By Risidra Mendis
once the most visited place in the country and a place
of interest for people of all ages. Situated on 23 acres
of prime land with a beautifully landscaped garden the
Dehiwala zoo has today become a hell hole, not only for
its many animals but also for the hundreds of visitors
who go there.
horrible stories are related by visitors with regard to
cruelty to animals at the zoo. Some of these visitors
have vowed never to go back to the zoo as it has become
an eyesore in recent times.
Dehiwala zoo also known as the National Zoological
Gardens with over 2000 species of animals was at one
time considered to be among the best in Asia. However
after a new director was appointed the standards at the
zoo have dropped drastically in recent times and many
animals have died.
Visitors including foreign tourists have complained that
animal cages are filthy and animals look depressed, sick
and malnourished. The huge waterfall at the entrance to
the zoo flows into a large pond with filthy water. At
the time The Sunday Leader visited the zoo a dead fish
could also be seen floating on the water. The future
sure looked bleak for the remaining fish in the pond.
The Dehiwala zoo’s gate collection is between Rs. 3 - 4
million per month. However the treatment of animals
still remains bad.
Director has two jobs
Director Duminda Jayaratne The Sunday Leader learns has
some experience with animals as he was once the
additional director of the zoo. However Jayaratne has
taken over as zoo director in addition to his job at the
Jayaratne took over as director many deaths of animals
have been reported. A pregnant hippo, two meer cats, a
lioness, all the penguins and some spotted deer among
others have died. The pregnant hippo too died while
trying to give birth.
hippo died of complications and it wasn’t the fault of
the zoo authorities. We cannot perform a caesarian on a
pregnant hippo because such an operation hasn’t been
done anywhere in the world. If the baby comes out the
wrong way the mother can undergo complications,”
reliable zoo authorities said.
However The Sunday Leader learns that the two baby meer
cats died of malnourishment. “Meer cats mainly feed on
insects. The adult animal can survive on food that is
close to their normal diet. But when it comes to the
young they need proper nutrition and nourishment to help
them grow. If meer cats are raised in the zoo an insect
breeding unit has to be established to provide a proper
diet for the animals. At present insects are caught from
the wild and fed to these animals. We cannot always
guarantee the quality of the insects when caught from
the wild,” zoo authorities said.
Lioness died of cancer
lioness that died in the zoo about a week ago was
suspected of having cancer. “The animal started bleeding
from the vulva from time to time and was treated by the
veterinary surgeons in the zoo. The lioness had to then
undergo an operation as her vagina was protruding. Two
to three weeks after the operation the animal started
bleeding again. One day she was found in a pool of blood
in her cage. Veterinary surgeons had no option but to
operate in order to stop the bleeding. However once cut
open the vets discovered that the animal had a growth in
its vagina,” zoo authorities said.
According to zoo authorities the zoo vets had no option
but to remove the lioness’s reproductive tract. “We had
to operate on the animal inside her cage as she had lost
a lot of blood and was still bleeding and couldn’t be
moved to the hospital. However the animal died while
being operated. She was 17 years old at the time she
died,” zoo authorities said.
number of spotted deer also died some time ago when they
were manhandled by zoo keepers. The Sunday Leader learns
that these deer were to be taken to a stall at the
Deyata Kirula exhibition. When zoo keepers tried to
catch these animals many of them had died due to
Death of penguins
pigmy hippo brought from the Singapore zoo was
immediately put with the other small hippos. The pigmy
hippo was attacked by the others in the cage and was
the star attractions at the zoo was the penguins. All
the penguins have died and fish inhabit the water once
used by the penguins. The animals suffered yet another
ordeal when zoo workers went on strike for a day and the
animals were not fed. But while the animals starved
Jayaratne had his regular meals according to schedule.
According to the zoo authorities some snakes are fed
once a week. “Big cats like lions, tigers and leopards
are not fed on Fridays because they have no exercise.
Their bodies collect fat which is not good for their
health,” zoo authorities said.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader Veterinary Surgeon Dr.
Nandana Atapattu said it is a crime to have big animals
in small cages. “Feeding an animal is not the only
factor with regard to their welfare. Big cats should be
given ample room. The Singapore zoo is a good example.
They have large enclosures and enough space for big
animals. In Sri Lanka it is possible to keep these
animals in large enclosures by using trenches or
electric fences to separate the animals from the public.
However there is no space at the Dehiwala zoo to give
these large animals the required space. Keeping these
animals in small cages will result in their stress
levels increasing and their life span reducing,” Dr.
Singapore zoo is just over 100 acres and has given the
best possible conditions to the animals. The Vienna
zoo, Sydney zoo, Chester zoo, Czech Republic zoo,
Philadelphia zoo Berlin zoo, Munich zoo, United States
and UK zoos and many European zoos maintain high quality
standards for their animals.
Importance of zoos
Managing Trustee Bio Diversity and Elephant Conservation
Trust Jayantha Jayawardene says zoos are very important
for people to see animals that cannot be seen elsewhere.
A zoo also helps in the conservation of animals that are
on the verge of extinction. However a close check has to
be kept on the standards of these animals and proper
conditions given for them to live and breed. Zoo keeping
is an art by itself and only highly trained
professionals should be employed to look after the
animals,” Jayawardene said.
Recreation Minister Gamini Lokuge told The Sunday Leader
that he has requested for a report on the deaths of the
animals at the zoo. “I can give you a list of the
animals that have died and the cause of their deaths
once I get the report,” Lokuge said.
question is who is responsible for the deaths of these
animals and shouldn’t the relevant authorities refrain
from bringing down animals not suitable for the Sri
Lankan climate? The Sunday Leader learns that Jayaratne
is at the zoo only for about an hour or two in the
morning on some days and again after 5 p.m. and
apparently has no time to speak to the media ‘since he
is managing two jobs.’
happens at the zoo and the suffering of the innocent
animals doesn’t seem to matter to the director who when
on rare occasions has spoken to The Sunday Leader says
he has requested for an investigation into the deaths of
these animals and is waiting for the ‘results.’ Deputy
Director Renuka Malsinghe who is full time at the zoo
when contacted on a previous occasion by The Sunday
Leader said she is not authorised to speak to the media.
goes on at the zoo therefore is anybody’s guess. Animals
are dying, suffering and starving with no one interested
in their welfare. The zoo director may think he is doing
a great service to the country by doing two jobs.
However it is obvious that Jayaratne’s job at the
Customs Department seems to be more profitable than his
job at the zoo since he takes no interest in solving the
serious issues regarding the innocent animals. It is the
zoo director’s responsibility to at least inquire into
these matters even at this late stage and put matters
right before the zoo finally loses all its valuable