Imagine if you were taken away from your parents at birth and was chained for the rest of your life? How would you feel if you were isolated from society, in a small, dark room with nobody to talk to?
For a human, he or she would have probably gone insane or would have taken his or her life by now. But for Bandula, the 69-year old majestic being living at the Dehiwela Zoo, this has been his whole life. Taken away from his parents at the tender age of three, he was brought into the zoo where he has been chained for his entire lifetime.
If it is natural for a human being to go insane as a result of not being able to communicate with the rest of the world, it could be the same for animals too. Elephants are often put under a lot of pressure once they are being trained for processions or other activities to please humans. As a growing number of animal lovers and animal rights activists have voiced their concerns on behalf of these voiceless, innocent beings, they have now diverted their attention towards Bandula.
"We will hand over the petition to the President himself "
Taking a lead in this mission to unchain Bandula the elephant, was Bandula the human. Bandula Jayasekara is a media personality and having served in diplomatic positions, he was interested to unchain Bandula the elephant for various reasons. Having seen this majestic being at the zoo during his visits to the zoo as a school boy and see it grow within the four walls into a majestic being was one of his initial memories.
“Therefore I thought it’s high time that the animal lives a chain free life at least for the next few years in his life,”
Jayasekara said in an interview with Daily Mirror Life.
“I wrote an article titled ‘Give me my FREEDOM says Bandula the elephant’ and I received many responses. I then followed it up with a second article titled ‘We should hang our heads in shame’.
This is where it began and then there was a lot of interest. Then Dr. Rishani Gunasinghe suggested that we come up with a petition and we translated it so that it was available in all three languages. So once it’s unchained Dr. Rishani and Dilum Alagiyawanna who directed ‘The Great Elephant Gathering’ said that it should be sent to the Ridiyagama Safari Park to live a chain-free life.
We have now received close to 10,000 responses. Elephants should be in the wild and people are aware of it. Once the petition receives a good amount of responses we will hand it over to the President.” Among the many people who have signed the petition includes Indian Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi who is also an environmentalist and an animal rights activist. Hence the petition has received widespread attention both locally and internationally.
Bandula should live close to nature for the rest of hislife
- Dr. Gunasinghe
In her comments to the Daily Mirror Life, environmentalist, nature lover and wildlife photographer Dr. Rishani Gunasinghe said that Bandula Jayasekara has written many articles and has spread the word. “69 years is a long time and the elephant should live close to nature even for the rest of his life that is left. Ridiyagama Safari Park is the best option where it could be unchained but will be provided with the food. These elephants need larger areas to move around but in the case of Bandula he had a tiny space to move. With this petition we hope to alert the authorities to stop such cruel practices and let the animals be in the wild.”
"All seven elephants in Dehiwela should be taken to Ridiyagama," says Dilum Alagiyawanna
Dilum Alagiyawanna, wildlife conservationist and the photographer said that he was always against taking elephants out from the wild. “Once taken out of the wild, they don’t come under conservation anymore. In Sri Lanka there are over 6000 elephants and we cannot justify keeping wild elephants in the zoo. Inside the zoo I realized that the area around them is not enough. The zoo has one male, Bandula and six other female elephants. The length of their chain is just one metre and nobody would accept to keep an elephant in such a small area. We should in fact consider taking all seven elephants to Ridiyagama and enable them to live chain free.”
Dilum further said that four out of the six female elephants were always moving their head from side to side which means they are mentally ill. “Zookeepers tell us that there is a circus but they cannot put the elephants together because they are not in a good mental state. Therefore I recommend that the President should take steps to release these elephants to the wild immediately. The Dehiwela Zoo spans 10.1 hectares and has 3000 animals with more than 1.8 million visitors coming in every year. The zoological garden in Singapore spans over a 70 acre extent of land with 2500 animals almost the same number of visitors coming in every year. But if we take the zooin Singapore they have gone a long way. They have stopped using elephants for circuses but instead they take for a bath in the morning and people can watch it. They don’t use the bullhook but a very blunt object which doesn’t harm the animal at all. Likewise they have made it an animal friendly experience which the people also admire. But now with pressure coming from European travel agencies, elephant rides and circuses will be stopped and Sri Lanka as a nation that depends on tourism should take this warning seriously and ensure a chain-free, cruelty-free, animal and human-friendly experience.”
Improving the welfare of captive elephants is an achievabletask
- Dr. Pilapitiya
In his comments ex-wildlife chief and elephant behavior expert Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya said that it is highly unlikely that the authorities would realize the importance of a chain-free life for elephants in the immediate future. “But improving the welfare of captive elephants is an achievable task. I am totally against keeping elephants in captivity and when those who wrote this petition asked me whether a captive elephant could be released to the wild I said ‘No’. But I said that a better option would be to release it to the Ridiyagama Safari Park because it is an open zoo. Elephants are chain-free animals that live in the wild and we need to give them that freedom. Zoos have an educational value and if you look at zoos around the world they have developed so much. Therefore Sri Lanka should also be moving in that direction rather than portraying more cruelty towards animals, especially within the boundaries of a zoo.”