Some say it is animal cruelty and others say it is a necessity for the betterment of science. While some semi and fully domesticated animals may prefer living in confined spaces it is undeniable that many others prefer roaming freely. The National Zoological Gardens Dehiwala has come under criticism by some for the way they treat their animals. However, there are many others who are of the opinion that the Dehiwala Zoo has helped in breeding and protecting rare species that would otherwise have gone extinct.
In the early years of the 20th century, John Hagenbeck, brother of the famous animal trainer, Carl Hagenbeck, established the Ceylon Zoological Gardens Company at Dehiwala. The 11-acre plot of land was used by the Hagenbecks as a collecting depot for captured wild animals destined for the zoos of Europe. The company went bankrupt in 1936 and was then purchased by the Government.
Today, the National Zoological Gardens is one of the oldest zoos in Asia. With its beautifully landscaped gardens, colourful flowers, foliage, and waterfalls, the Dehiwala zoo is situated on 23 acres of land. The zoo has around 266 species and around 4550 animals. The highest artificial waterfall in Sri Lanka can also be seen at the Dehiwala Zoo.
However, Dehiwala Zoo like all other animal welfare organisations has suffered in recent times. First it was the COVID-19 pandemic that badly affected the zoo. While some animals were diagnosed with the virus the zoo authorities attended to the problem and the animals recovered.
The zoo then had to be shut down temporarily to control the spreading of the COVID-19 virus. Then came the fuel crisis and the drastic reduction in tourist arrivals to the country. The zoo’s revenue went down badly and this affected the supply of food for the animals.
Zoo authorities then came up with a donation plan and requested the public to chip in and help to support the animals by donations or sponsorship depending on how much they could afford. A leaflet with all the details was printed and the plan was put into operation.
“The Dehiwala Zoo earned Rs 1000 million in 2018. But after the COVID-19 pandemic the earnings dropped drastically. In 2021 the zoo earned only Rs 200 million,” the Director General of National Zoological Gardens, Dr. Thilak Premakantha told Ceylon Today.
He said they can manage to feed the animals with the money they have but have also introduced the donation programme as an additional measure. “Anybody can select an animal from the species presented in the leaflet and choose a donation plan that suits them. All donations will go into the Zoo Development and Welfare Fund and will be used to buy food, drugs and develop the animal enclosures,” Dr. Premakantha said.
The cost per day for the Guninea pig, parrot, duck, otter, rainbow lorikeet, Eclectus parrot, white peacock, rabbit, black swan, Lechwe, white swan, grey horn bill, barking deer, sambar, scimitar horned oryx, Japanese sika deer, ostrich and civet cat each is Rs 500.
For the jungle cat, giant squirrel, flamingo, monkey, pony, mule, Arabian oryx and giant tortoise the cost per day is Rs 1000. For the greater kudu, grey kangaroo, wild boar, fishing cat, lemur, blackbuck and the Nilgai which is the largest Asian antelope each is Rs 1500 and for the zebra, it is Rs 2000.
The cost per day for the each of the sloth bear, black jaguar, giraffe and the spider monkey is Rs 2500 while the baboon and pigmy hippo cost Rs 3000 each. The wild horse costs Rs 3500 a day to maintain while the brown bear and camel cost Rs 4000 each. The black rhinoceros’ maintenance costs Rs 4500 a day while the same for the chimpanzee and lion goes Rs 6000. The Nile hippo’s daily maintenance cost stands at Rs 7500 while the orang-utan and the sea lion costs Rs 8000 each. The Bengal tiger and the elephant cost a bit more in terms of maintenance as theirs stands at Rs 13,000.
If your generosity exceeds a sum of Rs 200,000, then you can join the animal adoption programme with more benefits and satisfaction. Anybody visiting the Dehiwala Zoo can collect a form from the entrance and decide what animals they would like to help in the donation programme.
By Risidra Mendis