The sad story of Pooh:Is Sri Lanka guilty of gross neglect of its wildlife?

Nirmala Kannangara | Published on August 20, 2011 at 3:40 am

The Wild Life Conservation Department (WLCD) has come under sever criticism for its failure to take care of Sri Lanka’s treasures in the wild.

Pooh in her cage

Suffering silently:Pooh in her cage

The latest in a series of sad tales about Sri Lanka’s neglected fauna and flora is the plight of a sick sloth bear that has been unconscionably neglected by the authorities despite tourists offering their private funds to help the animal.

Unconscionable neglect

The bear, an inhabitant of the Yala National Park – a major tourist attraction generating over one million rupees a day – was one of two sick sloth bear found in the Yala wilds in late June this year. This female bear, lovingly nicknamed Pooh by concerned tourists is suffering from bed sores as park officials were unable to provide the necessary care including physiotherapy and proper medication. The male bear died.

Highly threatened species

Sloth bear is the only bear species found in Sri Lanka and is native to the country. The animal is a highly threatened species with a population of less than 1000 (the wild population may be as few as 500).

Experts say that destruction of dry-zone natural forests is its main threat, because unlike other large Sri Lankan animals,

Picture of the sick bear taken 7 July 2011

the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is highly dependent on natural forests for its food source. It seems that with encroachment and the general disturbance of our forests, the sloth bear is among the first animals to disappear.

WLCD funds-where does it all go?

The nation’s wild animals like leopard and sloth bear lure large numbers of local and foreign tourists to the National Parks and generate a sizeable income for the Department. With the WLCD earning millions of rupees from these parks, its claim to have no funds to treat the sick animals, have raised questions and anger among animal lovers and conservationists. Legitimate questions now being asked include why the department cannot utilize the money earned from the parks towards the welfare of its animals.

Although it is said that each national park in the country earns several lakhs of rupees on the sale of entrance tickets daily no one knows where the money goes. Wild life enthusiasts argue that this money does not seem to be going to towards the maintenance of the parks, upkeep of the habitat or the welfare of its exotic and dwindling species of fauna and flora.

Picture of the sick bear taken 28 July 2011

When questioned about the sick sloth bear, speaking on conditions of anonymity, sources from the Yala National Park told Lanka Independent, “She was found seriously sick in the thick jungles of the Yala National Park in late June but she did not receive satisfactory medical treatment. She is a well-grown animal believed to be around 12-14 years of age and is a fast disappearing species from the country.”

Struggling to survive

Meanwhile according to wild life enthusiasts, these two sloth bear were found ill with pneumonia and the male bear died while the female bear is still struggling to survive.

“No sooner than the male bear died, we requested the park warden to provide a bigger cage for the remaining bear since the cage in which she was put in was very small not even enough to stretch out her legs,” these sources added.

More interested in making money from a sick bear

The sources accused the park officials of serious neglect in their failure to deploy two special attendants to look after the

Pooh: Sleeping on a coir mattress which exacerbated her pressure wounds

sick bear and added that the temporary attendants too were more interested in making money out of the sick bear.

“At a time when the bear needed peaceful sleep in the cage, the attendant made the bear perform in order to entertain tourists and make money out of it. Instead of allowing the bear to rest these attendants made this seriously sick bear stand up on her feet and move around, which she did with the greatest difficulty in that tiny cage. Of course this made the tourists happy and made them give this attendant monetary incentives,” sources said.

Donated large cage

Having seen the pathetic situation into which this sick bear was put in, and observing how she was suffering, some private persons had donated a large cage to the Yala national park in July in order to provide a better place for the ailing animal to rest.

Meanwhile a visiting Dutch family who has gone on a Yala safari confirmed to the Lanka Independent park officials had failed to take care of this sick animal.

Dutch couple to the recue

Also speaking on the basis of anonymity they said it was unbelievable what challenges they faced from the authorities before they were allowed to take the bear out of the Yala park to provide the animal better healthcare.

Pooh: In a cage so tiny she could not even stretch her legs

“This was on July 27, the day of our first visit to Yala. Seeing the bear in pain and how she was badly treated I asked the park authorities whether I could help out to get better treatment for this sick animal. Despite our requests, the authorities concerned were adamant that the animal be treated in Yala and they did not show any interest in our offer,” they said.

A harrowing tale

“Meanwhile we sent several requests to some of our contacts who could help us out to treat this innocent ailing animal. As a result I was able to speak to Debbie from the Animal SOS Ahangama,” the Dutch family told the LI.

Speaking with deep concern as they could not tolerate the pain and the suffering the innocent animal was undergoing, this Dutch family accused the government for its failure to provide better attention to the wild life in the country which is one of the major tourist attractions.

Parks earning Rs. 2m a day

“We have now learnt that each main national park in the country earns around two million rupees per day and once this amount is multiplied by 365 days, it is easy to calculate what an income the government of Sri Lanka earns from the wild life. But rather than preserving the ‘treasures’ and improving facilities for the wild life especially when they have fallen sick the government puts this money into their own pockets,” they alleged.

They further alleged that if this trend continues, within ten years Sri Lanka will lose all the sloth bears and other endangered species.

“No one will bother to visit Sri Lanka then. Our grand children will only have to learn about sloth bears from history books. Is this what Sri Lanka wants to happen?” they asked.

Notorious lack of compassion

Certainly though a Buddhist country and widely advertised as one following the noble path, there has been a notorious

Saving Pooh

and alarming lack of interest and compassion towards animals in the country.

The Dutch couple said that they have spent three days at Yala in order to get the bear cured and added that they had to force Dr. Tharaka of the WLCD to move the bear to Ahangama Animal SOS for better treatment.

“We paid for the transportation of this bear from Yala to Ahangama and for the caretaker who traveled with the bear,” they added.

Elephant Transit Home

According to them, on arrival Dr. Tharaka has not released the bear to the Animal SOS since it was found to be a hospital for dogs and had wanted the animal taken to the animal hospital at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH).

“We were told that he (Dr. Tharaka) does not want to keep the bear at Ahangama and wanted to take her to the newly built hospital at the ETH in Uda Walawe. We could not disagree with him as we have not seen the place and because we were told that at the ETH the bear could be treated well as they had trained staff with adequate medicine,” they said.

However what they actually witnesses at the ETH was something else.

A hell hole

“By the time we reach Uda Walawe it was midnight. We took our two children aged seven and eight with us as our first priority was to rescue this innocent animal instead of enjoying our holiday in Sri Lanka. On arrival we were shocked to see the state of the hospital- nothing better than the Yala situation. Since we were too tired by this time we stayed overnight which cost us around 1000 US$ for the sake of the bear,” they said.

When they have returned the next morning they were shocked to understand as there was no one to tend to the animal and she was lying in her own urine.

Dried blood, flies and ants

“Not only did this terrible hospital fail to assign any one to look after the bear, they had neglected the innocent animal completely. The blood that had dripped from the bed sores had dried up all over the floor and flies and ants were all around the blood stains.”

Animal Hospital asks private couple to buy medicine for sick bear

On our request the bear was given some bees honey for consumption. The ETH meanwhile asked us to buy the medicine and a needle (for saline) as the sick animal badly needed medication at the earliest since she was getting dehydrated because of the pressure wounds (bed sores).

We were told that the hospital does not have needles because they do not have the necessary equipment to sterilize them,”

Pooh a hero in the eyes of many as she battles for her life

they added. They further alleged that the ETH workers were more interested in smoking, drinking and chatting rather than discharging their duties towards the animal.

“The ETH staff was more interested in exchanging pleasantries rather than carrying out their duties. It is the ETH officer in charge who has to be blamed for the situation. On my request the bear got a mosquito net and a fan that gave some relief to the sick animal. No one showed any compassion towards this sick animal, which is an abuse of animal rights and this has to be exposed internationally.”

Abuse of animal rights

“This has to be highlighted in international media to show how the Sri Lankan government has failed to look after its wild life with the money they generate through tourism.”

This Dutch couple further claimed that the two veterinary surgeons and the two nurses who have come from UK to treat the animals in the Animal SOS at Ahangama were brought down to the ETH on their request.

Hospital tries to get Dutch couple to pay for Bear minder

“Tom and Debbie from the Animal SOS accompanied these two doctors and the nurses to inspect the bear at our cost. After inspecting the animal the doctors wanted us to bring the bear to the Animal SOS although it was not allowed by Dr. Vijitha Perera- the resident veterinary surgeon and Dr. Tharaka.

Instead they wanted us to pay Rs. 1400 for two villagers to look after the animal, which was a ‘joke’.

We will take this up with international animal rights orgs

These tourists meanwhile told the LI that they are going to take this up internationally once they return to the Netherlands.

“We spent five days on this bear and we were told this was not the first time such a thing has happened, it has happened on many occasions. This was told to us by the park officials who are on tape to prove if necessary. It was very pathetic to see the way this animal was kept on a coir mattress which worsened the bear’s pressure wounds. We are going to take this up internationally in order to get the foreign countries to ban their citizens from visiting these national parks,” they added.

Yala Deputy Warden says:

Lanka Independent contacted the Yala Deputy Warden Buddhika who denied these allegations and said that they have looked after the bear to the best of their ability.

“We did not neglect the bear but paid the best attention to her,” Buddhika told LI.

When asked why his staff teased the sick animal when she was lying critically ill in the cage, Buddhika said ‘that was not done to make money from the tourists but as part of the animal’s physiotherapy.

WLCD says:

However a WLCD official on the condition of anonymity told the LI that it was a failure on their part.

“Yes we do have to accept that we could not provide the best medication to this ailing animal. Had we looked after her well she would not have got the pressure wounds,” said the sources.

Dr. Vijitha Perera says:

Meanwhile when we spoke to Dr Vijitha Perera the LI was told that they do not have enough staff to assign especially to the bear.

“This is the home for many elephants and all our staff are assigned to look after the elephants. We have found it difficult to assign two people especially to look after the bear,” said Dr. Perera.

When asked as to whether there is lack of staff and if so the reason for that, Dr. Perera confirmed that they do not have enough of staff.

“The WLCD do not have enough of funds. That is why we d not have enough of staff,” he said.

The Minister says:

When Lanka Independent contacted the Minister of Agrarian Services and Wild Life S.M. Chandrasena, we were told that the WLCD has enough of funds and would look into the matter.

“We have enough of funds. I will certainly look into this matter,” he said.

Sri Lanka is already under fire for the violation of human rights and widely condemned for alleged crimes against humanity, now it seems all life is of little value.  From a leopard skin found at a government minister’s home to illegal roads being built through Sri Lanka’s pristine rain forests, the government has sorely neglected the nation’s rich natural treasure except to perhaps exploit it for personal gain. It is time the authorities seriously address the issue not only of animal rights but also of preservation of Sri Lanka’s endangered fauna and flora if we are to protect them for our future generations.


8 Comments to “The sad story of Pooh:Is Sri Lanka guilty of gross neglect of its wildlife?”

  • Hello, what a superb website you have got here. This info has become particulary beneficial. I will certainly come to this website later, thanks a lot.

  • […] level in every degree. We cannot leave it to somebody else anymore. This website published the harrowing tale of the Sloth bear so cruelly treated until a Dutch couple came to its rescue. It published the story of a proposed […]

  • I’m so shocked to read this article. I want to thank the Dutch couple from the bottom of my heart for the kindness they showed this poor animal. All sri lankans are not this cruel. We love our pets, we love our wildlife and our animals. Some are still ignorant about these matters and animal rights. We have to educate them

  • Well this is a government that thinks nothing of clearing virgin forests to built a road. Thinks nothing of killing thousands of civilians according to a UN report in the last days of the war. Thinks nothing of killing journalists on the streets in broad daylight. Tourists. Welcome to Sri Lanka. only decay and death surround those who are not seen as useful to the Rajapakses personal life plan

  • The bear looks really ill ion the pictures. It is upto the authorities to look into this

  • Where are the animal rights groups? WHere is Mrs Rajapakarunanyake and the others . Why don’t you tell them to get involved in this as well. Sri Lanka has somew good rights groups that can take this up. Some one should tell them

  • The government owes an apology to this dutch couple because when reading this article it seemed very much as if the so called officials of the various departments and hospitals were exploiting them and trying to make money on the side. It is a damn shame and an insult to decent sri lankans that these pathetic officials forced a foreign couple to pay and look after an animal when the animal belonged to sri lanka and when it was the duty of the wild life department to look into this and take action.

  • Dear Nirmala,

    Thank you so much for writing the truth about Pooh’s condition and the horrible way the government treated her. We have faced corruption and threats while we were in Sri Lanka so we are well aware that what you have done now is not without consequences. It’s a shame that all Sri Lankan people have to face fear daily!

    Thank you out of Pooh’s name.

    Warm rgs Nelke van Aspert & Family

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The sad story of Pooh:Is Sri Lanka guilty of gross neglect of its wildlife?

The Wild Life Conservation Department (WLCD) has come under sever criticism for its failure to take care of Sri Lanka’s treasures in the wild. Suffering silently:Pooh ...