Ambassador Wickramasuriya speaking at the VIP reception

The Embassy of Sri Lanka and Washington National Zoo celebrated Asia Elephant Saturday, recognizing the zoo’s two elephants of Sri Lankan lineage and the wildlife conservation work of both Sri Lanka and the Smithsonian Institution’s Washington National Zoo.

People are queuing up for a cup of free hot and iced Ceylon tea

“This celebration highlights the Smithsonian Institution’s efforts in the field of wildlife conservation in Asia, with special emphasis on the protection of elephants,” Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, told a VIP reception in the Zoo’s Elephant House as three Asian elephants munched on bamboo behind them. “Sri Lanka is so happy to become a vital partner in this exercise and work hand-in-hand with the Smithsonian Institution. “I was really pleased to hear from the Smithsonian scientists that Sri Lanka has set an example in wildlife conservation.”

Embassy staff shows zoo visitors how to be draped in a saree

The day-long celebration featured not just the elephants, but free hot and iced Ceylon tea for all the zoo’s visitors and traditional dances by the Sri Lankan Youth Dance Group of the greater Washington area. At a busy saree booth, embassy staff showed zoo visitors how to be draped in a saree. Sri Lankan Airlines and embassy staff also distributed tourist information from a special tourism booth.

Sri Lanka Youth Dance Group entertained thousands of visitors, who joined the celebrations.

The event was sponsored by the Friends of the National Zoo, or FONZ, and the Embassy of Sri Lanka. Royal Kingdom of Thailand Ambassador Don Pramudwinai and representatives of the Embassy of India also took part.

The National Zoo has three Asian elephants. One, Shanthi, was given to the zoo from the children of Sri Lanka in 1977. Shanthi gave birth in 2001 to Kandula, now the zoo’s second elephant of Sri Lankan lineage. The third elephant, Ambika, is from India.

Artists of "Sigiri Lalanavo Dance Troupe" performing to the admiring audience.

The zoo is renovating its elephant area to create an “Elephant Trail” as part of an expanded exhibit of Asian wildlife. Due to be completed in a year, the Elephant Trail features a new elephant barn, ponds and shade zones, three habitat areas and an elephant walk that takes the animals up a forested hillside to the zoo’s bird exhibit.

Both Acting Zoo Director Steve Monfort and Bob Lamb, director of FONZ, praised Sri Lanka’s work to preserve elephant habitat and the nation’s native elephant herds. They also thanked Ambassador Wickramasuriya and the Sri Lankan Embassy staff for staging the fourth annual Asian Elephant Day, which has become a favorite among zoo visitors.

Sri Lanka, an island nation of 20 million people, has established the Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage near Kegalla to care for a herd of up to 75 elephants. Many are calves found abandoned in the wild.

The Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation estimates that today there are between 3,160 and 4,405 elephants in Sri Lanka, with up to 2,870 in protected areas.

Sri Lanka has also established a network of national parks that protect elephants and their habitat. Tourists may observe elephants in the Yala, Wasgomuva, Udawalawe, Minneriva and Kandulla national parks. The habitat is generally tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests.

"Event Explores All Things Elephant" - Washington Post

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

24 August 2009


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