Roar of protest over facelift plan for Dehiwala Zoo

By Leon Berenger

A “master plan” to redevelop the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens has met with strong objections from employees and small traders working and operating on the premises. They say the proposed redevelopment programme would drastically alter the character of the gardens and hurt their business.

Speaking on behalf of employees of the zoological gardens, trade union spokesperson W. M. P. Sarath told the Sunday Times that the “master plan” would destroy the ambience of the garden and disfigure the setting and surroundings, which the public had been enjoying for more than 70 years. Established in 1936, the Dehiwala Zoo is one the oldest zoological gardens in Asia.

“This is absurd,” Mr. Sarath said. “Under the plan, several enclosures and large dens will be demolished to make way for roads, pathways and so on. The place will lose its original character if the authorities go ahead with the proposed changes.”

Mr. Sarath said the authorities could better use the “billions of rupees” to be allocated to redevelop the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens to complete and develop other zoos now under construction in different parts of the country. “This would be more appropriate,” he said.

According to other trade union representatives, certain interested parties who stood to gain from the Dehiwala Zoo master plan were pushing for the redevelopment.

The unionists said that at least 10 animals at the zoo had died under questionable circumstances in the past three months, but nothing had been done to improve conditions for the animals. “They are only interested in the new constructions and the road in the so-called master plan,” they said.

A representative for small traders operating on the zoo premises said the revamp would disrupt their business. They alleged that canteen operators, ice-cream vendors and other small businesses would be forced to close down to make way for large restaurants that would be given out to “personal favourites”.

Zoo director Duminda Jayaratne defended the master plan, saying the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens was “choked up” and in need of an overhauling. Also, new space was required to accommodate new animal acquisitions, he added.

He said the Dehiwala Zoo master plan would be implemented once work at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and the Safari Park in Ridiyagama, Hambantota, was completed. “We have already received Rs. 170 million to complete both projects,” Mr. Jayaratne said at a press conference this week.

Asked about the high mortality rate of animals at the Dehiwala Zoo, Mr. Jayaratne said most of the animals had died of old age or natural causes, and that their deaths had nothing to do with negligence on the part of the zoo and its medical staff, or for any other reasons.

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