Sri Lanka achieved a milestone on the 17th of April 2015, with the opening of the first Open-Air Zoo in the island, compliant with international standards where animals are now able to roam free and not confined to restricting cages for people to observe under the theme 'Join us and feel how well we live'.
With the Dehiwela Zoological Gardens being the only zoo in the country, it was often over-crowded and congested especially during holidays not to mention stressful and troubling for the animals. Though well maintained some time ago, the zoo steadily declined in quality making it a poor state of living for the creatures who now called it their home. Inadequately constructed cages and pitiable hygiene conditions which declined the heath of many animals raised many questions and debates around the ethics surrounding the zoo.
Finally, after years of planning and development, the Open-Air Zoo sprawling across 44 acres costing an estimated 862 million rupees is now open to the public with a majority of animals having being moved from Dehiwela to Pinnawala ensuring a better quality of life for the animals. It is adjacent to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which has been a popular tourist attraction for viewing elephants rescued from the wild up close.
The newly opened zoo saw a record crowd of approximately 150,000 people with a majority of these being tourists according to National Zoological Gardens Department Director Anura de Silva. As a new experience for the Sri Lankans, the Open-Air Zoo is proving to be a key attraction, with the leopard enclosure demonstrating the most popularity whilst also being the largest section in the zoo.
The Open-Air Zoo now sees two categorizations of species; native (endemic) called the 'Sri Lankan Zone' and international called the 'World Zone' respectively. The former displays the likes of species such as purple-faced leaf monkey, wild boar, sambur, Asian elephants and an array of birds.
Confident that the zoo would significantly contribute towards research and education, authorities are well-pleased with efforts that began in the year 2000 (though halted for 2 years in the process) resulting in the present outcome. Animals can be seen in surroundings that are as close to their ecological habitats as possible something which could not be done before due to the Dehiwela Zoo’s limits on space for expansion and upgrading.
The Pinnawala Open-Air Zoo is free of charge for those visiting from the 17th of April - 30th of April.