Zoos open up to foster care

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Zoos based in and out of Colombo are in a dilemma. While these facilities are extremely popular and profitable, they are also vulnerable to hazards, including global economic and food crises, import restrictions, and concerns about the value of animals in managed care. Dehiwala Zoo, like other zoos, will open to sponsors who want to help an animal, in the backdrop of the country’s worsening economic crisis.

The National Zoological Gardens in Dehiwala is taking steps to mitigate the rising expenditures of animal care. The annual operational expenditure adds up to millions of dollars.

What is foster care?

Many caged animals in zoos islandwide face a bleak future in the backdrop of the raging economic crisis. Unfortunately, shelters are not always able to accommodate all the animals that come through their doors. Thus, shelters may turn to foster parents, who are people ready to care for shelter animals in their homes on a temporary basis.

The zoo must settle Rs 59 million in overdue payments to animal feed suppliers, according to a statement from the Ministry of Agriculture. It is estimated that at least Rs 120 million will be required to feed the animals for the rest of the year.

While the expenses of feeding carnivores have soared, a programme encouraging people to foster animals is being considered.

How to become a foster parent

Director General of National Zoological Gardens, Dr. Tilak Premakantha said a foster care programme is being formulated to assist cost cuts, which they have been planning for a long time and have learnt from zoos worldwide.

He said this would entail caring for animals or providing financial assistance in the form of packages ranging from lifetime sponsorships to daily donations. He added that there are plenty of local and foreign philanthropists prepared to contribute to animal welfare.

People can learn more about the fostering programme by calling the zoo’s hotline or visiting social media channels.

However, the animals will remain in the zoo while a foster parent pays for meals, nutrients, and medication.

“It is also hoped that individuals will be able to support an animal’s food for an entire day or donate a dinner to commemorate a special event. We will issue certificates for donations granted to mark a birthday or other special occasion. We also accept food. We will allow donors free access to the animals as well as photo opportunities,” he said.

Why foster?

Foster families, according to Dr. Premakantha, provide a healthy and safe environment for the animal. When queried if there will be a legal bond between the animal and the foster parent, he said there will be no legal bond or signed document, only a caring relationship.

The programme will be launched in three to four days, according to the Director General, and will appeal to people to help support and nurture animals. “I believe that this will be one of our most successful strategies to date. This is a new thing in Sri Lanka, but the concept has been around for a while. It was supposed to happen every year, but it never did. However, we are looking forward to announcing the greatest foster care application,” he said.

Involving people

Despite the fact that there is no food shortage at the moment, zoos countrywide are preparing for a difficult year. At the farm in Gonapola, Horana, employees have begun to grow more vegetables, grass, greens, and fruits such as bananas. The zoo’s other areas will be utilised for agriculture.

On the recommendation of veterinarians, zoo staff are swapping imported food for local food to maintain a healthy diet for the animals.

Dr. Premakantha said while they are able to grow alternative fruits and other products, it is still difficult to find meat substitutes, which is one of the key meals that the zoo requires in large quantities.

“There is a strategy to minimise the number of animals in order to save money, and animal breeding will be strictly regulated. We intend to rewild local animals such as deer and sambar that have overbred. Some employees said awareness programmes had been held to minimise costs by limiting the use of power, water, and telephones, among other things,” he added. Animal feed suppliers are unable to provide food under the planned allotment, according to Minister of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation Mahinda Amaraweera.

Is it time to close zoos?

The first thing to consider, according to Executive Director of RARE, Panchali Panapitiya, is whether the zoo has sufficient funds, if not, there will be a pressing need to seek funds from the public and feed the animals.

“It is time to consider whether keeping these animals in captivity is right or wrong. Money is a problem that will not be fixed in two days. The recovery from the country’s economic abyss might take years. People are unable to visit the zoo. In Dehiwala, foreigners do not visit the zoo,” she explained.

Animals come in a variety of shapes and sizes, yet they all manage to steal our hearts in some way. Whether working with animals is your chosen profession or simply a personal hobby, volunteering with animals to provide care is a decision that will impact not only your life, but the lives of the animals you choose to help.

Regardless of where you work or what species you work with, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, while making a significant change in the lives of animals worldwide. It takes a special individual to look after the well-being of creatures that can’t thank you enough, but until the zoo concept is modified, this is one of the ways to look after any animal, by offering good food from caring hands.

By Thameenah Razeek