by Risidra Mendis
Animal welfare activists have welcomed the speedy development plans initiated by the newly appointed Director, Dehiwala Zoo, Anura de Silva who assumed duty in June 2012.
Visitors who complained about cruelty to animals and other shortcomings at the zoo in the past are now likely to see less cruelty to animals. In addition, a variety of birds and other species are to be introduced in the near future.
Despite space limitations, an eco-friendly concept and more living space for the animals are to be introduced as part of the development programme for the zoo.
Most of the incomplete projects undertaken by former Director, Bashwara Gunaratne, such as the open elephant enclosure, the expansion of the rhino enclosure, the release of big cats from cages into large enclosures and the aviary (that was under construction) among others are slated to be completed by de Silva.
Speaking to Ceylon Today the new Zoo Director, who is the former Deputy Conservator General of Forests, said, “I was at the Forest Department for 25 years and as such this field is new to me. I’m still in the process of learning. The two Deputy Directors Dammika Malsinghe and Renuka Bandaranayake, together with the veterinary surgeons and curators, are assisting me,” he said.
Open elephant enclosure
The new Director plans to introduce more information regarding elephants during the shows in order to educate children and the general public. The open elephant enclosure is due to be completed by December 2012.
“Workers employed on a contract basis were living in the area where the open elephant enclosure is to be built. So how could Bashwara Gunaratne have carried on the work at the open enclosure under those conditions? Work on the open elephant enclosure and the rhino enclosure commenced over a year ago, but wasn’t completed by Gunaratne prior to his departure,” zoo authorities said.
Meanwhile, de Silva plans to shift some of the excess big cats presently in cages to Wagolla, once the open enclosures are built. However, the extended rhino enclosure and the local and exotic bird enclosures are to be completed by October 2012.
Environmentalists point to the irony of the new Director working hard towards completing construction of the local and exotic bird enclosures and introducing new varieties of birds to the zoo and the former director being involved in releasing a consignment of rare and exotic birds confiscated by the Sri Lanka Customs back to the person who was fined for bringing these birds into the country.
The Sri Lanka Customs Department (SLCD) having detected the illegal consignment of birds had fined the person who brought these birds into the country Rs 450,000. However, the estimated market value for the birds was around Rs 13.6 million.
The birds were then handed over to the Dehiwala Zoo. However, customs officials confirmed that the former director had on a later date sent a letter to the SLCD Director requesting approval for the exotic birds to be released back to the accused. The birds were subsequently handed back to the culprit.
Animal welfare activists were of the opinion if the birds were kept at the zoo, de Silva would have no need to introduce more exotic bird species.
Criticism was also levelled at the former director when he allegedly took a decision to expand the entrance and break the famous and colourful
However, commenting on this issue, de Silva told Ceylon Today, the entrance to the Zoo would be expanded in the near future, but the animal mosaic would not be destroyed in the process, but would be displayed in a more prominent manner.
“Visitors to the Zoo have to stand in a queue outside the entrance, in the hot sun to purchase their tickets. But with the planned expansion of the entrance, visitors will have the facility to enter a lobby area, purchase their tickets and then enter the zoo,” de Silva said.
Electronic ticketing system
He went on to say plans were underway to introduce an electronic ticketing system and that visitors exiting the zoo would have to walk through a souvenir shop.
The director further emphasized that for the past two to three years, no breeding or research programmes had been carried out at the zoo. “The zoo is also lacking in educational and awareness programmes. I have asked the Deputy- Directors and the Senior Veterinary Surgeon to tell me how we can commence successful breeding programmes for the next two to three years at the zoo,” de Silva said.
According to the director, the money for these projects can be utilized from the zoo’s fund. “The other areas that need developing are the human resource section, staff for the library and an information desk for students. Once the roof of the museum is complete, the museum too will also be opened,” the director explained.
However, when asked about the opening of the Butterfly Park, de Silva said his people had gone in search of these colourful creatures to the forests, but couldn’t catch any as there is a shortage of butterflies.
Commenting on the status of single animals in cages, de Silva said partners will be introduced in due course. “It is not easy to just introduce partners to the existing ones. You have to introduce the animals gradually to their new environment and ensure the animals will not fight with each other,” de Silva explained.
Among the single animals is a male hippo, a male African elephant, a male lion, an ocelot, two chimpanzees named Tony and Sanju amongst others. courtesy: Ceylon Today