By Nirmala Kannangara
What goes on at the National Zoological Gardens at Dehiwala is anybody’s guess. So, no one seems to be interested in animal welfare in the Zoo although it has come to the surface that its inmates are suffering and starving to their furthest extreme.
It is alleged that the animals are not fed properly although the income of the Zoological Garden goes on swelling daily.
“This has to be investigated to find out whether it is the fault of the management or the zoo keepers. What we understood is the zoo keepers are the culprits, still the management cannot pass the blame on to them. It is the management’s responsibility to see whether the food stocks released from the stores are given to the inmates or robbed,” said an environmentalist.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Leader visited the Dehiwala Zoo last Tuesday to find out how its inmates are fed and whether they are properly looked after. After giving a small ‘tip’ to a zoo keeper, this reporter was able to find out how the food released to the inmates was stolen.
“The food released to certain animals goes missing on its way to the cages. It was highlighted in several papers. As a result some of those who were involved in this racket lost their jobs. However the racket is still going on. I sometimes wonder whether the senior officials too are involved in it because it is difficult for the zoo keepers to rob the food given to the inmates without the senior officials support,” the sources said.
He further said that it was because of starvation the female anaconda swallowed the male anaconda in December last year.
“Although the reptiles swallow one another, on this occasion it was the starvation that pushed this female anaconda to swallow its mate. From the time these anacondas were brought to the Zoo each was given 12 chickens every week. But due to an unknown reason their quota was drastically cut and each anaconda was given only four chickens a week. We do not know whether this decision was taken by the veterinary surgeons and the nutritionists or whether by the zoo keepers to make these reptiles healthier. Anyhow I know for certain, the zookeepers consume part of the food released for the inmates and certain food items are taken home. This is not an allegation but the truth,” he added.
Pointing out to some of the empty cages, the sources further said that so many animals have died over the years mainly due to the negligence of the Zoo Administration.
“The extent of this Zoo is 25 acres and there were lot of animals, birds, fish and reptiles in these cages. But look at these empty cages now. The Zoo is more or less empty now as most of the species have died mainly due to negligence,” he added.
According to him, most of the fruits given to birds are consumed by the Zoo staff and fish and meat items are taken out of the Zoo premises.
Fish and Meat
“The fruits are not taken out of the Zoo, but fish and meat items are secretly taken away. If you check the elephant diet, they get mature leaves more than the vegetables or fruits,” he alleged.
He accused the administration of not forming a flying squad with full authority to check whether the correct quantity of food is given to each inmate.
“If there is a flying squad, then no one will dare to rob these hapless inmates’ food. They consume only what they get. If they are in the wild they can find enough food for their survival. Keeping these animals in captivity and stealing their food is a grave sin. The income of this Zoo is millions of rupees per year. Why cannot the Zoological Department give proper space, shades enough food for the inmates?” he queried.
It was clearly evident that what is going in the Zoo when a zookeeper removed two big plantains from the plantain container – the plantains that were brought to be fed the eight elephants. This reporter saw the way this particular zookeeper openly took these two huge plantains and placed in a corner in the elephant shed. Each banana was cut into two and was nicely placed in a cane basket. He then returned to the box of watermelon and took two or three fruits and kept them by the basket of plantains. Each elephant was given a small plantain, five or six pumpkins, half of a watermelon, half of a small sweet pumpkin, about two kilos of carrot and equal quantity of string beans. It did not take five minutes for each elephant to consume its quota.
I asked a zookeeper why two plantain and a few fruits of watermelon was kept aside, the zookeeper failed to answer and said he was unaware of it.
When asked whether this food is enough for the elephants, he said that a fairly big quantity of jak and kithul leaves and sugarcanes would be fed to these animals later in the evening for the dinner.
Shocked to see
Meanwhile Zoologist Dilan Peiris explaining the manner the animals are suffering in the hands of the zookeepers said that he was shocked to see how a mahout threw stones at an African elephant to get the animal lay down in the artificial pond when he was taken for a bath.
“Unlike the Asian elephants, the African elephants do not obey their mahouts. It is up to a mahout to tolerate such an elephant and win its heart. Throwing stones at the elephant is not the answer. It is illegal to illtreat any animal,” said Peiris.
Peiris had visited the Dehiwala Zoo a couple of days ago with his family and was surprised to see the way some of its inmates were treated by their caretakers.
“Cruelty to animals is at large in the Zoo. Although we cannot accuse the management of this situation they should inspect how the work is being carried out in the Zoo. These inmates are suffering immensely merely because they have been cut off from their natural habitats. If the inmates are not properly fed or harassed by certain zoo keepers, the management should act immediately to such allegations and stop them completely,” Peiris added.
According to Peiris unless the Zoological Department is taken over by the Wildlife Ministry there will be no progress at the Dehiwala Zoo.
“People come to the Zoo to see animals. Although the visitors enjoy seeing these captive animals, they do not know how much these animals are suffering. If you visit the place where the Rhinoceros is kept, you can witness that there is no mud for the animal. This animal really needs a muddy surrounding. It was so disheartened to see the way the animal was lying under a shady tree. The heat could be bearable for the inmates who were brought from tropical countries, but not for those brought from Western countries as they find it difficult to survive in the scorching sun. If the Zoo can send them to shady places, these animals could escape the heat even for a certain extent,” said Peiris.
Peiris too has given a ‘tip’ to one zookeeper to go closer to the baby orang-utan kept in a covered area.
“When I went to the area where two adult orang-utans were kept, a zookeeper walked up to me and asked whether I would like to see the baby animal. Since it was too small, it was not put in the open area. I tipped him and went to see the baby orang-utan. I was able to hold it for a while and took its photograph. Although I am thankful to this zookeeper for taking me to see this animal, as a zoologist, I have to ask authorities the reason to confine this baby animal. According to the zookeeper, it will be kept separately for few months because the its safety concerns the Zoo authority. Where is safety for this baby when the zoo workers allow the public to touch it,” said Peiris.
When asked Peiris how much food an elephant has to be given per day, Peiris said that a captive elephant needs about 250kg of food and enough water.
“Half of what elephants consume they do not digest because they do not have cellulose enzyme to digest certain food. Hence one tenth of an elephant’s weight of food has to be given to the animal,” he added.
Meanwhile the zookeepers told The Sunday Leader that all elephants in the Zoo will be taken to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage by April. Except for the bird species, all other inmates would be taken to Hambantota Zoo once its construction is over by the end of this year.