Finer points of animal diplomacy and animal care in zoos

Finer points of animal diplomacy and animal care in zoos

By Meera Srinivasan/The Hindu

Colombo, May 13: It may take about a month for the anacondas, taken recently from Colombo to Karnataka, to adjust to their new environment. They will be quarantined until that time, as authorities at the Mysuru zoo prepare to display them.

The two green anacondas, one male and one female, will soon be joined by four more snakes from the well-known Dehiwala zoo in Colombo, while, in return, four of the protected species of blackbuck and four nilgais will make their way from Mysuru to Colombo.

Apart from conventional animal diplomacy, where governments, as a goodwill gesture, gift each other animals that are endemic to their countries, zoos across the world network quite actively to add more diversity to the animals that they display for visitors.

Sri Lanka has been part of ‘animal exchange programs’ for many years, going by what is called a “surplus list” and a “wanted list” of animals, circulated internationally by different zoos.

Even the two anacondas, each about eight feet long, were brought to Sri Lanka from the Czech Republic, according to officials at the Zoological Department here.

“When reptiles are transported, they are usually put in pillow cases and then a box. We need to get the necessary wildlife and health permits,” the Director General of the department, Dhammika Malsinghe, told The Hindu.

The anacondas would have to be kept in a familiar environment with the right kind of soil for them to survive. They usually adapt well to tropical climates, she said.

Anaconda in Mysuru Zoo

Given the logistics involved and the official clearances mandated for flying animals across the seas, one would think that the exchange might perhaps be restricted to small-sized reptiles and mammals. But that is not the case. About five years ago, Sri Lanka got an African elephant, a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) stipulates specific conditions for transporting animals, which have to be followed in each of these instances.

Love-Hate Relationship

Animal lovers tend to have a love-hate relationship with zoos — yes, it’s fascinating to see these animals up close, but at the same time, they’re not in their natural environment and often confined to smelly cages.

For most zoos, especially in the region, space is a serious constraint, and they often struggle to accommodate the cubs or baby animals that resident animals give birth to. The animal exchange program is apparently one way of dealing with it.

If it is an exotic animal that is not native to a country, zoological authorities cannot release it into the jungle.

“We then look for another zoo to house them and they become a major attraction there,” Ms. Malsinghe explained.

Call to Close Zoo

Even as the anacondas begin their quiet diplomacy in Mysuru, calls to shut down the Dehiwala zoo are growing louder here.

Animal rights activists point to the everyday suffering of animals in the zoo and have demanded it be shut down and the animals left back in their natural habitat.

Amid pressure, officials said in late 2017 that efforts were being taken to remove all the animals in the zoo from cages.

Closing a zoo will never be an easy, argue officials. Habitat degradation and the increasing human population have impacted wildlife reserves and natural habitats of animals.

“Moreover, not all families can afford to take their children to wildlife safaris. Then at least for educational purposes, we need the zoos,” Ms. Malsinghe said.

(The Dehiwala Zoo in Sri Lanka is one of the oldest zoological gardens in Asia)

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