Hearing of the increasing protests against the inhuman treatment of animals at the Dehiwala Zoo the Daily Mirror set out to investigate the matter by visiting the zoo and observing the living conditions of the animals. We spoke to the relevant authorities, environmentalists, activists and conservationists and were able to gather their opinions on the maintenance and management of the zoo.
The zoo is around 2-3 acres, therefore space becomes a perennial issue
We need to wait for another 2 years and see how the zoo progresses
Perceptions need to change
Jagath Gunawardene - Senior Environmental Lawyer
Senior environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardene spoke on the problems observed in the zoo. He showed us through an environmental perspective that the Dehiwala zoo, being in a residential area, conformed to the legalities of the criteria that are set down for any residential area zoo. We inquired about the problems that the Daily Mirror observed in our investigation.
The initial issue was the dirty water or in some cases the lack of water given to the animals, he said, “ The ways and means that the zoo gives water is specific to the animal. Some animals also prefer algae infested waters. However, the zoo changes the water of the animals on a daily basis.”
Space requirements for most animals are insufficient
A thirsty Lion cub drinking from the pond in its enclosure.
We inquired on whether this compromised the comfort of the animal. He said, “ That is a common problem in almost all the zoos. Though animals are given similar conditions of their environment in the wild, space is a problem. The zoo is around 2-3 acres, therefore space becomes a perennial issue. If we observe it from an animal rights point of view, we can present many ideological arguments. But, what we need to expect from the zoo is if they can make an environment which does not create tension within the animal. There is another problem, whenever an animal has a confined place to itself, most visitors complain stating that the animal is difficult to observe. Rather than the zoo, it is the perception of the people that need to change in the context of Sri Lanka. For instance, the zoo has a conflicted attitude towards the elephant dance, but the visitors, especially children want the dance. Personally I don’t want animals doing things that are unnatural to their behaviour. There was a time when the dances were stopped because the elephants were not healthy. But, people complained and recovered the dances. Therefore the authorities are in a vulnerable position where they have to cater to many types of people. We need to also understand that one of the main authorities of the zoo is the Ministry of Tourism. Their aim was to maximize visitation and make the zoo a tourist objective. Thus, they were not very keen in accommodating the idea of making the zoo a more animal friendly place. Now fortunately they do not have as much control.”
"The treasury is not allocating enough funds for the functioning of the zoo. Since the zoo generates a large amount of income, it goes directly into the treasury. "
He added, “ Another problem is that the treasury is not allocating enough funds for the functioning of the zoo. Since the zoo generates a large amount of income, it goes directly into the treasury. The treasury, however has the discretion on the amount of funds that they should allocate to the zoo.”
He also spoke of the behavioural patterns of the animals that could be observed in the zoo, “ If we take crocodiles for example they are usually inactive animals. Lethargy is their way of life. But, in every zoo the animals are exposed to the public coming close to them. This induces high amounts of stress in the animals. The London zoo is notorious for that factor. Therefore, most zoos have hidden enclosures, where when animals feel stressed out they can retreat to that enclosure. At the moment the zoo is at a cross road where they are in the process of changing the caged concept to the enclosure concept. We need to wait for another 2 years and see how the zoo progresses.”
Mr. Gunawardene also showed that most environmental authorities such as himself directly spoke to the zoo authorities when they saw a problem. He said that the zoo authorities were prompt in their action in rectifying the problem.
“We should put an end to this exhibition of animals. It is absolutely cruel.”
Sagarika Rajakarunanayake - Animal Rights Activist
Animal rights activist, Sagarika Rajakarunanayake stood by her stance against zoos,”The concept of a Zoo is contrary to the freedom that animals should have. I think that the sooner that this country decides we should not have caged and imprisoned animals it will be better for us as a country compassionate to animals and for the animals.”
“We should put an end to this exhibition of animals. It is absolutely cruel. Even though authorities say that they’ve been given more room they are all in enclosures, at the end of the day they are all prisoners.”
Speaking of the attitude of the authorities of the zoo Ms. Rajakarunanayake said, “Throughout, animal rights activists and animal lovers have voiced their opinion on the treatment of the zoo animals and zoo authorities have been forced to adopt more liberal actions/attitudes. But that’s not good enough. Because the welfare and the compassionate treatment of animals is not left to animal rights activists and animal lovers. The people who run the zoo should have a deep concern for their animals and the feelings of these animals. They should be the first to defend their cause. What happens usually in the Zoo is, if some wrong has been done to an animal, it is either hidden by the authorities or it is said that the animal is at fault. Instead of looking into the issue and inquiring about it, they take a defensive stance.”
"If the elephants are swaying or moving their faces from side to side it is a sign of stress"
She further stated that the message we send to children is important,“We should not keep imprisoned animals, especially since we’re giving a wrong message to our younger generation, especially from rural areas where they think that animals should be caught from their habitat and caged for some people’s pleasure.”
Commenting on the behaviour of the animals she said, “If the elephants are swaying or moving their faces from side to side it is a sign of stress. They are not in a happy situation. And half an hour of exercise per day is not enough, they are not humans. Elephants need a free and spacious environment, at least where they can move around and not be closely chained. The animals and those in charge should have a very close relationship and there should be a lot of love and affection.”
A Hippo is confined to a small enclosure
“We made animal friendly enclosures.”
Dhammika Malsinghe - Director General of the Zoological Department
The Director General of the Zoological Department Dhammika Malsinghe said there was a ‘master plan’ underway in support of the welfare of animals. “We have removed old cages and have made animal friendly enclosures. We have made five such enclosures for the Bengal Tiger, rusty spotted cat (Kola diviya), fishing cat and several other animals. These areas are more spacious for them to roam and there is very minimum steel used,” she said.
"We are constructing new places for Chimpanzees in old concrete cages"
Referring to the construction going on currently she said that the places where tigers and lions were previously housed which led to much criticism, have now been demolished to create suitable lodging for Sudu viyagrayas and jaguars. “We are constructing new places for Chimpanzees in old concrete cages. We also hope to minimize fences and enlarge the area that houses deer, so it is more spacious,” she said. “The Animal Hospital and the animal park are to be reconstructed in line with modern technology. We have been constructing a free area for elephants for several years. It has been delaying due to several reasons. But we hope to end construction this year. Then elephants will not be tied up and instead they will be able to roam about freely,” she added.
“Drinking water is provided daily. We change pond water regularly but the frequency depends on the animal. The water in ponds for hippos is changed daily. The water in the bathing ponds for elephants is changed once in three days,” she said.
“Lethargic behaviour is not normal in animals”
Dr. Eranda Rajapaksha - Senior Lecturer of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Science - University of Peradeniya
We inquired from Dr. Eranda Rajapaksha - Senior Lecturer of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Science - Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science - University of Peradeniya on a scientific explanation on lethargic behaviour that was apparent in zoo animals.
"Lethargic behaviour is not normal in animals. This is not happening only in the Dehiwala Zoo"
“Lethargic behaviour is not normal to be seen in animals. This is not happening only in the Dehiwala Zoo. I have been to more than 50 zoos in the world and except for a very few zoos, many animals show this lethargic behaviour due to the confinement, frustration and boredom. The prominent cause is that it is not their natural habitat. Even in the safari parks like San Diego, animals are restricted to a certain level. Animals show their boredom in different behaviours. Some animals show stereotypic behaviour - they keep repeating the same action, specially lions and bears, keep walking from wall to wall is an example. Some animals look like stargazing, and rocking in elephants are examples of stereotypic behaviour. There are other sets of animals that are undergoing stress.They are very inactive because they see no point in moving.” he explained.
“Their food preferences are wide. Some animals should be supplied with fresh food as they dislike stale food.” Finally commenting on the night time park concept, Dr Eranda pointed out how disturbing it can be for animals, specially for nocturnal animals.
Construction underway for enclosures for the new Jaguars
Pix by Nisansala Dissanayaka
“Zoo issue should be a matter for CID and International police”
Rukshan Jayawardhana – Conservationist
“Dehiwala Zoo should be closed down and we should go for the open sanctuary concept that is currently being used by countries like Costa Rica. In that way the animals and tourism both can be saved,” Rukshan Jayawardhana, Conservationist and the President of Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka.
"The Zoo cannot be developed until the government takes stringent action against the continuing situation"
“The Zoo cannot be developed until the government takes stringent action against the continuing situation. The former government appointed director is a heartless person who has no caring attitude for animals or their welfare,” he said.
“There are some people in the higher management who take advantage in using the zoo and its activities for economic gains. Innocent animals are caged, abused, smuggled and the animals have died. And elephant dances are an act of cruelty. Six months ago the government appointed a committee to investigate the zoo but still no results have been produced. The Dehiwala Zoo has caught wild animals that were kept in the zoo for a while and then traded to foreign countries, which is an illegal act. Illegal wildlife is the third multi billion dollar making trade in the world. Actually this zoo issue should be a matter of CID and International police,” he added.