By Risidra Mendis
As part of an exchange programme between the Government of Sri Lankan and the Czech Republic, three species of animals were brought to the Dehiwala Zoo a few days ago.
Among the animals that arrived at the zoo on 11 October 2012 was a pair of Przewalski horses, Komodo dragons and Nile hippos.
The three species of animals released from the Prague Zoo, were given in exchange for two female elephants – Janitha eight years and Tamara seven years, who were sent on 6 October 2012.
The animals were brought to the zoo at around 7 p.m., after their flight, which was scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m. got delayed. The crates with the animals were unloaded at around 12 p.m. and were loaded into the lorry at about 1 p.m. at the airport, prior to their arrival at the zoo.
The animals were accompanied by a veterinary surgeon from the Czech Republic, a curator and a lady reptile keeper.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Director, of the Dehiwala Zoo, Dammika Malsinghe, told Ceylon Today the animals were picked off a list issued by the Prague Zoo.
“The Nile hippos’s origins are from Africa, the Przewalski horses from Mongolia and the Komodo dragons from Indonesia. Since these are tropical animals they can survive in a climate like Sri Lanka,” Malsinghe said.
Commenting on the accommodation for the newly received animals, the Deputy Director explained that these species were put in their enclosures and can be seen by the public.
“Since we have a space problem, we had to straightaway put the Nile hippos, Przewalski horses and Komodo dragons into their enclosures,” Malsinghe said.
It is learnt that the Komodo dragons and the Przewalski horses are listed under the endangered category, whereas the Nile hippos are a bit rare.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, Education and Research Officer, Menake Pathirage, said zoo officials were instructed to feed the Nile hippos hay, apples, carrots, salads, cabbages and kankun.
“The horses were fed hay in the Czech Republic but zoo officials were told to slowly get them used to eating grass and carrots, while the Komodo dragons have to be fed on goat meat and mice once in two to three weeks,” Pathirage said.
Nile hippopotamuses grow up to 15 feet long. Males are heavier than females, weighing up to 8,000 pounds. Nile hippos stand from four and a half to five and a half feet tall.
Nile hippos live only in sub-Saharan Africa. They inhabit rivers, lakes, and wetlands from Western African countries like Guinea east to Ethiopia and South to North-Eastern South Africa.
Africa’s second largest population of Nile hippopotamuses of 30,000 in the Democractic Republic of the Congo declined in recent years by 95%, due to unregulated hunting for food and ivory.
In 2006, the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has listed Nile hippos as vulnerable.
During the day, they congregate in watery areas, and by night, hippos graze on land alone, except for mothers with attendant young, which feed together. While Nile hippos are usually sluggish on land, they can gallop at up to 30 miles per hour.
Adult hippos can stay underwater for up to five minutes while sleeping hippopotamuses can rise to the water’s surface to breathe.
The name hippopotamus means ‘river horse’ and they are the third largest land animal. According to researchers, Hippos can run as fast as a human, and have killed more people in Africa than any other wild animal.
Their smooth skin is quite delicate and exudes a red, oily liquid that keeps the skin moist and protected when the animal is out of the water. Hippos are both aquatic and terrestrial. Their ears and nostrils, which are located on top of the head, close automatically when the animal is
Hippos are hunted extensively for their highly prized flesh, the superior quality of their tusk ivory, and for their hide. They are also hunted for sport and killed by farmers for the extensive damage they do to crops.
Lizards, in Indonesia
The Komodo dragon also known as the Komodo monitor, is a large species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Padar and is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of three metres (10 feet).
Komodo dragons hunt and ambush prey including invertebrates, birds, and mammals. In the wild, the diet of big Komodo dragons mainly consists of deer, though they also eat considerable amounts of carrion.
Young Komodo dragons are vulnerable and therefore, dwell in trees, safe from predators and cannibalistic adults.
Komodo dragons were first recorded by Western scientists in 1910. However, they are believed to have differentiated from its Australian ancestors four million years ago. However, recent fossil evidence from Queensland suggests that the Komodo dragon evolved in Australia before spreading to Indonesia.
Komodo dragons prefer hot and dry places, and typically lives in dry open grassland, savanna, and tropical forest at low elevations. It is most active in the day, although it exhibits some nocturnal activity.
In 2009, researchers published evidence demonstrating that Komodo dragons possess a venomous bite. MRI scans of a preserved skull showed the presence of two venom glands in their lower jaw.
It is estimated that there are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Komodo dragons in the wild and there may presently be only 350 breeding females.
Animals that escape the jaws of a Komodo will only feel lucky briefly. Dragon saliva teems with over 50 strains of bacteria, and within 24 hours, the stricken creature usually dies of blood poisoning.
Dragons calmly follow an escapee for miles as the bacteria take effect, using their keen sense of smell to move in on the corpse. A dragon can eat a whopping 80% of its body weight in a single feeding.
However, a dearth of egg-laying females, poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters has driven the species to endangered status.
The Przewalski’s horse
The Przewalski’s horse, is a rare and endangered subspecies of wild horse and native to the steppes of central Asia, specifically Mongolia and was at one time extinct in the wild (in Mongolia, the last wild Przewalski’s horses had been seen in 1966). It has been reintroduced to its native habitat in Mongolia at the Khustain Nuruu National Park, Takhin Tal Nature Reserve, and Khomiin Tal.
The horse is named after the Russian geographer and explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky. This species has never been successfully domesticated and remains a truly wild animal today. The Przewalski’s horse is considered the only remaining truly wild ‘horse’ in the world and may be the closest living wild relative of the domesticated horse.
The world population of these horses are all descended from nine of the 31 horses in captivity in 1945. These nine horses were mostly descended from approximately 15, captured around 1,900. A cooperative venture between the Zoological Society of London and Mongolian scientists has resulted in successful reintroduction of these horses from zoos into their natural habitat in Mongolia.
As of 2011, there is an estimated free-ranging population of over 300 in the wild. After 1945 only two captive populations in zoos in Munich and in Prague remained. By the end of the 1950s, only 12 individual Przewalski’s horses were left in the world.
In 1977, the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski horse was founded in Rotterdam, Netherlands, by Jan and Inge Bouman. The Foundation started a programme of exchange between captive populations in zoos throughout the world to reduce inbreeding, and later began a breeding programme of its own.
In 1992, 16 horses were released into the wild in Mongolia, followed by additional animals later on. The reintroduced horses successfully reproduced, and the status of the animal was changed from ‘extinct in the wild’ to ‘endangered’ in 2005. On the IUCN Red List, they were reclassified from ‘extinct in the wild’ to ‘critically endangered’ after a reassessment in 2008 and from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered,’ after a 2011 reassessment.
The world’s largest captive breeding programme for Przewalski’s horses is at the Askania Nova preserve in Ukraine.
While their greatest threats today include a loss of genetic diversity, their extinction in the wild was also brought on by hunting, loss of habitat, and loss of water sources to domestic animals.
Komodo dragon in London Zoo
A Komodo dragon at the London Zoo named Sungai laid a clutch of eggs in late 2005 after being separated from male company for more than two years. Scientists initially assumed that she had been able to store sperm from her earlier encounter with a male, an adaptation known as superfecundation.
On 20 December 2006, it was reported that Flora, a captive Komodo dragon living in the Chester Zoo in England, was the second known Komodo dragon to have laid unfertilized eggs: she laid 11 eggs, and seven of them hatched, all of them male.
Scientists at Liverpool University in England performed genetic tests on three eggs that collapsed after being moved to an incubator, and verified that Flora had never been in physical contact with a male dragon. After Flora’s eggs’ condition had been discovered, testing showed that Sungai’s eggs were also produced without outside fertilization. courtesy: CeylonToday