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Intl. Breastfeeding Week:Two babies denied mothers’ milk

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is reported to have acted like a caring father of three sons. He has, we are told, decided to return the two baby elephants, Raju and Sindhu, cruelly held by Diyaawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela on behalf of the Asgiriya and Malwatte temples to their grieving mothers.

Today is the beginning of the International Breastfeeding Week and the Dalada Perahera is reaching its final stage. We must be ashamed as a nation that two elephant sucklings are still being denied mothers' milk in the vicinity of Sri Dalada Maligawa.

Yesterday, addressing the media in Kandy, Minister of Sports and Recreation Gamini Lokuge flanked by Diyawadana Nilame boasted that the baby elephants would not be returned. The holy and the unholy are bound to join forces to bring pressure to bear on the President to change his mind. They may argue that the two little jumbos have already been gifted to Asgiriya and Malwatte temples and as such they cannot be taken back. That is balderdash! No suckling forcibly separated from its mother could be considered a gift. It amounts to theft, to say the least.

Minister Lokuge claims that as the Cabinet had given approval for 'donating' the little jumbos to the two temples, there was no need to obtain permission from the Wildlife Department. But, everything that the Cabinet approves is not legal. Remember the Cabinet gifted a block of public land to a former president and the Supreme Court declared it illegal!

We have reason to believe that the Cabinet was not informed of the calves' age and the fact that they were still being breastfed. Had the ministers also been aware of the legal requirement that no elephant below five years of age be separated from its mother, it is doubtful that the removal of Raju and Sindhu would have been sanctioned. Therefore, President must see to it that the baby jumbos are returned to Pinnawala fast.

Meanwhile, Diyawadana Nilame Dela has cut a very pathetic figure by trying to vilify those who are campaigning against his cruel act. He is demanding to know what they have done for the Pinnawala elephants for which they have taken up the cudgels. He needs to be told that the best thing to do for those animals is to let them be. Instead of asking others whether they have done anything for elephants, he should reflect on what he has done to them. He has inflicted untold suffering on two elephant mothers and their babies. He will never be able to atone for that sin unless he immediately takes them back to Pinnawala.

Dela is reported to have asked whether animal rights activists on the warpath have at least given a 'paracetamol' tablet to the Pinnawala elephants. The legendary Uduravana, who was famous for his crackpot sayings, is dead and gone but we don't feel the loss. We have Dela to entertain us! Folks, when you visit Pinnawala next time, make sure you take some paracetamol tablets for elephants!

This country is not short of ali horu (thieves of elephants). The government has its fair share of them. President Rajapaksa must get rid of those jumbo thieves who have brought his government into disrepute, ably assisted by certain rogue ministers ever ready to compromise themselves.

We would like to refer the President to an article in this newspaper today by Srilal Mithrapala, who quotes David Sheldrick: For an elephant, the family is all important; its very existence dependent upon its mother's milk for the first two years of life and a life that should span three score years and ten, equivalent to that of man. In a perfect world that elephant life would be filled with fun and joy through the companionship of friends and a close-knit and loving family, whose love is pure and unconditional all the days of its life.

President Rajapaksa often says quoting Arahant Mahinda's advice to King Devanampiyatissa that he is only the custodian of this land and his sacred duty is to look after people and animals alike. Here is an acid test for him. He has to prove that he practises what he preaches.

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