A move by Sri Lanka to donate over 1,500 kilogrammes of ivory it seized last week to the country’s Buddhist temples has been met with stiff opposition.
According to the Sri Lankan English daily The Island, the country’s customs director Ranjan Canagasabai declared that the ivory, which was shipped from Kenya, will be shared out among temples.
“This is highly irregular,” Mr Karl Karugaba, the acting director of the Nairobi-based Lusaka Agreement, said of the decision.
The Lusaka Agreement is an intergovernmental organisation representing eight Eastern and Southern African countries tasked with enforcing laws on the illegal trade in wildlife.
“International regulations are quite clear on what to do with contraband ivory. It should be returned to the originating country unless such a country is not interested in recovering the product. In any case, they should have the courtesy of consulting Kenya, which had alerted them of the products,” Mr Karugaba said.
Another Sri Lankan customs official, Dr Neville Gunawardene, is quoted saying that although the tusks were dispatched from a Kenyan port, they had been smuggled to that country from Uganda after being stored underground for a period of about six months.
Equally alarmed by the Sri Lankan decision was the Kenya Wildlife Service. “If this is true, then it is hard to understand how investigations and issues of determining where the ivory came from will be carried out. In case arrests and prosecutions are made, the ivory will be required as exhibit,” Mr Paul Udoto told the Nation.
He said that although KWS had no claim to the ivory, since indications were that it originated from outside the country, it would be premature for an individual player to make such a unilateral decision.
According to Mr Udoto, there are many players involved in investigations to establish the source of the ivory and the criminal gangs involved.
Such investigations will include, Kenya as the port of exit, Kenya Revenue Authority, Sri Lanka, Interpol and the Lusaka Agreement.
“That cannot happen. There are laid down procedures by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and other international legal instruments,” says Ms Elizabeth Wamba, the communications manager of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Nairobi.
Sri Lankan environmentalists have also expressed anger at their government’s decision.
A local elephant researcher Manori Gunawardana said the decision was tantamount to tacitly condoning the poaching of hundreds of elephants in Africa.
“It also reflects badly on the country, because it looks as if we were trying to unjustly enrich ourselves with the illegal ivory,” an environmental lawyer and activist, Jagath Gunawardana, was quoted by The Island on Wednesday.
Sri Lankan authorities seized the consignment that was shipped from Kenya last Wednesday. According to Sri Lankan officials, the ivory marked as plastic waste was addressed to a buyer in Dubai.
The container carrying 359 pieces of ivory had originated from Kenya and was going through the main sea port of Colombo when customs agents intercepted it following a tip-off.
The Sri Lankan High Commission in Nairobi declined to comment on the issue even after being presented with the relevant newspaper articles.