Sri Lanka To Protect Domesticated Elephants: When Do We Enact The Animal Welfare Bill?

By Avanthi Jayasuriya

On November 22nd the Cabinet approved a bill focusing on elephants kept domestically. The regulations that were proposed by Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera included also a set of guidelines that should be adhered to by those seeking to rear domestic elephants. Some of the main areas of focus underlined include,  formalizing the way to maintain the places elephants are kept, maintaining their health, responsibilities of their owners and caretakers, caring of baby elephants born to such female elephants, deploying elephants in work, reproduction, using for perahera and video shootings, and attires for elephants. This proposal also falls under amendments to the Flora and Fauna Act No.22 of 2009.

Speaking on the recently approved Bill Ms. Deepani Jayantha, Veterinarian, Country Coordinator of Elemotion said, “Some of Sri Lanka’s recent developments and steps taken on securing elephant conservation and welfare is commendable. But with legislation, there is also the need for enforcement. I hope the implementation of the proposed Bill for the protection of elephants will come into effect soon.”

While due appreciation is given to the positive change towards the treatment of elephants by seeking to prevent them from being subjected to cruelty, it also needs to be noted that it has been almost a year since the Cabinet approval for the draft Animal Welfare Bill was received. Unfortunately the Bill still remains at the Legal Draftsman’s office while many animal welfare activists eagerly await its enactment. Almost a decade in the making, the draft bill was approved by the Cabinet following the public consultation that was last held in 2015. Following the proposed changes received by the public consultation, the Cabinet approval for the Bill was received on January 13, 2016. There onwards the Bill was passed to the legal draftsman for the changes to be incorporated into the Bill, and for it to be drafted with the changes included.

The last amendment to the law addressing cruelty to animals that Sri Lanka has seen, was in 1955. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907 under which welfare of animals is taken into consideration is over a century old, with outdated fines, and the implementation being on a rare occasion and therefore, is in need of urgent reforms.

Attorney-at-Law, Vositha Wijenayake, Convener of Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka said, “The AWC is appreciative of the changes proposed to safeguards elephants from being subjected to cruelty which were approved by the Cabinet. It is equally important to know when the proposed law on animal welfare will be enacted. This Bill has been on its way to get to this point for a very long time. I think everyone is eager to know when this could turn into law which will help uphold animal welfare in Sri Lanka.”

Civil Society Organisations and actors have highlighted the need for more humane animal welfare laws in the country for many years. As a result of these calls, the draft Animal Welfare Bill was tabled in Parliament. The Bill was presented to the parliament in October, 2010 by Venerable Athuruliye Rathana Thero as a private member bill. The new legislation proposed has as its objective to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, and to recognise duty of care for persons in charge of animals to treat the animals humanely, to prevent cruelty to animals and to secure the protection and welfare of animals, to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority and Regulations and Codes of Practice and to raise awareness on animal welfare.
“In order to have a good animal welfare system in Sri Lanka, it is important to have duty of care for persons in charge of animals to treat animals humanely, as well as having strong laws for those who cause cruelty against animals,” said Ms. Wijenayake. “We hear stories of cruelty to animals, but without a law that is robust, it is not always helpful to take legal actions against the perpetrators who behave inhumanely and in a cruel amnner towards animals,” she added.

The Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka which was set up with the objective of advocating and lobbying for a new animal welfare bill, consists of numerous animal welfare organisations, and volunteers keen on seeing the Animal Welfare Bill enacted. The member organisations and volunteers seek to actively engage in taking actions to ensure that laws on animal welfare are efficient and effective, and to protect animals from being subjected to cruelty.

“It is important that the Animal Welfare Bill is enacted to ensure effective and efficient laws on cruelty to animals in Sri Lanka. The current law dates back to 1907, and lacks in deterrent effect which prevents protection of animals against cruelty. It is time we change these laws, and make sure that the long over due Animal Welfare Bill is passed for efficient actions against cruelty to animals,” said Vositha Wijenayake.