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National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka :

Live and let live!

by Thileni Wickramaratne

"We are very proud to say that the Sri Lanka zoological gardens is reputed for being one of the best zoos in South Asia," said Brigadier H. A. N. T. Perera, Director of the National Zoological Gardens, Sri Lanka.

The zoological garden-of the Colombo zoo as it is popularly known-is not just the zoo one sees in Dehiwela, but the Pinnawela elephant orphanage is also a nurtured wing. The zoo shelters a population of over 3000 animals representing some 350 different species. The main objective of the zoo is not solely to exhibit the animals but also to conserve and provide animal welfare for these species. So entertainment for the visitors at the zoo is last on the list of priorities, as the principal focus of the zoos world over is, animal preservation.

An average of about hundred thousand locals, comprising school and university students and animal lovers visit the zoo each month. Likewise a monthly average of about thousand foreign visitors are lured to sight the animals.

The different species in the zoo attract these visitors in numbers, bringing a fair income of about 40 million rupees yearly crediting the Zoo Development and Welfare Fund for expenditure purposes within the zoo.

Since the Colombo zoo is state-owned, the government of Sri Lanka allocates a sum of about 50 million rupees from the budget for the yearly upkeep of the zoo as well as the elephant orphanage. The zoo acts as a legal entity under the National zoological gardens Act to spend the bulk of this money to provide animals with open enclosures, cages, and of course facilities for the visitors.

Most might wonder whether the zoo spends a fortune to buy and transport animals from abroad. Well, this is not so. Animals are not "bought" to the zoo but they are "exchanged" with other zoological gardens worldwide. So a price is not defined for the animals that are transported to zoos.

An excess animal is swapped for a needed animal weighing the fairness of the trade. Sometimes to bring down a rare species, the Colombo zoo will have to trade two of its excess animals as compensation. The Director, Brigadier Perera said that this year the zoo is hoping to trade two of its baby elephants in return for two rare black rhinos from Japan.

This year, so far, the zoo has acquired rare zebras, wallabies, wild horses and an Arabian Oryx. The Colombo zoo has the legal right to house any such species without dispute under the Flora and Fauna Act.

Exchange is not the only way the zoo acquires animals. Animals are also awarded as gifts by other governments and are also given as loans for breeding purposes for a certain period of time. The director said that if all options fail the zoo resorts to the last method of buying a required animal through certain dealers. The zoo does all such animal transactions in collaboration with the Wildlife Department of Sri Lanka.

Breeding programs have been started with animals like leopards, the Arabian Oryx and hippos. The zoo provides food and healthcare for all these animals within the premises.

There is an animal hospital with four veterinary surgeons to look after all species. A newly built kitchen prepares food for animals with the supervision of nutritionists. A portion of the fruits and vegetables for the animals, is provided from a farm in Gonapola functioning under the zoological Dept. For visitors' purposes of course there is a library comprising of zoological reference collections for students studying zoology and an educational centre for school and university students to utilise. There is also a restaurant catering to visitors, and all this within the premises of the zoo.

When asked the challenges the zoo faces, the director said that as some major development programs are under way to upgrade the zoo, finance has become the crucial issue. Since zoos all over the world are moving away from the concept of "caging" animals, more money is needed to provide animals with open enclosed areas making it equivalent to their natural habitat to freely roam around. Money is also needed in the areas of animal solid waste management and water treatment to be done within the premises of the zoo.

The other major issue is of course the land problem. With the zoo stretching only up to some 24 acres they are unable to provide animals with open-enclosed areas. The director said that for the purpose of enclosures at least 100 acres is required.

Animals like the rhino alone need about 4 acres for its enclosure. Sometimes the zoo fails to acquire animals, as they are unable to meet with the required land enclosure limit for that particular animal. A parking lot is another necessity as sometimes the residents complain of blocked entrances due to visitors' vehicles parked outside the gates.

Adding more to the list is of course the menace of visitors littering the grounds and feeding the animals. Visitors feeding animals is a grave issue as most species have recommended diets. So please don't give your snack bar even to the orangutan as it's an offence resulting in a penalty under the law.

ANCL TENDER- Platesetter of Relief Rehabilitation & Reconciliation)

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