Conservationists fear court order returning trafficked elements to their owners will encourage more wildlife crime

Environmentalists in Sri Lanka are challenging a court order issued earlier this month that would allow the return of 14 illegally captured wild elephants to people accused of buying them from traffickers, the Associated Press reports.

Rights groups and lawyers say the Sept. 6 court order is based on a government decree that violates Sri Lankan environmental laws. They fear the order could encourage a resurgence of trafficking of wild elephants, putting them at risk.

On Thursday, the same magistrate court in the capital Colombo refused to reverse the order to release the elephants, said lawyer Ravindranath Dabare, who filed the motion. He said they would now go to higher courts.

Elephants are revered because they have been an essential part of religious and cultural festivals in Sri Lanka for many centuries. They are especially sacred for Buddhists, who account for 70% of the country’s 22 million people, because they are believed to be servants of Buddha and a previous incarnation of Buddha himself.

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