Archive for the ‘Zoological Gardens’ Category

August 29, 2015

A roar of protest has gone up from animal lovers at a plan to transfer four young sloth bears under the guardianship of Department of Wildlife to the National Zoological Gardens, with calls for the bears to be rehabilitated and released to live free in the wild instead of in a cage.

The bears were to have been released into the wild but upon a request by the Director of the Zoological Gardens, the Director General of Department of WIldlife Conservation issued a hurriedly executed directive last month to transfer them to a zoo.
Three of these orphaned bears, rescued from northern wilderness areas, were rehabilitated at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home (ETH) while the other one is being cared for at the Giritale Wildlife Training Centre. The eldest bear at Udawalawe is a well-grown male, aged about two and half years, rescued from the Kilinochchi jungles. The other two cubs, siblings of one and half years, were rescued from Vakarai.

The Elephant Transit Home was set up with the aim of rehabilitating orphaned elephants and later releasing them to the wild. Several batches of elephants have been successfully released and the staff had been trying to rehabilitate these bears too, with the intent of sending them back to the forests.

The eldest bear had, in fact, been released to the wild recently but the attempt failed as it was found with head injuries few days after release. It is believed the bear, which had lost fear of humans, would have gone too close to a gang of hoodlums that often infiltrates the Udawalawe jungles.

Even though the bear would have meant no harm, those who had panicked by its approach would have attacked and injured it. Luckily for the bear, it was fixed with a radio collar and the ETH team that was constantly monitoring it went to its rescue as they noticed the bear had stopped moving.

The other two bear cubs had grown much in isolation so carers had hoped they would have a higher chance of survival. Sources close to the ETH revealed that plans for releasing these bears to Yala Block-II had already been underway. The bears were being habituated to a new environment by being kept in a large enclosed wilderness area before their release, and they were to be closely monitored as they adapted to the wild.

Zoological Gardens Director Anura Silva said the bears would be given a half-acre enclosure at a zoo at Wagolla in Pinnawala. The Pinnawela zoo needed more animals, and instead of capturing them from the wild the zoo had asked for these orphaned bears, he said.

Mr. Silva said the zoo hoped to breed them in captivity. The Dehiwela zoo has a few sloth bears but the zoo was finding it difficult to breed them, he said.Mr. Silva gave assurances that the bears’ welfare would be looked after.

DWC Director-General H.D. Ratnayake said the bears had been handed over to the zoo as that had been the best option. The director of the zoo had requested sloth bears for the new zoo at Pinnawela, he said. As the law permitted the capture of wild animals for the zoo if the necessity arose, sending these bears to the zoo meant sloth bears would not be captured from the wild.

Mr. Ratnayake pointed out that there were difficulties in rehabilitating the bears in their current condition and they might not have survived in the wild. He revealed that there are doubts that a leopard that had been rehabilitated and released had survived.

The sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), among the big five tourist attractions in the Sri Lankan wilderness, is listed as “endangered” and is becoming closer to extinction. It is important to protect the wild population and the attempt to rehabilitate and release the orphaned animals back to the wild is indeed a noble task. Biologists point out however, that this involved much work and such releases should not be carried out in a haphazard manner.

More issues than food needed to be considered. There needed to be very good rehabilitation facilities, said Dr. U.K. Padmalal who was involved in sloth bear research in Wasgamuwa a few years ago. It is also important to release cubs to environs in the region where they were initially found as there could be different genes in other sloth bear populations.

It seems that the fate of these orphaned bear cubs is to remain in captivity but as sloth bears are a threatened species it is important that a state-of-the-art facility be built to rehabilitate and release them back to the wilderness in the future.

Published on 23.08.2015 on SundayTimes

Tony the chimp bites the hand that fed him

February 8, 2014

Tony - lonely and dejectedA chimp raised by zoo caretakers since its birth in 1999, after its mother refused to feed it, caused an upset this week when it bit off a finger of its beloved foster-father, Thilak Pushpakumara. Tony the chimp had become greatly attached to Pushpakumara over the years. An entertainer from his young days doing a “chimp show”, Tony stole the hearts of all who visited the zoo in the past decade ago with its cuddly nature.

But with increasing age the animal had developed violent behaviour. Consequently Tony was kept isolated. Restless in solitary confinement – chimpanzees are social creatures – it continued to be violent, sometimes throwing objects at visitors, but it maintained affection for its former caretaker. According to zoo sources, the incident occurred when Pushpakumara went too close to offer Tony a toffee that it loved as a little fellow. The unlucky caretaker has been admitted to the Kalubowila hospital for treatment.

Sanju: Another favourite in the zoo now showing signs of aggression too

Dehiwala Zoo is home to a number of chimpanzees. A family of chimps has been given a bit of spacious cave with relative space and climbing logs etc. to play around, but there has been a problem with putting Tony among them. To begin with, Tony has been habituated among people since its birth and secondly it is a male chimp, and the dominant male in the troop will not tolerate another. So the animal keepers believed they had no other option under current conditions in the zoo than keeping Tony in a separate cage; that probably made him more disturbed.

The zoo had since trained another baby chimp named Sanju to perform tricks. Sanju also won the hearts of visitors few years ago but he too now is kept separately caged after it became violent. Although chimps are affectionate as infants and are a delight to interact with, they grow up fast and their unique intelligence makes it difficult to keep them stimulated and satisfied in a human environment says the foremost chimpanzee expert in the world Dr. Jane Goodale.

By the age of five chimps are stronger than most human adults and they become destructive and resentful of discipline, and they can, and will, bite. Chimpanzee owners have lost fingers and suffered severe facial damage according to the information according to Jane Goodale Foundation. Dr. Goodale states that aggression is a natural aspect of chimpanzee behaviour and it is not uncommon for chimps to bite each other in the wild. However much misguided chimp owners and caretakers continue to love his or her “child” the chimpanzee will be too dangerous to keep as part of a human “family”.

Published on 02.02.2014 on SundayTimes

Young Zoologists bring out the beauty of the wild

November 6, 2013

The annual wildlife art exhibition together with the wildlife photographic exhibition by the Young Zoologists Association (YZA) will be held this week.

IMG_8506_1 (1)

‘Kin Wild’ -the exhibition of wildlife paintings and sketches by the Young Zoologists is probably the longest running wildlife art exhibition in the country. The Young Zoologists Association established the ‘Wildlife Arts’ group in 1989 to assist talented wildlife artists who study wildlife through the society’s other programmes. YZA held their first exhibition in 1990 and since then it has been an annual event.

YZA members study different wildlife groups through the regular education programmes held each Sunday afternoon at the Zoological Gardens, Dehiwela. The YZA has five study groups focusing on birds, mammals, reptiles, aquatic life and flora. Members who are mainly students get the chance to study the animals and their behaviour. Wildlife photography and art classes are conducted as special study groups held on Sunday mornings.

The Young Zoologists’ Association was established in 1972 by former Zoo Director and renowned conservationist Lyn de Alwis, who saw the need to promote an interest in the study and conservation of nature among young people.

Over 100 of the wildlife paintings/sketches and wildlife photographs will be on display at the exhibition at the J.D.A. Perera Gallery of the Faculty of Visual Arts at 46, Horton Place, Colombo 7 on November 8,9 and 10 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

some of the wildife arts and photographs that will be on display…

Sambur at Horton Plains

An owlet

Drawing - Yellow-eared Bulbul



Published on 03.11.2013 on SundayTimes

Now a mini zoo for CHOGM delegates

October 16, 2013

A mini zoo in Battaramulla is among government’s plan for entertaining CHOGM visitors according to the Botanical Gardens and Public Recreation Ministry. The mini zoo will be set up on a 3.5 acre plot of bare land adjacent to the Folk Arts Centre (Jana Kala Kendraya) in Battaramulla where a model Sri Lankan village showcasing the country’s cultural heritage will be setup.

Spotted Deer with board in Dehiwala Zoo (c) Malaka Rodrigo

Porcupines in Dehiwala Zoo (c) Malaka Rodrigo
Spotted deer and Porcupine will be among animals  you can found in this mini zoo 

Referring to the mini zoo, director of the National Zoological Gardens of Dehiwala, Anura de Silva said inmates at this zoo would be limited to a few local animals such as the Spotted Deer, Sambur, porcupines etc. He added that an aviary limited to local birds would be an added attraction.

Dr. de Silva said the idea of setting up a mini zoo limited to Sri Lankan fauna, was to give incoming CHOGM delegates a snapshot view of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity. He added that though the facility could not be considered a full-fledged zoo, it would continue to be maintained even after the CHOGM and kept open to local visitors.

Efforts were also being made to send a batch of animals to a new zoo which is being created at Ridiyagama in Hambantota. However as construction work could not be completed, the plan was shelved.

Published on SundayTimes on

Zebra, Albino Cobra and Anaconda gives birth in Zoo

August 2, 2013

July seems to be the month for new arrivals. As the world rejoiced at the birth of a Royal baby in England, here at the Dehiwala Zoo there was much happiness at the birth of a Zebra, baby Anacondas and Albino Cobras. It all began on July 7 with the arrival of a baby Zebra. Its mother had come from far away Xianjiang Safari Park in China and her little one is in good health and up for public viewing, Zoo sources said.

The proud mother and a calf

The other births were among residents of the zoo’s Reptilian. The birth of Green Anaconda babies on July 17 was followed by White Cobras the next day. Anacondas do not lay eggs and this time there were 31 little Anacondas. One died at birth but the rest are doing well according to the Education Officer of the Zoo, Nihal Senerath. The adult pair of Anacondas arrived in 2003 from the Czech Republic and this was their fourth brood. The birth of the first baby anacondas, 23 of them in 2008, was greeted with great media hype, but unfortunately all died. These were followed by 22 in 2009 and 18 in 2011. Some of them survived and some were sent to a Zoo in India.

Anaconda babies

Zoo keeper showing a baby Anaconda

AlbinoCobra_did you see their hood

The baby Albino Cobras

Pointing out that the female Anaconda is now about 18 feet long and can grow up to 30 feet, Mr. Senerath said it was not feasible to keep a big family of Anacondas at the zoo. The adult anaconda pair have to be given 10 to 15 chicken once in two weeks and space would become an issue when the little ones grew into adulthood. To overcome this problem zoo officials are looking at exchanging these reptiles with snakes from zoos in other countries.

After setting up cots for the new born Anacondas the keepers at the Reptilian couldn’t take a well deserved rest as more babies were expected the next day. These were 11 fairy white Albino Cobras who had to be handled with caution, as they were venomous. The Dehiwala Zoo currently has six adult Albino Cobras and one pair had laid eggs on May 1. Reptilian keepers put them in special hatching pots with adequate warning.

Albino Cobras belong to the same species as other cobras, scientifically known as Naja naja. They become albinos due to a lack of melamine in their skin. They have red eyes that are sensitive to sunlight and prefer to hide in wooden boxes with holes that provide ventilation. Many of the Albino Cobras at the Zoo’s Albino cobra family were caught in the Piliyandala area according to senior zoo keepers.

Published on SundayTimes on 28.07.2013

Young Lionesses from Germany will soon be on view at Dehiwala Zoo

July 19, 2013

A pair of young lionesses arrived at the Dehiwala Zoo last Wednesday (July 3). They were a gift from Tierpark Hggenbeck Zoo, in Hamburg, Germany.  In April last year the Dehiwala Zoo got down an African lion from South Korea with the aim of breeding lions.

The lion family whose cubs were sent to the Dehiwala Zoo seen in the zoo in Hamburg

Dehiwala Zoo’s education officer, Nihal Senarath said the lionesses would be ready for public viewing in a few weeks time after the quarantine period was over, adding that they were about two years old and in good health and adapting to conditions here very well.

Before these new arrivals from Germany and South Korea the zoo was home to 6 ageing lions. They are between 15 – 20 years and are sick and weak. The zoo’s director told the Sunday Times a few months back that the old lions would be moved to an off-exhibit section of the zoo once the new arrivals came.

Other sources said the new lions would be sent to the Hambantota Safari Park, once it was completed, adding that another pair of lions are expected from a zoo in China soon.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.07.2013

Flood Czech: our jumbos safe in Prague

July 6, 2013

Concerns over the fate of Sri Lankan elephants in inundated Prague Zoo – where an elephant died in severe flooding in 2002 – have been laid to rest by zoo officials who say the animals are safe despite the zoo being flooded again, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of its denizens.

Safe: Tamara with baby Sita. Pic courtesy Tomáš Adamec

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times, Prague Zoo’s spokesman, Michal Stastny, said the new elephant enclosure, Elephant Valley, has not been affected by this month’s floods in the Czech Republic’s capital because it is located on higher ground, about 70m above the water level.

Established in 1931, the Prague zoo has been one of the largest and popular zoos in the world. It is located on the banks of the Vltava River, making it prone to flooding. In 2002, the zoo experienced the worst flood in 100 years, resulting in the deaths of many animals.

Among the dead was Kadir, an Asian elephant, which had to be euthanased as it faced a worse death by drowning when rescue efforts failed to get it out from its enclosure. Some of the other larger animals that died during the 2002 floods include a gorilla, hippos and some small animals. A group of sea lions escaped to the Vltava River.

Animal activists have been worried about the fate of two Sri Lankan elephants, Janita and Tamara, recently gifted to the zoo but Mr Stastny’s reassurances have been cheering.

He said that earlier this month some 1000 animals had to be evacuated from the lower part of the zoo to temporary accommodation on higher ground to make sure of their safety. These included big cats such as tigers, jaguars, leopards and lions that had to be tranquillised. The only casualty this time was a flamingo, he said. A gorilla too had to be sedated in order to evacuate it to safety.

Eight-year-old Janita and seven-year-old Tamara were donated to the Prague Zoo in October last year and sent to the Czech Republic by a Sri Lankan Air Force cargo plane. The plane did not return empty to Colombo as the zoo gifted a pair of Komodo dragons, a pair of Przewalski horses and a pair of young hippos to the Dehiwela Zoo.

Submerged direction boards at the zoo

Prague Zoo is now home to eight Asian elephants. On March 30, the little herd, including Tamara and Janita, were moved to the Valley of Elephants, which has a heated pavilion of 1400 square metres and three connectable runs with a total area of 8500 square metres. The elephants are not chained.

Animal welfare groups in Sri Lanka are unenthusiastic about elephants such as Janita and Tamara from the Pinnawela elephant orphanage being donated to foreign zoos.

While some international zoos take good care of their elephants, many others do not have proper capabilities to raise elephants, specially in harsh weather, activists say. In many instances, they say, the elephants are left alone, placing these sociable animals under huge stress.

In Prague Zoo, Janita and Tamara also have company of six other companions. In February, the first baby elephant was born in the zoo, and both Janita and Tamara have apparently assumed foster-mother duties to five-month-old Sita, whose mother is also present. Prague Zoo says it is grateful that the two elephants sent by Sri Lanka could enhance its breeding programme.

Published on SundayTimes on 23.06.2013

Komodo dragons among new zoo residents

October 14, 2012

New animals arrive in Zoo as exchange program with Prague zoo swapping for a pair of Pinnawala Elephants. 

Six new animals arrived last Thursday to Dehiwala Zoo as a result of an animal exchange program with the Chez Republic’s Prague zoo. This includes pairs of Przewalski’s Horses, River Hippopotamuses and Komodo Dragons.

Komodo Dragon is the largest monitor lizard in the world that can grow about 10ft. They are naturally found only in Indonesia’s Komodo Island few other suburban locations and famous for their notorious hunting habits. Komodos are carnivores and the diet of big Komodo dragons mainly consists of deer or buffalo and also does not mind eating carrion. It is believed that the deadly bacteria develop in its mouth makes its saliva venomous, so after a bite the prey dies sometimes in few days time where Komodo’s will await to finish off the prey.

A Komodo Dragon resting in its enclosure

In Dehiwala Zoo, they will be given goat meat and other meat items as per zoo sources. As Komodo Dragons are burrowing animals, a metal mesh has been put under its enclosure, and then cemented before putting amount of sand to make sure they cannot escape. This is the first time Dehiwala Zoo got down Komodo Dragons as per the Zoo sources.

All these 3 animals are threatened with extinction in the wild the wild as Przewalski’s Horse is categorized as “Endangered”; while the other 2 species are categorized as “Vulnerable for Extinction”.

Przewalski’s Horse (also known as Mongolian Horse) is an iconic animal that conservation action can help to revive animals from extinction. As per experts, the last wild Przewalski’s horses had been seen in 1966 in Mongolia and it was afterward considered as an animal “Extinct in the Wild”. But zoos around the world have launched a successful breeding program; later re-introducing it to the wild. This horse is now got its rates elevated from ‘Extinct in the wild” to “Endangered” making it a classic case where conservation action can help to save animals from extinction.

In return of these animals, a pair of Pinnawala Elephants 8-year Janitha and 7 year old Amara has been sent to Prague Zoo last week. A Sri Lankan military aircraft has been used to transport these animals last week reaching the destination after about 20 – 30 hour long flight. In return the aircraft brought the animals to Dehiwala Zoo. Chez Republic consider elephants as high value animals, but animal welfare societies in Sri Lanka are not too happy to send these elephant to Prague as the city is having a cold period and also claiming that the animals are usually been kept in under-sized enclosures.

Talking to the local media in Chez republic, the director of Prague zoo welcomed Sri Lanka saying that the elephant acquisition is Sri Lanka’s gift to the Czech Republic rather than routine exchange of animals between zoos. Prague zoo deputy director Jaroslav Simek further said it is a unique project that will largely help extend the genetic base of the European breeding of Indian elephants.

According to Chez newspaper praguemonitor, the newcomer elephants will be accommodated in a new pavilion that has been completed in the Prague zoo and that is now inhabited by an Indian elephant male and three females, including a pregnant one. The Prague zoo wanted to bring four new elephants from Sri Lanka but the country never provides more than two to foreign applicants.

A Mongolian Horse

A new River Hippo


New-born Black Rhino dies

October 7, 2012

A Black Rhino was born last week at the Dehiwala Zoo, but died a few hours later. Zoo sources said the baby was born in the early hours of Monday, September 10. The post-mortem or necropsy revealed internal bleeding in the head of the new-born, Zoo director Anura de Silva told the Sunday Times. The injury could have been the result of a kick from the mother rhino. The post-mortem was done by a government veterinary surgeon.

The baby rhino weighed 16 kgs. A normal healthy rhino baby weighs between 30 and 35 kgs, Mr. de Silva said. The mother rhino’s pregnancy was detected only recently. The gestation period of a rhino is up to 18 months, but because of the animal’s size, a pregnancy is hard to detect.

The parent Black Rhinos, who arrived in Dehiwela in 2007, were part of an animal exchange with Japan’s Nagoya Higashiyama Zoo. Sri Lanka in turn sent two Asian Elephants, named Anula and Kosla. The Black Rhino is an endangered animal.
A few months ago, a new-born White Tiger died at the zoo.

Published on SundayTimes on 16.09.2012

Zoo’s orangutan recovering after surgery

September 11, 2011

Dehiwala Zoo’s 35 year old Orangutan Bulu has recently undergone a surgery for Hernia and now being recovering

The sedated Orangutan been scanned

says its veterinary surgeons.

On last April, animal keepers have observed that Bulu was not active and couldn’t walk properly. It was rolling in and out of its den with apparent pain. It was also not eating properly. Veterinary surgeons were alerted, but the medication done based on external observations did not solve the complications. So the veterinary surgeons had tranquil the animal in May to do a thorough body checkup.

The veterinary surgeons have taken the sedated Bulu to the animal hospital to do a scan. The full body check-up revealed the signs of Hernia and a lump on lower abdomen. Its blood sample was also collected for testing its cholesterol, blood sugar etc., which needs to be checked before doing a surgery.

After getting prepared, the team of veterinary surgeons has prepared for the surgery on 29th of June. But it was a risky job to anaesthetize the 35 year old Bulu. Orangutans’ lifespan in wild is recorded as 35 – 40 years, so Bulu was really an old primate reaching the last stretch of its life. Male Orangutans averagely weight 60kg, but overweight Bulu was 130kg increasing the risk. Dr.Jagath Jayasekare, the zoo veterinary who has anaesthetize Bulu said the male has a higher risk, as their windpipe tends to get block when they are in unconscious stage. Veteran veterinary surgeon Dr.S.Kodikara has volunteered to lead the team and Bulu’s Hernia has been removed after opening its abdomen. A 2kg fat lump found in its lower abdomen has also been removed during the two and half hour surgery.

Giving a sigh of relief to vets, Bulu has recovered after 2 hours of the surgery. However, post operative care too was a difficult task as the disoriented Orangutan may tend to renew its surgery wound. However, the patient has behaved well and to the joy of all who put their effort in saving Bulu, the old Orangutan has even started climbing shorter heights by the second day of the surgery. Bulu is now almost recovered and put back into its den in Dehiwala Zoo.

Dehiwala zoo has got Bulu from Rotterdam zoo in Nedarlands in early ‘80s. During anesthetized hours, Bulu also got its teeth brushed for the first time in his life as zoo vets had taken this opportunity to check the dental hydene of the old chap. 

Team of vets during Orangutan surgeryBulu gets its teeth brushed for the first time

Jumbo losses continue at Pinnawala orphanage

June 18, 2011

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage has suffered four losses so far this month – a two-month-old calf died by drowning, while three baby elephants were given out to private owners, according to reliable sources in the village of Pinnawala.

Losing family members to temples and other parties: Pinnawala elephants go down for a bath in the Ma Oya

The ill-fated calf, born to adult elephant Kanthi, drowned during its daily bath in the Ma Oya. Meanwhile, the orphanage has resumed its practice of giving out elephants in its care. Members of the Pinnawala community say that three elephants were presented to leading temples around the country.

Meanwhile director of the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens, Bashwara Gunaratne said, a total of 15 Pinnawala elephants will be given out with the zoo’s approval. He said the recipients will be selected on their capabilities on looking after the animals.

In 2009, a bid to give two elephant calves to the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) triggered a controversy. In 2003, a Pinnawala elephant was given to the Ragama temple. This elephant, Kapila, consequently died of malnutrition. There are allegations that elephants given out are poorly treated by their new owners, and often used for heavy-duty work. Animal welfare activists have called for a proper monitoring of elephants given away by the Pinnawala orphanage authorities.

In January this year, an elephant named Neelagiri died from wounds inflicted by mahouts. onsequently, several mahouts were suspended from their duties, and the Pinnawala orphanage assistant director was transferred.

Published on SundayTimes 12.06.2011 

Come, say hello to three pygmy hippos at the zoo

May 4, 2011

Dehiwala zoo last week celebrated the recent births of three pygmy hippos. To make the occasion a special one the zoo gave visitors an opportunity to choose three names for the new arrivals. The eldest born five months ago was named ‘Hapani’ while the second born in February was named ‘Hiyara’ and the youngest born last month was named ‘Sameena’.

Pygmy Hippopotamus inhabit a small area in West Africa and are categorized as endangered by the IUCN conservation criteria. Hence, many zoos around the world conduct breeding.

While warning not to harass the little ones by throwing food at them each time the pygmy hippos open their mouths, zoo officials have asked visitors to come and say hello to these three new arrivals.

The Dehiwala Zoo has also got down a baby elephant from Pinnawala, that was hit by a train. The little elephant was lucky, but not so its mother and another she elephant and her calf which were killed on the spot.

Published on online edition of SundayTimes on 01.05.2011

Abhaya the little jumbo was lucky but what about others?

April 30, 2011

The recent train/elephant collision in Habarana where only one calf survived and is now at the Dehiwala zoo, highlights a problem that needs to be addressed urgently By Malaka Rodrigo 

Last week, the Dehiwala Zoo welcomed a new baby elephant “Abhaya” who had lost his family to a tragic train/elephant collision.

It was just another peaceful night in October last year for two elephant families roaming the jungles of Habarana. There were two baby elephants aged only a few months in their midst and grazing peacefully, they approached the railroad. It was only when the sound of the oncoming train disturbed the silence of the night that the mothers recognizing the danger tried to protect them but the collision was deadly.

The mother jumbos were instantly killed and the two calves injured. Wildlife officers reached the accident site at Kithulothuwa along the Kantale Trincomalee railroad at dawn and the baby jumbos were sent to the Girithale wildlife facility for treatment. The one that had all its legs broken didn’t survive long but, the other, believed to be only eight months fought hard for his life. His leg was fractured in two places.

A garland of Araliya flowers for Abhaya at his new home

Later transferred to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, the elephant treated by the Pinnawela veterinary surgeons along with vets of the Peradeniya University’s Veterinary Faculty made friends with all. Seeing this friendly baby elephant at Pinnawela, the Director of the Zoological Gardens Bashwara Gunaratne thought the zoo would be a better place it.

“The baby is friendly with humans; its leg is a little shorter after the accident, so it can’t be released back to the wild. It also loves to have closer interaction with visitors,” said Mr. Gunaratne.

The baby jumbo moved to the zoo on Saturday, April 23. Brought to Dehiwala in the morning in a large truck, it was kept in a nearby temple until the auspicious time. Around 3 p.m, the jumbo was brought to its new home with villagers and other curious onlookers accompanying it and given a special hut near the Elephant Arena-I.

Those who visited the zoo on Saturday were asked to suggest names and some 450 names were reviewed by an astrologer. Considering that the elephant had got a new life thanks to the dedicated efforts of the veterinarians, the name Abhaya was selected said Education Officer of the Zoo, Nihal Senarath.

Animal rights activists believe Pinnawela would be a better place for the little elephant where it would be able to blend with other elephants and have a little social life. Sathwa Mitra’s Sagarika Rajakarunanayake pointed out that the interactions with the visitors should not be a harassment to the baby elephant. Many zoo visitors do not act responsibly feeding the animals and even throwing things at them despite warnings to refrain from such acts. But the Zoo officials said the baby will always be accompanied by a mahout who will safeguard it from undue attention.

Abhaya’s accident is not an isolated one. Since 1992, 75 elephants have died due to train accidents according to Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) records. Many have also been injured in similar accidents in the Mahaweli wildlife region and the North Western wildlife regions.

Accidents occur along a few key stretches in Polonnaruwa and Habarana. Most notable are the Habarana-Galoya, Galoya-Kantale, and Galoya-Minneriya routes. This area is elephant country with many parks famous for elephants such as Minneriya, Kaudulla, and Flood Plains.

Elephant experts also say these accidents are seasonal, the majority occurring during the dry season (May-September) and the northeast monsoon (November-January) when the elephants move between habitats in search of food. But the reasons for the collision are different from one rail stretch to another. Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation Dr. Chandrawansa Pathiraja said most of the accidents tend to occur at bends. Many of these areas are thickly forested and so neither the train driver nor elephant could see the approaching danger at a distance.

Since 2005, speed limits have been imposed for the most vulnerable stretches. Dr. Pathiraja said his department is analyzing the elephant/train collision data to take action to minimize the accidents such as clearing a few metres of forests along the track so that drivers can spot elephants in a distance and vice versa.

Dr. W.A. Dharmakeerthi, veterinarian of the Mahaweli wildlife region who had to treat and do post-mortems on many of elephants victimes pointed out that accidents at one stretch near Minneriya are caused by a steep slope where the railroad had been laid by cutting a mound. So the elephants can’t get away, even when they see the approaching train. “You can reduce the steepness of these slopes, so that elephants can quickly climb them and escape,” Dr. Dharmakeerthi suggested.

Elephant experts also link the accidents to herd behaviour. “Herds or females hesitate to retreat when there are calves or juveniles hanging around the railway. Young animals get confused and may stay on the railway itself if the associating herd is scattered at both sides of the tracks,” said Dr. Deepani Jayantha, country representative of Born Free Foundation, who has analyzed the elephant collision data and its patterns. The Born Free Foundation has had discussions with the DWC about finding solutions for this issue.

Gunshot injuries are still the main reason for elephant deaths in Sri Lanka that average 200 annually. But the elephant/train collisions continue and need to be addressed to prevent more little jumbos ending up orphaned like Abhaya.

Heavy vehicles too join elephant killers

It was another dark night and the bus bound from Colombo to Galgamuwa was speeding to its destination. All of a sudden the driver had seen what looked like a moving rock on the road but it was too late. The bus crashed into the elephant. The elephant survived, but the conductor travelling on the foot board of the bus died.

“The Thekka Kele in between Galgamuwa and Ambanpola is an elephant crossing where drivers should be careful,” warns Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe who had treated the injured elephant. He recalled that a few months later a van too had collided with an elephant, which angered by the collision attacked the vehicle killing a passenger.

In another roadside accident in Medawachchiya, an elephant calf had been killed instantly by a careless tipper. The accident occurred around 1 a.m.. An elephant calf was a victim of another roadside accident at Habarana last year.

The roads in some of these areas have been recently carpeted, an invitation for some drivers to speed. So it is important to demarcate the areas of elephant crossings and impose speed limits. Ultimately, whatever the regulations are – it is the driver’s responsibility.

Published on SundayTimes on 01.05.2011

Dehiwala Zoo’s New Orang-utan Baby

December 20, 2010

Now it’s Aki, Ufo and baby
A baby Orang-utan for Dehiwela Zoo after 28 years..!!
By Malaka Rodrigo

The first birth is always a happy moment for any parent. Hence, November 3 would be one of the happiest days for Dehiwala Zoo’s female Orang-utan Aki, who gave birth to a healthy male baby. Following their post-natal care, the Zoo released the mother and newborn into the open area of the Orang-utan enclosure on Thursday (16) to the accompaniment of religious activities.

After the birth, Aki was separated from its husband and kept in her cage with the baby. Coming out after about a month, Aki first cautiously checked the enclosure and ensured that the environment was safe for her baby. Then she slowly came out and had her breakfast placed at the front of the enclosure. The baby – not named at that time – clinging to her mother’s breast came out into the open for the first time.

After enjoying the fruits, Aki hurried to another cage in a corner of the enclosure. “This is where the father Orang-utan is kept at the moment,” said Veterinary surgeon Dr. Jagath Jayasekera. Proud mother Aki sat near the door of father Orang-utan – Ufo’s cage. Before Aki was temporarily separated soon after the birth, Aki and Ufo would playfully spend time with each other.

Aki and Ufo became residents of Dehiwala Zoo in 2003, through an animal exchange programme with Indonesia’s Ragunan Zoo. They were, in fact, the last couple of Orang-utans gifted by Indonesia’s Ragunan Zoo.

Orang-utan is the only great ape living in Asia, and also the largest arboreal primate. They are only found in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo islands and are endangered. In fact, Orang-utans are the second most valuable animals in the zoo, after the Black Rhinos.

The world zoo community maintains records or breeding register to ensure these rare animals do not inbreed or mate with the same family members, giving birth to weaker babies. Males often have white or orange beards and develop enormous cheek flanges of fat and fibrous tissue. Ufo and Aki are both aged 11 years now.

The Zoo’s Orangutan enclosure is indeed one of the best, with several logs and ropes where the apes can climb and play around. Naming of the baby too was in keeping with local tradition, as zoo officials went to an astrologer with the baby’s time of birth, and were recommended several letters. The Zoo allowed visitors to suggest names starting with the recommended one, from which a name was to be selected.

Sakifo will be its name

The competition to name the baby Orang-utan attracted a large response, with visitors invited to drop their suggestions into a box specially maintained for that purpose.

The winning entry was Sakifo, as suggested by Dimuth Tharinda, a schoolboy from Uva Paranagama. According to Dimuth, the name is a combination of ‘saki’, which means ‘friend’ in Sinhala, and ‘fo’, the last two letters of the father’s name Ufo.

Published on SundayTimes on 19.12.2010

Lemurs and meerkats for Dehiwala Zoo

March 14, 2010

Pair of Ring-tailed Lemurs

The Dehiwala Zoo has received a pair of Ring-tailed Lemurs and a pair of Meerkats. The animals were delivered under an international animal exchange programme. In exchange, Sri Lanka has given two pairs of Giant Squirrels and a male Rusty-Spotted Cat to Britain’s Rare Species Conservation Centre.

The Dehiwala Zoo was to receive a second pair of Ring-tailed Lemurs, but the animals had to be held back due to ill-health, shortly before they were due to be shipped to Sri Lanka. Lemurs are primates indigenous to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. The newly arrived Meerkats will join the Dehiwala Zoo’s established Meerkat family. Meerkats are desert animals that live in burrows.

This is the second shipment of zoo animals to arrive in Sri Lanka in recent weeks. On February 24, the zoo received a pair of White Tigers from China’s Xiang-jiang Safari Park.