Conservations have expressed outrage at moves by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) to hand over two orphaned and wild-born sloth bear cubs to the National Zoological Gardens in Dehiwela.

Currently, the orphaned sloth bear cubs are being fostered by the DWC at the Udawalawa and Giritale sanctuaries, but are to be eventually shifted to the Dehiwela Zoo.

According to Sudarshini Fernando from the Center of Eco Cultural Studies, the wild sloth bear belongs to the ‘strictly protected’ animal category as per national wildlife legislation. She alleges that no such bears have been bred in captivity by the Zoo authorities to date and therefore these cubs will only serve commercial interests rather than conservation as is the norm concerning wildlife among all such establishments in Sri Lanka. “All efforts of conservation by these means have failed previously,” she said.

With regard to accusations made against the Wildlife Conservation Department, its Director General HD Ratnayake told The Nation their department was merely answering a request made by a state institute. “When a state institute makes a request, we can’t ignore it. And it is better to give the cubs we have found rather than giving way to a situation where animals are hunted,” Ratnayake said.

“The National Zoological Gardens needs certain species for conservation purposes. They have requested a few species, for instance bears and orphaned cubs. The animals are often for the open-air zoo,” Ratnayake explained, adding that, “if the animals have any injuries, we first nurse them before giving them to the zoo.”

“Our department has been given instructions to keep track of the cubs and see how they are taken care of,” Ratnayake added, explaining that this is important when breeding programs take place.

He also said that the department doesn’t like caging animals but it was a necessity in the process of wildlife conservation. Regarding the arguments about previous failures when holding sloth bears in captive, Ratnayake admitted they had lost two bears when releasing them to the wild after they were held in a captive environment. “Once they get used to being around humans, they find it difficult to survive in the wild,” he said.