If you have taken a trip to Mannar, the donkeys would have added much excitement to your sightseeing. These donkeys have made Mannar their home for centuries. The entry of donkeys to the island dates back to the Portuguese and Dutch periods. Although they were not native to the island, donkeys have been used to transport goods from one end to the other and have lived closely with people over the years. But with the increasing number of human settlements and opening up of new agricultural lands, donkeys posed a threat to people. Hence the once domesticated the animal turned into a feral population. Donkeys are also found in Kalpitiya, but they are associated with a different story. However, during the recent past, donkeys are being killed for meat and the flesh is being sold in the guise of beef. As more deaths have occurred and with more animals with signs of human brutality roaming in the area, animal lovers and activists have raised concerns about the threats to these donkeys, already low in numbers.
Hence the Daily mirror sheds light on the importance of conserving this once important animal which has been ignored today.
The land of donkeys
Mannar boasts of a rich heritage that dates back to the Portuguese and the Dutch periods. With the remnants of the Doric House and a Fort built inland, it’s quite clear that the area was once a busy port, trading goods in and out of the island. As it opened doors for many merchants, it is said that the donkeys were introduced by Arabian traders. With that, donkeys became family to the people of Mannar and are closely linked with Dhobi families (Families engaged in the laundry business). The donkeys were also used as the local taxi service, carrying wives and children to their various destinations. Historical accounts suggest that each family had had between 10-20 animals to transport cloth packs from one pond to the other. What began as such a rich culture has seen the downward spiral of the donkey population during the recent past. Today, the beasts of burden have literally become a burden to people as they damage agriculture.
Donkeys are also found in Kalpitiya and experts opine that they are a premium population. This is because they are wild and have not been exposed to urban settings. This could also be one reason why they are being killed for meat at a rate. Due to increasing human settlements they are deprived of their natural habitats and therefore make their way into schools and shops, disturbing human activities.
Wounds have infected their brains :
We then wrote a letter urging the authorities to probe the matter. When we were treating the animals the Police also came to check on us
Speaking to the Daily mirror , Iresha Weerasinghe, an animal lover who got to know about a wounded donkey, sent a team to Kalpitiya to treat the animal. “It was then that we found out that there were more wounded donkeys. We then got to know that people are selling donkey meat as beef and it has been happening for the past two decades. However donkey meat is a delicacy in China. Initially there had been 200-250 donkeys in the area, but now the numbers have reduced to around 80-100. We sent a letter to the Department of Wildlife Conservation but were told that they are unprotected animals. We are also going to send a letter to the Divisional Secretariat urging them to probe the matter. When we were treating the animals the Police also came to check on us. Mannar is famous for its donkeys and they were brought from abroad for trading purposes,” said Weerasinghe.
Weerasinghe added that four to five donkeys had wounds which were in rather bad conditions. “These were animals that have escaped from the butcher’s knife. Their wounds had worms and have infected their brains,” she went on.
In situ conservation is the best approach :
Punishment could be imprisonment or a fine or both. When speaking about Delft ponies and donkeys in the Mannar Peninsula one could do either in situ or ex situ conservation
However the Daily mirror learned that the wild donkey is protected under Section 30 sub-section 1 of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance. “Therefore, killing, selling of flesh or any cruelty towards the animal are punishable offenses,” said environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardana. “Punishment could be imprisonment or a fine or both. When speaking about Delft ponies and donkeys in the Mannar Peninsula one could do either in situ or ex situ conservation. But I suggest that in situ conservation is the best approach which is to allocate a separate land in the same habitat. On the other hand ex situ is where they are removed from their original habitat and taken to another location and bred,” explained Gunawardana.
Bridging Lanka :
A haven for donkeys in Mannar
As the donkey population faced serious threats to their survival, a team from Donkey Sanctuary India has visited Mannar to undertake an initial assessment of the condition of donkeys. With an aim to bring the large feral and abandoned donkey population in urban and rural areas back to health and prominence, Bridging Lanka, a non-governmental organization came into operation.
Introducing the country’s first donkey-assisted therapy centre for differently-abled children including children with speech disabilities, the organisation is taking greater efforts towards the welfare of donkeys in the area. It also includes a donkey adoption programme, donkey relocation and welfare programme, volunteer animal care programme, school and community awareness campaigns and capacity building of veterinary staff.
Sri Lankans have less equine knowledge:
Donkeys face threats due to various reasons. They are being killed for meat and because they damage crops and agriculture
“Bridging Lanka is very concerned about the diminishing donkey population in Kalpitiya,” said Jeremy Liyanage, Director of the Organisation. “Donkeys face threats due to various reasons. They are being killed for meat, they are killed because they damage crops and agriculture, they die due to accidents on the road particularly because they are very invisible and there’s less lighting on the streets, they get wounded and there’s nobody to look after them and they feed on plastics and some of these materials don’t pass through their systems and they die a slow, painful death. Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot and the local donkey populations haven’t had exposure to other donkey populations in the world. This makes them unique. Donkeys have shared the culture and traditions with people in Mannar for years. It is believed that a donkey’s breath has healing properties. There was one case when a small girl was brought to our therapy centre. The father said that she was very sick and had brought her to our centre as a last resort. A donkey spent half an hour breathing on the girl and there was a rapid recovery.” reminisced Liyanage.
“In addition, donkey milk is quite close to human milk,” Jeremy said, adding, “It’s highly nutritious and is used in various parts of the world including Europe”.
According to Liyanage there are two types of donkeys in Kalpitiya; feral and wild. “Feral populations were once domestic animals that are now wild. They have been exposed to urban settings. Wild donkeys on the other hand are found in remote parts in Kalpitiya that are healthy and are in good conditions. Hence they are a premium population,” he added.
Bridging Lanka conducts an extensive programme dedicated towards the welfare of donkeys. At the donkey-assisted therapy centre donkeys are being used as therapy to treat differently-abled children. The donkey clinic and community education centre is involved in treating many donkeys that are in bad shape. The donkey rescue teams go out every day and bring back injured donkeys for treatment.
Liyanage further said that killing donkeys for meat is already happening in Mannar. “They are being taken out of the district to coconut farms because the donkeys’ dung keeps the coconut beetle away. But people in Sri Lanka have less equine knowledge and they don’t know how to look after the animals once taken out of their habitat. So they die after some time. Therefore it is important to spread awareness among the community as to why donkeys need to be protected. Any perpetrators should be arrested. People don’t have a positive attitude towards the donkeys and therefore they show cruelty towards the animal. I suggest that people could look at starting more services similar to ours and consider the well-being of these animals. After all it is important to have a safe place for donkeys in the current situation,” he added.
Kalpitiya DS denies donkeys are killed for meat
When contacted, an official at the Kalpitiya Divisional Secretariat told the Daily mirror that it denies allegations about donkeys being killed and sold for meat. “Kalpitiya has a 90% Muslim population and it is difficult to believe that they are killing donkeys for meat,” said Hajid, the Head of Management at the Kalpitiya DS. When asked about the wounds, he said that those wounds occur during the mating season when male donkeys fight with each other. “Those wounds are rather brutal. In fact we have sent a team to Mannar and are working on setting up a conservation centre for donkeys which will also boost tourism in the area,” added Hajid.
The Daily mirror also spoke to the Kalpitiya Police who also said that they are not aware of such activities happening in the area.