Animal rights-A very relevant extract from an old ( 30 Dec 2001 Sunday Leader) article by Rohan Pethiyagoda…


For a Buddhist country with a value system that recognises animals as equal life forms, we Sri Lankans have a long way to go in the field of animal rights. As this article is about biodiversity, I will neglect the case of domestic animals. Consider the plight of wild animals in captivity. It is illegal in Sri Lanka to keep almost any but a handful of common ‘pest’ species such as porcupines and macaque monkeys in captivity. Ironically, almost 400 elephants (an endangered species) are today in captivity. There is no law that governs the treatment of these animals and the veterinary care that should be administered to them. It is compulsory to vaccinate your dog against rabies but there is no such rule for elephants (one captive elephant died of rabies at the Gangarama Temple in Colombo a few years ago). Almost all elephants in captivity today were born in the wild. When I see these poor creatures being made to walk long distances on hot asphalt between towns to be shown off in peraheras, I wonder why it is that the usually articulate wildlife enthusiasts are silent.

A similar dilemma faces all animals in ‘captivity’, especially in temples and homes that have offered them refuge from poachers. These include all species of deer, and in a few cases, smaller animals such as mongooses. To keep these animals in captivity is illegal, but the answer is not to confiscate them and send them to the zoo or release them into the wild, both of which result in certain death. But what is a temple to do when a devotee brings in an injured deer or bird? Refuse to care for it on the grounds that it is illegal? I myself was faced with this dilemma recently when I encountered an endemic leaf monkey that has been injured on the Low-level Road at Ruwanwella. It would have been illegal for me to treat it, or even take it to a vet. We need to develop a compassionate policy that will on the one hand encourage genuine competent agencies legally to care for such animals (given that the government has no facilities) and on the other to deter people from capturing wild animals as pets.