Dehiwala Zoo : Waning glamour, caged to suffer | Daily News

Dehiwala Zoo : Waning glamour, caged to suffer

Dehiwala Zoo, one of the oldest zoological gardens in Asia has now lost all its glamour. Row after row of small cages, some empty and some with animals cramped in very small spaces, leaves many visitors disappointed.

The zoo once boasted a diverse range of species. Maintenance of cages was very poor and some aviaries and the Bird Safari did not have birds and the butterfly section was closed. A host of reasons have reduced the number of animals housed in the zoo. While some have been taken to the Pinnawella Open Zoo. Environmentalists claim that many animals at the Dehiwala zoo have died due to poor living conditions.

For many years, animal rights activists have leveled severe criticism at zoo officials for their lack of consideration of the well-being of the animals. The issue has reached even the highest authority in the country, when leading Businesswoman and pioneering animal rights activist, Otara Gunewardene wrote to President Maithripala Sirisena last year regarding the issue. But change is slow to come. However, the push to change the model of the zoo, where animals are kept in small spaces has been slowly gaining momentum with the opening of the Pinnawela zoo.

Empty Cages

Visitors to Dehiwala zoo come from all parts of the country. Some like S. Ranjan go home dissappointed.

"I was disappointed to see empty cages. There are very few animals in the Zoo now," claimed Ranjan who came from Hatton to visit the Zoo after 10 years.

“We used to spend the whole day inside the Zoo 10 years ago but today we completed watching the animals in 1 hour,” explained Nisha.

But all empty cages is not a bad thing. Some of the animals have been taken to the Pinnawella open zoo, which is a step in the right direction, explained General Secretary of Wildlife Conservation Forum Nayanaka Ranwella. “However, many others have died due to the poor conditions at the Dehiwala zoo.”

The Zoo has not been able to maintain proper living condition for many of the animals, he claimed.

According to him, the Penguin died as the air conditioning in its enclosure was not maintained by the Zoo authorities. Fish species brought from other countries have died due to inadequate tank space.

Leading Business woman and pioneering animal rights activist, Otara Gunewardene agrees. A few weeks ago, she shared a picture of a sea lion in a small tub, kept in the Dehiwala zoo, via social media highlighting the plight of some of the animals kept there. The plight of the rest of the animals are no better, she explained.

“Snakes in glass boxes, turtles and fish who need to swim are made to stay in the same place because the spaces are so tiny.”

The animals are showing signs of stress and depression, she claims. “You can see their skin conditions, animals pacing back and forth in their cages, some virtually have given up on life. Birds and monkeys desperate to get out hang on to the bars, some staring outside hoping they can get away. Till recently there was a chimpanzee who used to be at the edge of his small cage staring out at children playing in the play area. He has now been moved to another small cage and instead a lion cub has been put in the that cage. When I went the other day he just kept walking back and forth for hours in a small box at the back because they are put away in the nights from 6.00 p.m. till morning. This is what I was told by the keeper there”.

Even visitors to the zoo have noticed the issue. R. N. Wickramasinghe, who had visited the zoo with his family, too noticed the lack facilities for the animals to live comfortably in the zoo.

“The cages do not seem to be clean,” Wickramasinghe said.

“All most all the animals look really lethargic and most of the big animals do not look as if they are being fed properly,” he said.

He pointed out that the “Zoo keepers have to be educated. The places where the animals are kept are unclean and the food is kept even before cleaning the cages.”

The zoo lacks cleanliness, claimed Lalini Dilhari from Mattakuliya who had visited the Zoo with her child and husband.

“Whenever we get a free time, we visit the Zoo to show the animals to my son. But, the whole place has lost its pleasant look,” she said.

M. N. Thahir, another zoo visitor who came all the way from Batticaloa with his family observed that if animals are being held captive in cages, they should be given a comfortable environment to live.

“The habitat of each animal differs from one another. They should be provided an environment which resembles their natural habitat but we do not see animals living comfortably in these cages,” he noted.

Stating that most of the cages are deserted, he said with the rising heat, the animals look helpless and uncomfortable in their cages.

Animals in cages, a thing of the past

The world is fast moving away from the type of zoos where the animals are kept in cages, claimed Ranwella. He highlighted that Pinnawella Zoo is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.

Gunawardene too is against caging of animals, adding that such examples are not what should be shown to children.

“I feel for what we are doing to those animals. Sitting in those small cages in such poor conditions day after day. I think we also have to realise that this type of zoo is a thing of the past. Animals behind bars in small boxes is absolutely cruel. If you check the history of our zoo, it was started by the British as a holding ground to transport animals and people to Europe and since then it has just remained. Everything about Sri Lanka from the time of the Mihintale story, was about animals and people living in Sri Lanka without fear and having their freedom,” she claimed.

Some visitors seem to agree. “This is not a better place to bring children to identify the animals said K. A. Kanthi, a preschool teacher. The behaviours of these animals are never ever observed in their wild counterparts. There is a vast difference, she said.

Ranwella pointed out that the zoo has no justification for housing the animals in such a manner when they haven’t been able even to conduct any research or observation on the animals.

“If the zoo authorities are able to at least produce one research paper after observing animal behavioural patterns in their habitat that could have amounted to some thing. In other countries, when animals have been kept in smaller spaces there has been a lot of research which has come out of it, but even that is not done in this case, giving the practice no justification at all,” he claimed. Added to this, a majority of the keepers working in the zoo are not aware of ensuring the welfare of the animals and do not have much interest in improving the current conditions, Ranwella claimed.

However, authorities claim that they have taken steps to maintain standards. Acting Director Zoological Gardens Dhammika Malsinghe dismissing the allegations said that the zoo is cleaned twice a day, every morning and evening. The enclosures are also washed everyday yet some cages smell bad because its the natural smell of the animals.

The zoo is only 23 acres and we cannot expand it. There is a space issue, Malsinghe said.

When asked about the dilapidated conditions of the cages where the cat species were kept, Malsinghe said that management has taken measures to demolish those cages and build large and specious enclosures.

“Earlier there were several exhibits of the same species of animals. Now, a big spacious enclosure is being built to keep the same species in one big area without keeping them separately. We have started building a big enclosure for big cats like the leopards. We expect it to be completed very soon,” she explained.

She said that to provide larger space for the animals, measures are being taken to send the Sri Lankan primates like monkeys to the Pinnawala Open Zoo and the remaining Exotic animals will be kept at the Dehiwala Zoo.Speaking about the empty cages, she said that some animals are moved to the Pinnawala zoo and some others are under medication.

The Daily News also observed many deer in a smaller deserted area, Malsinghe responding to it said that a grassy area for deer will be a pleasant look yet it is not possible. The issues concerning deer have been included to the action plan 2016; therefore practical measures will be taken to ensure their comfort and well-being, she assured.

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