14th Tsunami Memorial Reception 2018


The Sri Lankan elephant: It is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to Sri Lanka. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. The species is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.  

An average male adult Sri Lankan elephant may reach 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches) in shoulder height and weigh 5,500 kilograms (12,125 pounds). Females are much smaller.

Today, the Sri Lankan elephant is considered to be an animal that is in immediate danger of becoming extinct due to the fact that Sri Lankan elephant populations have been declining at a critical rate.

This Sri Lankan subspecies (elephas maximus maximus) is confined to the island of Sri Lanka (65,605 square kilometres/ 25,332 square miles) off the southern coast of India. Although there is no accurate census available, it is estimated that about 4500-5000 elephants are still found in the wild, and a further 150 odd in captivity. It occupies a variety of habitats from open grasslands to forested regions, including open savannah, wet areas of marshes and lake shores. The IUCN Red List categorizes the Asian elephant as an Endangered Species.

 Sri Lanka is rich in tropical forests. But due to population growth, urbanisation, and the subsequent expansion into previously unspoiled areas, the elephants’ habitat is rapidly shrinking. Each year, about 150 wild elephants and more than 50 people are killed in clashes in Sri Lanka: similar figures to India, with a population of 1 billion inhabitants, 60 times that of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan elephant population is now largely restricted to the dry zone in the north, east and southeast of Sri Lanka. Elephants are present in Udawalawe National Park, Yala National Park, Lunugamvehera National Park, Wilpattu National Park and Minneriya National Park but also live outside protected areas. It is estimated that Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants in Asia. Human-elephant conflict is increasing due to conversion of elephant habitat to settlements and permanent cultivation. 

In the early 1900s, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 elephants roamed wild on the island. But big game hunting, poaching and the loss of habitat due to human activities such as deforestation for farming have taken their toll.

By 2000 more than 10,000 elephants were found distributed all over the island. These numbers were rapidly depleted, firstly due to poaching for ivory, and subsequently because of rapid development and deforestation, which in turn increased the conflict between man and elephant. The remaining few thousands are confined to the national parks, while a large proportion are strewn around in the north-eastern and eastern areas, outside the protected areas. It is estimated that up to some 60% of the wild population live outside the National wild life parks.

A recent survey of Sri Lanka’s wild elephants has a population 5,879– slightly higher than a previous official estimate 5,350. 

Background – There is an alarming increase of Elephant deaths in the recent months in Sri Lanka. More than twelve elephants were killed in train accidents recently along the Colombo – Batticaloa train line. 

According to the train drivers, there are no speed metres in the trains and no adequate headlights. But it was also found that some train drivers failed to observe speed limits.

Elephants cross along this line and are killed mostly during night time.

There have also been more elephant deaths in the last few months due to the increase of “Hakka Pattas” bombs. This is a crude bomb hidden within parcels of food. It explodes in the mouths of elephants mouths when they try to eat it, with horrendous consequences. Elephants are being killed in a horrific, agonizing and inhumane manner. We all must help to save these innocent, gentle creatures from this horrible pain and suffering. 

Tragically there are the large number of human casualties caused by human conflict with elephants, in terms of deaths, dreadful injuries and psychological trauma. There is also massive damage done to human habitation, in terms of cultivated land, homes and livelihoods.

There were an estimated 5800 elephants in Sri Lanka according to the 2011 survey. The number of annual elephants’ deaths are alarming. There is a real risk that the Sri Lankan elephant might be extinct unless action is taken immediately.

Year No of elephant deaths No of Human deaths Number of property damaged
2013 206 70 1262
2014 231 67 1424
2015 205 63 1226
2016 279 88 1320
2017 206 56 No data found
2018 226 to date No data found No data found

Proposed actions: 

  • Aid environmental projects to protect biodiversity and natural habitats and in particular the endangered Sri Lankan elephant.
  •  Build awareness and establish a community elephant monitoring mechanism in the elephant habitats in Sri Lanka.
  • Identify and implement elephant protection pilot programme in a selected location/s.
  • Develop habitat conservation and jungle restoration. Reverse deforestation.
  • Prevent human encroachment.
  • Educate affected communities of the economic benefit to them by the survival of wild elephants. 
  • Prevent clashes between elephants and humans and work to find ways to avoid the conflict and the devastating, at times deadly, impacts on both sides

Approach:  Advocacy, awareness building and community participation approaches to achieve our targets.

Methodology: Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka will work with the conservation community, Elephant experts, Department of Wildlife, Railway Department, local authorities and the local community groups to understand the problems, solutions and implementation methodologies and responsibilities. The selected approaches will be implemented with the support of all stakeholder groups identified during the discussions.

Implement the best practice and experience in other countries, such as planting Lemon trees, bee keeping, installing equipment to make the sound of bees, planting Palmyra fences, and community initiatives. 

Having an electric fence along the railway line and providing crossing access for elephants has already been proposed, however the agencies do not have the money to implement such a programme. 

Further, providing GPS (Global Positioning System) based speed metres to the older train; fixing more visible sign boards in the elephant crossing areas, fixing cameras or installing signaling equipment to keep elephants away are some other solutions. 

An awareness building programme has already being initiated by the CEJ and the Wildlife Department with a poster campaign on killing elephants using “Hakka Patas” bombs. This programme will continue with donations come from THE SRI LANKAN LAWYERS (U.K.) TSUNAMI APPEAL in the future. CEJ will look for other support groups once the pilot project in place.

CEJ believes that a scientific elephant management strategy is necessary to resolve these issues, however the Court of appeal refused to grant leave for the case they have taken. We are drafting the case to the Supreme court now.


  • Reduce the elephant deaths due to train accidents and “Hakka Patas” bombs etc.
  • Reduced human elephant conflicts. 
  • Habitat conservation with community involvement.

Monitoring and evaluation- CEJ board of Directors will be accountable for managing the funds and they will oversee the project designs and the implementation                               


President of The Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers in the UK (ASLLUK)

 A warm welcome to all our friends and supporters to the 14th Tsunami Reception.  This year the focus will be on the ecology of Sri Lanka.   In particular, our project is directed at wildlife conservation and the protection of the Sri Lankan elephant, which is in danger of becoming extinct. The reduction in the elephant population is distressing and alarming.  We hope to use our funds to promote this objective and to create an awareness of the critical nature of the problem.

The Tsunami Committee work tirelessly to collect funds for many worthy causes in Sri Lanka.  As most of you will know, we have in the past provided law libraries, dialysis machines and assistance for cancer patients.   My personal thanks to Lalith de Kauwe and the members of the Committee and also to our many supporters whose generosity has made all of this possible.

23rd November 2018


Ayubowan, Wanakkam, Welcome once again to Garden Court Chambers, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. London, to the 14th Tsunami Reception in remembrance of the untold victims of the 2004 Tsunami. 

Once more we light the oil lamp to symbolise hope for the future. We again light this candle in memory of those who died in the land of our birth.

It was an environmental disaster. It was the worst catastrophe in living memory in Sri Lanka. 40,000 lives were needlessly lost and unimaginable horror unleashed on thousands of defenceless people.

Such loss of lives and destruction was avoidable. At least the full force of the Tsunami could have been reduced, if only there had not been coastal degradation. If only the coral reefs, mangroves and sand dunes had not been removed.

Sadly, the coral reefs are gone. Coral reefs are extremely important in terms of coastal defence, resilience building against climate change, sustainable livelihood and contribution to the economy had been destroyed. 

This year, working in partnership with Friends of the Justice Earth and the Centre for Environmental, Sri Lanka, which is a powerful means to bring about real, lasting progress, we are working to protect biodiversity and the Sri Lankan elephant. The Tsunami charity is raising funds to support the Centre for Environmental Justice, the sister organization of the Friends of the Earth.

So what are the main environmental issues that affect Sri Lanka?

We need to listen to the voice of science and reason. We need to support Friends of the Earth and the Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka and listen to people like Dr. Eric Wikramanayake, Conservation Biologist, who knows what he is talking about.  

“Coral reefs and mangroves are the first line of defence against storm and wave surges which are now going to increase with climate change. We see an increase in the number of high intense cyclones, tornadoes and hurricanes with climate change. It’s a pattern that is very clear” 

Therefore, in the name of all that is compassionate and merciful, and before it is too late, let us act for  Environmental Justice.

“We are losing our natural resources. We are losing our forests and coral reefs. There is conversion in a very ad hoc and unplanned way which is going to threaten the future of the ecosystem services that support people and the development agenda. This is not just about forest conservation. This is about ecosystem degradation. Unless we plan our development in such a way that we integrate ecosystem conservation into the development plans, development is going to be unsustainable especially because climate change is also being felt. It’s going to be worse and even more intense in the future which is going to affect the people. The conservation message now isn’t about elephants, leopards or bears. It’s about protecting ecosystems and ecosystem functions. If you do that you will take care of all the species. So we need to think about systems now and not just species”. 

“Our mangrove forests are depleting. What is the importance of mangroves?   
A lot of mangroves in Sri Lanka are being cleared to build aqua culture prawns. Historically we have seen that prawn farms are short lived and not sustainable. Within five years disease sets in and the prawn farms are abandoned. If you look at the coastal landscape from Mundalam to Puttalam for instance, the mangroves were cleared back in the 1980s. They started prawn farms. They did not last long. This is a phenomenon not only in Sri Lanka, but elsewhere in Asia too. So prawn farms are not sustainable.”   

“Once you clear the mangroves you lose an important nursery where you have the shrimp, the crab and the fish. If you have the mangroves you’re sustaining the fishery off-shore. In Fiji for instance, they are very strict about conserving mangrove because the communities have realised the importance of having those mangroves to sustain the fishery. In Vidattaltivu which is a nature reserve near Mannar, there is a plan to clear 3,000 hectares of mangrove. This is our largest mangrove forest. If you talk to the fishermen, there is an artisanal fishery just off-shore. They have realised that it is those mangrove areas that sustain the fishery. So they won’t touch the mangrove. If some company comes and clears the mangrove and pitch in prawn farms, in five years that’ll be ruined. The viability of those ponds will be lost in about five years. That company will make money and leave while those poor fishermen will be left stranded with no livelihood. That entire ecosystem is going to be destroyed. The reason they want to clear that mangrove and put in prawn farms is to increase productivity, so they can tap into the European market which has increased our fish quota after the GSP + restrictions were lifted. But if you read the GSP+ regulations it says that you cannot violate any international covenants and conventions. Clearing those mangrove forests will be a clear violation of our commitments to the Convention on Biodiversity”.   

The Tsunami opened our eyes, ours ears and our hearts. 


Let us act to protect mother nature from obscene destruction and the awesome Sri Lankan elephant from extinction. Let us do it, by halting and reversing the obscene degradation and loss of ecosystems.  Let us do it by preventing deforestation and encroachment. Exploitation and unsustainable development by big companies that want to make short term, mega profits from growing prawn factories or palm oil threaten to decimate this very fragile ecosystem. This does not have to be so. Through right thought and right action this obscenity can and must be halted.  

Listen all who have ears. Since 1986, the noble Sri Lankan elephant ‘Elephas maximus maximus’ has been listed as endangered by IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature). 

This beautiful, gentle animal cannot speak for itself. The Sri Lankan elephant population has alarmingly declined by at least 50% over the last three generations. This unique species of elephant is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. Guard and defend them.

We hope that young lawyers will step forward and take up the cause of Environmental Justice and take up a career in environmental law and become the environmental advocates of the future, to provide environmental protection and access to justice. We demand that barristers’ chambers and solicitors’ firms provide access to environmental justice by training and recruiting lawyers to undertake this work.

As we commemorate the 14th anniversary of the Tsunami, we are grateful to Garden Court Chambers for the generous support in hosting and sponsoring this event. 

We also thank the Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers and in particular all the members of the Tsunami Committee past and present who tirelessly volunteered their services over these years. And most of all the many, small people who generously supported and assisted us. We say “bohama isthuthi” – Thank you.

Lalith de Kauwe, Barrister. Garden Court Chambers.

Chair Tsunami Committee, Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers in the UK. 23rd November 2018.


As the General Secretary of the Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers in the UK (ASLLUK) I am delighted to provide this message in support of the 14th Tsunami Memorial Reception of the SRI LANKAN LAWYERS (U.K.) TSUNAMI APPEAL. The Tsunami Appeal is a Charity registered (Registered No. 1108341) in the UK and is affiliated to the ASLLUK. 

ASLLUK of which the current members include: barristers, solicitors, attorneys-at-law, law students, paralegals, academics, indoor and outdoor clerks, students as well as others who are associated with the legal field; aims to provide a common forum in the legal field to facilitate interaction and exchange of ideas with a view to assisting each other; including providing continuing education and interaction with professional bodies such as the Bar Council, the Law Society and other focus groups.

Although the “Tsunami Appeal” was established in the aftermath of 2004 tsunami on the initiative taken by the ASLLUK to assist the victims, in particular the affected children, our charity has continued to raise funds for the last 14 years and funded very worthy causes in the areas of education, medical and environment in Sri Lanka. A few examples of such recent projects are as follows: 

  1. Donating CRRT Dialysis Machine to Kidney patients in Anuradhapura Hospital;
  2. Donation of Infusion Pumps for cancer patients in Maharagama, Karapitiya and Thellippilai Hospitals;
  3. Financial scholarships to underprivileged Law College and Law Faculty Students;
  4. Donation of Law Books to public libraries; 

All these projects have been very successful, and it is this achievement that gives us the courage, strength and hope to continue raising funds for similar projects in our motherland for the forceable future. 

All the funds raised at this event will be utilised to support the endangered Sri Lankan elephant population, biodiversity and natural habitats in Sri Lanka.  I therefore humbly request all of you to donate generously to sponsor this worthy cause which unfortunately is not in the priority list of the Sri Lankan authorities. Your assistance will go a long way in ensuring the protection and conservation of this endangered magnificent animal that add beauty, pride and majesty to the rich biodiversity of the nature and culture of Sri Lanka.  

Daminda KG GOONETILLAKE, General Secretary, ASLLUK