The  National  Zoological Gardens at Dehiwala celebrated its 84th birthday earlier this month. Celebrations to mark the day took a quiet note due to the threat of COVID-19 spread.

The day which started with prith chanting invoked blessings on the around 2500 animals  in the zoo and ended with the cutting of a cake shared by the staff and the media that covered the event.

An enrichment programme also was organized for the animals who were served with an extra round of food.

The 21 acre sprawling compound at Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha Dehiwala was  opened up for visitors on June 15, after a three month long closure due to Covid 19 threat.

But, even after a month, the place which used to be a hive of activity in normal times, resounded with emptiness. The absence of the usual winding queues at the ticket counter was ominous. A few people were seen trickling in and out at the entrance and exit gates.

The regular vendors selling fruits, candy and sweet meat had abandoned the area because of loss of  business.

The stretch enclosing the zoo looked forlorn sans the familiar sight of excited children getting in and out of  buses that have brought them to Colombo from remote village schools.

Inside, the zoo looked clean and spotless with the smell of fresh breeze pervading the air. Director General Ishini Wickramasinghe said that the closure had given the workers a respite to clean up the place thoroughly. We had to scrub and clean up the place so that the  animals don’t catch the virus,’ she said.

Meanwhile strict regulations have been laid down for visitors alongside the health directives issued by Covid 19 Task Force.

As a preliminary requirement no visitor is allowed to enter the premises without a face mask and are advised to continue wearing  the mask throughout the period they spend time in the zoo. Disposing used masks within the premises was disallowed.

Also visitors have been advised to maintain social distancing even while having meals. Throw away food  have to be discarded responsibly in  bins whilst spitting in the compound was strictly prohibited.

At the entrance, around ten peddle taps have been  installed  for the purpose of hand washing. In addition, striking green boards dot the entrance and at the ticket counter reminding people of the importance of maintaining the one meter distance.

Before entering, the  visitors are  subjected to   body temperature check following which forms are filled up giving  personal details including  names, addresses, national identity card numbers and contact numbers.

Inside,  visitors  are prohibited from touching the animals and  feeding them. Also bill boards displayed at the cages barred  visitors  from leaning on hand rails of animal dens or touching protective glasses at observation points.

The Zoo will be open from 8.30 a.m to 4.30 p.m daily. The last ticket issued will be at 3 p.m.

All shows at the Zoo have been cancelled until further notice. Patrons have been asked to minimise their time spent within the Zoo.