Sri Lankan elephant census faces boycott by conservationists

Wildlife groups will boycott Sri Lanka's first census of elephants because they fear the count is a smokescreen for capturing and domesticating the animals.

The Wildlife Department said it will go ahead with the count from tomorrow to gather information on the population and help prepare conservation policies. About 20 wildlife groups had agreed to deploy about 200 volunteers to help the department count the animals. But they announced yesterday they were withdrawing their support after the Wildlife Minister, SM Chandrasena, was quoted as saying 300 young elephants will be captured and handed over to Buddhist temples after the census.

"This is actually a smokescreen to capture wild elephants when they are young, specially tuskers, and take them for domestication," said Rukshan Jayawardene, chairman of Wildlife Conservation Forum. He feared that most of these animals would not end up in temples, but "in private residences working long hours".