Sri Lanka Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke speaks to the gathering at the Washington National Zoo

The Smithsonian National Zoo and the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC jointly celebrated the conservation of Asian elephants and Sri Lanka’s culture, at the National Zoo in Washington DC, on November 17, 2007.

The day’s program began with an elephant training demonstration with Shanthi, the Sri Lankan elephant and her son, Kandula, the baby elephant who is an icon at the Washington Zoo.

Director Washington National Zoo Dr. John Berry presents gift to Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke

Director of the National Zoo, Dr. John Berry, who spoke at the event, said that the relationship between the scientists of the Smithsonian Zoo and Sri Lanka dates back to the 1960s, and he warmly upheld Sri Lanka as a country that is leading the way in elephant conservation.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in the U.S., Mr. Bernard Goonetilleke, who also addressed the gathering, said, “Exactly one year ago, the Smithsonian National Zoo and the Sri Lanka embassy joined in a similar celebration, and the goodwill and rapport that grew between us has resulted in this joint celebration today.” Focusing on the significance of elephants in Sri Lanka’s traditional and religious activities, the Ambassador said, “Since ancient times, elephants have been an essential part of ceremonial occasions, caparisoned with glittering grandeur as pageantry demanded.” He contrasted this with the situation today, dwelling on “the man-elephant conflict that has arisen in recent times” which “results now and then, in unfortunate incidents.” Said the Ambassador, “The Smithsonian National Zoo has been of invaluable help to Sri Lanka in this issue, with its ongoing projects focused on the conservation of elephants in the country. We deeply appreciate your services and wish you the best of luck in your future efforts.” During the exchange of gifts, the Ambassador presented Dr. Berry with a miniature caparisoned elephant which is showcased for viewing by visitors at the zoo. Dr. Berry presented the Ambassador with a beautifully framed photograph and artwork by Shanthi, the mother elephant.

Visitors at the Sri Lanka stalls, Washington National Zoo

The Tea Pluckers' Dance by the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Group of Washington DC

The Sri Lanka promotion included a Tourism Promotion stall which afforded visitors the opportunity to discover the alluring attractions of Sri Lanka through brochures, other published information and movies, a handicrafts stall that advertised the diverse skills and creativity of Sri Lankans through colourful products exhibited, a stall with spicy Sri Lankan food that drew large crowds, and a Ceylon tea stall that served refreshingly hot Ceylon tea on a chilly autumn day. The prospect of dressing the sari, drew many females to the sari stall, which was termed a novel idea. The program included Sri Lankan dancing provided by the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Group of Washington DC who performed the Rabbit Dance ‘Musaladi Vannama’ and the ‘Tea Pluckers’ Dance’ and Sri Lankan folk stories related by members of the Sri Lankan community in Washington DC, which included some amusing ‘Andare’ stories. The Smithsonian provided fun activities for children and had several stalls presenting the Smithsonian’s elephant conservation projects undertaken in Sri Lanka.

Little visitors at the zoo

The enhanced rapport and goodwill between the Sri Lanka Embassy and the Washington National Zoo could lead to this type of Sri Lanka promotion becoming an annual feature at the Washington Zoo in the coming years.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

18 November 2007

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