It Is Time for Action on the Dehiwala Zoo
It Is Time for Action on the Dehiwala Zoo
Read the Sinhala translation of this petition here.
We, the undersigned urge
- President of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena
- Prime Minister, His Excellency Ranil Wickremesinghe
- Minister of Tourism, Hon. John Amaratunga
- Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, Hon. Gamini Perera
- Minister of Urban Planning and Water Supply, Hon. Rauff Hakeem
- Director General of Department of Wildlife Conservation, Mr. H.D.Ratnayake
to convert the National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka (hereafter referred to as the Dehiwala Zoo) an 80-year old outdated institution where animals are living in squalid and inhumane conditions, to a new public use by;
- facilitating the transfer of the zoo’s animals to more suitable local and international sanctuaries that are better equipped to meet the animals’ basic requirements; and
- turning the Dehiwala Zoo’s prime land into better use for Sri Lanka’s residents and visitors
The proposal detailed herein is achievable, commercially viable, sustainable and humane.
Here are the proposed steps:
1. Close the Dehiwala zoo:
- Reason: The Dehiwala Zoo is outdated, inadequate and the conditions of the enclosures are squalid and inhumane. The current enclosures of the Dehiwala Zoo are lacking space, sunlight and clean water (basic necessities for life). Media reports have highlighted instances of illness, malnutrition, injuries, depression and death of the zoo’s animals. To remain operational the zoo requires a large infusion of financial resources to reach minimum international standards and an ongoing commitment to maintain it thereafter. Basic upgrades include larger and open-air exhibits to mimic natural conditions, 24-hour veterinary care, highly trained caretakers, improved food quality and quantity, and regular exercise for the animals (of both mind and body). In order for the Dehiwala Zoo, built in 1936, to meet these International standards, it will require a complete overhaul and cost the tax payers billions of rupees.
- Reason: The local and international attention towards the suffering of the animals at the Dehiwala zoo is an embarrassment to the government and the people of Sri Lanka. As Mahatma Gandhi said “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Applying this metric to Sri Lanka as it is represented by the conditions of the Dehiwala Zoo, does a great injustice to this country’s people. The Dehiwala Zoo's Elephant Circus in particular is a disgrace at a time when many countries are banning circuses and performing animals. See list here.
2. Send the animals to sanctuaries (not to other local or international zoos):
- Result: Garner goodwill and positive publicity from the local and international community by transferring the animals to sanctuaries. Animals that can be absorbed into local sanctuaries can be easily transferred to these facilities at a minimal cost (e.g. the Asian elephants to Wagolla) while international sanctuaries, animal welfare advocacies and concerned citizens are standing by to help with the others. Through donations, an animal recovery hospital and an education center can be set up alongside a sanctuary to rehabilitate the zoo’s animals and educate the public about conservation. The process for transitioning animals from zoos to sanctuaries can be set up by studying the plans of the Costa Rican government which is in the process of shutting down its zoos.
- Result: Demonstrate “compassionate governance”. The animals at the Dehiwala Zoo have suffered terribly at the hands of negligent authorities. It is time to demonstrate “compassionate governance,” the platform on which the current administration came to power, by transferring their stewardship to those better able to care for them, and thereby showing supreme kindness to these voiceless sentient beings living in the most wretched of circumstances in this country.
3. Do something more purposeful with the land:
- Proposal: Use the 11 acres of prime urban real estate wisely. Rarely does an established city get an opportunity to reinvent a large parcel of prime urban land. The Government of Sri Lanka has the opportunity to do something truly purposeful on this land taking care to protect the valuable flora on the site. A spectacular public park with some animals that can live freely on the premises retained (e.g. bird species such as peacocks, swans and ducks) alongside revenue-generating themed gardens such as a botanical garden, butterfly garden and/or water garden, which can generate income for the government (through entrance fees) will be a valuable amenity for the people of Sri Lanka and its visitors and a viable asset for the Government of Sri Lanka. Areas alongside the park and gardens can be rented to local food and beverage vendors, further financially benefiting the government and small businesses simultaneously. Such an outcome can be achieved through a combination of strategic, responsible and sensitive planning.
4. As an immediate step, halt and prohibit the unethical practice of poaching wildlife and sending rescued animals to fill up zoos:
- For immediate action: Prohibit the highly unethical practice of sending wild animals rescued and/or captured from the wild to ANY local or international zoo. This includes releasing the orphaned wild animals that were recently sent to the Dehiwala Zoo, Pinnawala Zoo and Hambantota Safari Park (all part of the National Zoological Gardens' purview) to the Department of Wildlife Conservation Udawalawe for transition back to the Udawalawe National Park. This issue has been raised to the Government of Sri Lanka on multiple occasions, and remains a grave concern:
Click here for the case of the orphaned sloth bear cubs.
Click here for the case of the orphaned baby elephants.
Click here for an appeal to the President of Sri Lanka on this issue, and the associated press release.
The Dehiwala Zoo is a part of Sri Lanka’s colonial legacy that has been blindly maintained by subsequent independent governments of Sri Lanka in a vain attempt to mimic western practices. No historical precedents of similar institutions exist in Sri Lanka’s ancient history and its philosophy is antithetical to Sri Lankan culture. It is time to take purposeful action against this cruel and outdated institution and reject the arrogant relationship with the sentient beings in our environment that the zoo represents.