruction of 12 tons of raw ivory was carried out in Kenya in 1989 and in 2011.

Burning of ivory was proposed by very well-known Paleontologist, Dr. Richard Leakey, who was the Executive Director of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). At that time the confiscated tusks, each marked for weight and size, represented more than 2,000 elephants, shot over four years. In the open market, the tusks could have brought about $ 3 million at that time. If the ivory was sold the money gain would have benefited the government. Yet President Daniel Moi agreed with Dr. Leakey to burn the ivory as a gesture to end poaching and well as show respect for conservationists.

That day of the burning ceremony it caught the attention of the media throughout the world; also a mammoth crowd arrived, including conservations, researchers, diplomats, local people, also, obviously, President Moi and Dr. Leakey. That day was a notable day in the history of conservation of endangered animals. Incidents like these deliver a strong message; “Please don’t buy ivory and when the buying stops the killing can too”.

The county which has the biggest demand for ivory is China. In China, 90% of ivory which comes to the country comes without any permits, which means illegally. Recently when a secret probe was carried out by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), with hidden cameras it was revealed that the ivory traders agree that the ivory what they get is from the black market. The Customs officers could be bribed for $100,000 for each container (the full documentary could be watched in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DFN-YNOA9I). It is disclosed further that not even 10% of the ivory is legal.

So the main factor which should be stopped is the buyer. In a survey done in China, there were several people who were ignorant that elephants are killed for ivory. Those people believed that the tusks of the elephant fall naturally, like teeth, which could be collected by traders without harming the animal and be brought to China. So, it clearly shows that awareness should be raised internationally to stop elephants been poached. I believe one of the best awareness programmes could be carried out in Sri Lanka since it is rich in ivory.

38,000 elephants killed

Every year around 38,000 elephants are killed by poachers. Their tusks are hacked off, smuggled to foreign countries and turned into materials, such as, carvings, trinkets and jewellery. Not only animal suffer from the ivory trade, but park rangers, patrol scouts, conservationist and well as researchers. Today the endangered African animals that survive are a result of hard work, dedication, love and care. There are even incidents where anti-poaching squads sacrifice their lives. Also, there was a time when tourists were robbed, threatened and even killed by poachers but with the correct reaction from KWS, the situation has improved. Sri Lankan anti-poaching activists say that since the elephant’s tusks only signify wealth, accumulation and desire; all of them are against the precepts of Buddhism.

Why ivory in temples why should we keep ivory in temples, when the sources are brutally killed elephants and tusks hacked off them? Poachers sometimes don’t get their chance to get the tusks from every elephant they kill because of the different methods of poaching. This reminds me of an elephant called Recliance, in Buffalo Springs Reserve, Kenya, who was said to be a senior matriarch of a herd. She was attacked by poachers but managed to escape; yet was critically injured. It was so awful to see how much the elephant was suffering, fallen, shivering. It seemed that every breath was a big struggle. Since she was suffering, she was pulled out of misery by a park ranger, from a single bullet at the nervous system.

There are lots of tragic incidents which have happened and are continuing. This is a serious battle in Africa, if we don’t do anything about it, it can make the elephants vanish off the earth soon. So which option is better- for tusks to be in temples, where they would be merely standing, or burn them and make the world aware of the crisis, which would prove a factor in stopping the illegal ivory trade

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