Sri Lanka Is First Country in the World to Apologize for its Role in Illegal Ivory Trade

Written by Cole Mellino and reposted with permission from EcoWatch

This week, Sri Lanka became the fifteenth country to crush and burn its ivory stockpile and the first to formally apologize for its role in the illegal ivory trade.

“We have to apologize,” the Venerable Omalpe Sobitha Thero, the Buddhist priest who led the service, told National Geographic. “Those elephants were victimized by the cruelty of certain people. But all of human society is responsible. We destroyed those innocent lives to take those tusks. We have to ask for pardon from them.”

The ivory, comprised of 359 tusks and weighing 1.5 tons, is the country’s entire stockpile. Worth an estimated $3 million, the tusks were seized by customs authorities in May 2012 en route from Kenya to Dubai. However, DNA testing revealed that the tusks came from Tanzania.

The tusks were originally going to be donated to the Sri Dalada Maligawa Buddhist Temple, but the government changed its plans amid public outcry. According to National Geographic, critics of the plan feared the tusks would re-enter the black market and that by handing them over to a third party, the government would violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates the global wildlife trade.

Sri Lanka now joins Gabon, the Philippines, the U.S., China, France, Chad, Belgium, Hong Kong, Kenya, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Thailand, who have all destroyed stockpiles of ivory in the last four years.

The ceremony included two minutes of silence, followed by words from Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife Gamini Jayawickremea Perera, Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake and CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon.

At today’s ceremony, Scanlon said:

I would like to express my most sincere thanks to H.E. President Maithripala Sirisena for inviting me to witness the destruction of 359 pieces of confiscated African elephant ivory weighing 1,529 kilograms here in Colombo today.

Over the past 24 months we have seen countries within Africa, East and South East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America destroy stockpiles of illegally traded elephant ivory that has been seized and confiscated.

Today’s event is the first destruction of confiscated ivory in South Asia and it is the first time that such an event has included a religious ceremony to honor the elephants that were killed, which makes it a truly unique and remarkable event.

The Venerable Omalpe Sobitha Thero performed a transfer of merits, “a Buddhist ritual often done for departed relatives to honor them and help them reach a better place in their next life,” National Geographic explained.

“Buddhism and other religions don’t tolerate killing and cruelty to elephants,” Minister Perera said. “We believe in rebirth, even of elephants or household pets. It’s traditional to conduct religious rights for dead humans as well as animals.”

Photo Credit: Vikalpa | Groundviews | Maatram | CPA

66 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

Thank you, but I don't want apologies; I want action to save the animals!

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Angela K.
Angela K2 years ago

That would be too good to be true, but I do not believe it. At the moment, the poaching rate is higher than ever. The ivory price is higher as gold and "humans" are greedy... unfortunately !
By the way .... all the public destruction of ivory, is driving the price higher and higher !!!

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Carol C.
Carol C2 years ago

It is very encouraging to see Sri Lanka taking leadership on this issue in South Asia.

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mari s.
Mari S2 years ago

I hope and pray that the brutal killing of elephants, rhinos, tigers, lions -- all ivory-laden animals GENUINELY has come to a full stop in these countries. -- I cannot take the heartbreak anymore!

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor2 years ago

Apologize won't bring back what has been taken from this planet, but you can still make up for it by helping us stop this barbaric act!!!!

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Monica R.
Monica R2 years ago

Good. Now go after the hunters and poachers!

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

We don't need apologies, real or fake, we need action to stop hunters and poachers.

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Lady Kaira
None None2 years ago

thanks

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Beth Talmage
Beth Talmage2 years ago

To Ruth's point, that it is too bad that they are sorry now, after the elephants are already dead, here is something to consider: if we want people to change their thinking and behavior, we cannot then shame them making profound changes because it took them too long. If we do that, what is the incentive to change? They make huge, often brave and life-altering changes, and the people whose positions they have joined then berate them or act superior to them. It's something to consider if we hope to get the people around us to change their minds about issues that matter to us. There will be times when we got there first, but surely we weren't the very first people to come to the understanding of what was the right thing to do. Someone showed us, or modeled for us, or set a good example. If we were lucky, when we followed after them, they didn't say, "It's about time you got smart--what took you so long?"

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