Born free and soon they’ll live free under care

Wild ponies and donkeys are now our own, says Dept.

After centuries of cruel neglect the feral donkeys of Puttalam and Mannar and the famous wild ponies of Delft are to receive care, with a 100-acre sanctuary to be set up on Delft Island and a conservation area for the donkeys also under consideration. The Ministry of Wildlife Conservation, the District Secretariat of Jaffna and the Delft Pradeshiya Sabha are to start work soon on establishing the pony sanctuary on Delft Island (also known as Neduntheevu).

Ponies on Delft island. Pic courtesy IUCN Sri Lanka

The wild ponies are believed to have been first brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, who used Delft as a breeding centre. There are thought to be around 500 ponies today, roaming in herds. The Sunday Times, in June this year, reported that the ponies need a management plan for their protection and welcomes the move by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

A report published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature states that the ponies are threatened from the overgrazing of pasture lands due to their numbers and also a large population of cattle. At the height of the dry season there is a high incidence of cattle and pony mortality due to the lack of food and water.

Further, some people capture the wild ponies and brand them on the forelegs with inexpert methods that result in infections, a major cause of death. Department of Wildlife Conservation Director H.D. Ratnayake said the department recognised that the ponies and donkeys, though feral, need protection. Although the animals were introduced species to the island they are now “naturalised” in Sri Lanka, he said, and the department was working on proper management plans for their welfare.

Published on SundayTimes 29.12.2013

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