Sri Lanka govt, private outfits linked to illegal wildlife trade
ECONOMYNEXT – Organised criminals doing a thriving illegal wildlife trade in Sri Lanka are operating with the connivance of certain government and private sector institutions, a former senior Customs officer has charged.
Sri Lanka has become a transit point for the illegal trade in wildlife given its location on the main East-West trade route and good shipping connections, said Samantha Gunasekera, former Deputy Director of Customs.
The island is also one of the world’s top eight biodiversity hotspots, with criminals targeting many species because of their ornamental or medicinal value or colour, he told a forum on how to tackle illegal trade in wildlife organised by Sri Lanka biodiversity enthusiasts.
“In Sri Lanka, certain government and private institutions have connections with organised crime – wildlife criminals,” said Gunasekera, who was in charge of the Customs Biodiversity, Cultural & National Heritage Protection Division.
Many targeted plant species are well documented, especially medicinal plants, given their commercial value, he told the forum conducted jointly by Sri Lanka biodiversity enthusiasts, the Environmental Professionals of Sri Lanka, and the Base for Enthusiasts of Environmental Science and Zoology, a student body at the University of Colombo.
The concentrated distribution of targeted species also made it easier for criminals, Gunasekera said.
Many endemic species are distributed in the south-western part of Sri Lanka in small forest patches where human population is high.
“That makes it easy to collect, especially by foreigners, who have contacts with locals, knowledgeable people who know where it is so they can collect within a few hours.”
The latest move by local environmentalists comes as it was found that Sri Lanka is being used by the illegal wildlife traders operating between Africa and the East Asian region as a point of their operations, the forum organisers said.
“Sri Lanka is strategically located in one of the busiest international shipping routes in the Indian Ocean and most of the container ships, particularly between Africa and the Gulf region, to the East Asian region, pass through the Colombo Port,” they said in a note.
“A growing illegal wildlife trade between Africa and the East Asian region takes place on this shipping lane.”
This is proven through detection and seizure in 2012 by Sri Lanka Customs of a blood ivory container with 359 pieces on board weighing 1.5 tonnes, en-route to Dubai from Kenya.
Another seizer of a massive consignment of 28 container loads of Madagascar Dalbergia timber (Rose Wood) worth $7million, which was being transported from Zanzibar to Hong Kong via Sri Lanka in 2014 has also been recorded.
(Colombo/June 13 2016)