Sri Lanka arrests Buddhist monk for keeping elephant

COLOMBO, March 9, 2016 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s police Wednesday arrested a high-profile monk for keeping an illegally captured baby elephant, in violation of strict laws protecting the animal in the mainly Buddhist nation.

The Buddhist monk, Uduwe Dhammaloka, was taken into custody by the Criminal Investigations Department on a charge of possessing an elephant without a licence.

Elephants are regarded as sacred in Sri Lanka and their capture in the wild is illegal, although many people own domesticated elephants under special permits, as a symbol of wealth.

The monk, a popular preacher and former member of parliament, was presented at the Magistrate’s Court in Colombo, which ordered that he be remanded in custody till March 17, a court official told reporters.

The authorities seized Dhammaloka’s baby elephant from his temple in January last year and it is being cared for at the country’s main elephant orphanage in central Sri Lanka. He was arrested following an investigation.

The saffron-robed monk last week told reporters that he had found the two-year-old elephant abandoned at his temple in Colombo in 2014.

"I did not capture the elephant, it was left at my temple," he said.

Wildlife officials say it is extremely rare to find a stray baby elephant in the wild.

Poachers usually kill the mother to snatch the young, which can fetch over 10 million rupees ($70,000).

Wild elephants are considered state property and capturing them is a criminal offence that carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

An elephant survey in August 2011 showed the country had 7,379 elephants living in the wild, including about 1,100 babies. The country boasted 12,000 elephants in 1900.