The long walk to ending animal cruelty

With the cruelty towards animals increasing in leaps and bounds, the outraged cry of animal rights activists are to be heard, condemning acts of cruelty and demanding that the ill-used law be brought forth and action be taken.

Many suggestions and requests have been made with petitions now being signed to ban the slaughter of animals, but the government is yet to make a move towards updating laws activists say have been enacted during the British rule that are now redundant.

Laws and the changes that need to take place
Animal rights activists say that not only does the existing law need to be changed to bring together all acts dealing with cruelty under one such law, but that the existing laws of the country need to be fully explored.

With many not knowing the law while others simply not following it, there have been a rising cry of outrage from animal activists alleging that more need to be done for these gentle beings who suffer in silence.

The Sri Lanka Animal Rights Protection Association (SLAPA) said though there have been amendments to the laws of the country dealing with cruelty towards animals, they were those put in place during the British rule. The recent amendments to the act they say have been done with much difficulty with continuous lobbying by activists.

“According to the amendments in the new law, cattle that have been confiscated during illegal transportation can now be given to animal care organizations and they could be used for agricultural purposes,” said SLAPA, Lorraine Bibile. She explains that previously any of the cattle confiscated in such a manner was handed over to the owner once legal proceedings had ended making such laws on animal protection redundant.

“Apart from this, we find that most people do not know the laws when it comes to animal cruelty or they simply do not follow it and laugh the matter off,” she said. Ms. Bible explained that many did not go to the police station to complain of cruelty towards animals as they were laughed at, therefore the Association made it a point to arm animal lovers with a copy of the law when making a complaint to the police. 

The SLAPA had conducted many awareness programmes in an attempt to reduce cruelty towards animals due to ignorance. “We find that many of these acts take place due to ignorance rather than the need to harm them, not to say there aren’t people who do so,” said SLAPA Secretary, Sharmini Ratnayke.

Prominent Environmentalist, Jagath Gunawardane on the other hand said that though the law in the country needed to be changed, the existing law should be fully exploited and fines increased.

“The laws that we have now mostly relate to cattle and I think that all laws for animals should brought together under one umbrella where all animals are given the same rights,” he said. Mr. Gunawardane held animal rights groups responsible for the lack of usage of the laws.  

“Unlike in the protection of wildlife, there is a clear consensus among the society that cruelty towards animals is wrong, therefore they only have to enforce it,” Mr. Gunawardane stated. He explained that many activists often had no clear cut strategy or action plan, thus leaving environmentalist the unavoidable task of assisting those who do not have any idea of the legal background.

Mr. Gunawardane said that a network had to be built within the society to enable interested parties to contact activists and that action, whether it is legal or not should be taken at the proper time. “The new act that has not been taken up in parliament as yet, goes into more details about cruelty, the fines as well as more information on the confiscations and punishments given,” he said. 

Animal rights activist and President of Sathva Mithra, Sagarica Rajakaruna said there was a need for a special authority that would look into the rights of animals as the police, under whose purview this came did not have the time or the necessary man power to do so. “Things such as animal rights have not become a main issue with the politicians as people do not raise it to become a major issue during elections as something that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Other activists such as Narendra Gunathilake agreed that all existing laws for animal cruelty should be brought together as one. “There are many contradictions in the laws with a lot of loop holes that need to be covered,” he said. Mr. Gunathilake pointed out the definitions in some acts as an example. “In one act the word cow means just the cow but in another it also includes animals such as the pig and the goat as well,” he explained.

The Humane act of slaughtering animals
The SLAPA explains that it is the cattle that have suffered most when it comes to animal cruelty. Members recollect gruesome tales of legs of cattle being broken to fit in to transport vehicles that could only hold half the number of cattle that are being transported. “We also know that permits and the animals are not fully checked before they are taken to the slaughter house, with many of the laws being violated,” said Ms. Bibile.

The Association say they have begun a petition to ban the slaughter of animals and have so far collected more than 500,000 signatures and hope to hand in the petition to President Mahinda Rajapaksa soon. “We are not telling people not to eat meat, what we are saying is that the slaughter be conducted in a humane manner that ensures the animal suffers the least possible pain,” said Ms. Ratnayake.

Ms. Rajakaruna explains that the existing laws have been created with agriculture and the meat industry in mind and therefore need to be changed.  “We are hoping to lobby for a law that does not allow the cows to be slaughtered because it is not fair to slaughter her just because she is barren after we have drunk her milk,” she said.

“Though we would be happy the day that all slaughter of animals is stopped we understand that is not possible as we are living in a multi cultural society,” she said. However, Ms. Rajakaruna hopes to see a change in this in the future for the better.

The controversy that was
 Munneshwaram Kovil
“There is a procedure to be followed when slaughtering an animal and we got to know that this was not followed at the Munneshwaram Kovil, which is why we lodged a complaint at the Chillaw Police hoping that they would take action,” said Activist, Narendra Gunathilake.

 He explained they were afraid the number of animal sacrificed would have increased in comparison to the previous year as the war had just ended.

“We understand that as law abiding citizens that we cannot take the law into our hands, which is why we made a formal complaint to the police,” he said. Mr. Gunathilake explained they were sure there were no valid permits for the animals or permits saying they were suitable for consumption.

He explained that even though, the slaughter at Munneshwaram was a tradition that had been there for years, tradition was not above the law as everyone should follow the laws laid out by the state when slaughtering an animal.

“Our final aim to stop the slaughter of animals but we know that this is not a possibility unless there are discussions between communities, a dialogue among all religions and a decision and compromise is arrived upon,” he said.

 Mr. Gunathilake stated there was a need for the change in the law as the fine for the illegal transportation of cattle was just Rs. 100 according to the laws set out in 1893, which when put into the modern context was a ridiculous sum.


SLAPA explains that many of the cruelties towards animals take place due to ignorance, where people do not understand or know how animals are to be treated. “When we talk to most people they think that tying up a dog or keeping it in a kennel all the time is what you need to do but they do not understand that they too are beings that need to move around and not be kept walled up in one place,” said Ms. Ratnayake.

Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardane on the other hand said that he does not see ignorance but deliberate cruelty to animals the most. “There are types of fish that we import, that can consume only a particular type of sea weed, but once these fish are caught and exported, they die of starvation as they do not have proper food,” he said.

He explained that when animals are tied up and not given the food to eat it is deliberate cruelty rather than ignorance that prompts the action.

A better plan for strays:

Sterilization and immunization
Though the numbers of stray dogs and cases of rabies reported have reduced, activists say that more could be done. “When the programme was started there was nothing done to ensure that a steady flow of veterinary surgeons were available for the job. We are not saying that the sterilization programme is not successful, what we are pointing out is that more could be done,” said Ms. Rajakaruna.

She explained that the programme which was handed over to a private veterinarian had eight teams under him but it was not sufficient number and that more were needed. “What we suggest is that there are unemployed vets in the country who could be given the job of sterilizing strays on a contract basis, this would ensure a sufficient flow of vets,” she said.

The SLAPA said that even though the programme was successful to a degree, more attention needed to be given to the health factors of stray dogs. “They need to see what happens to these dogs once the sterilization is done,” Ms. Ratnayake said.

Registration of pets
The SLAPA says a programme to register pets need to be launched in order to take better action for stray animals. “The problem with such a programme however, would be the community pets that are looked after and fed by a number of people but none of whom will step forward to take its responsibility,” Ms. Ratnayake said.

Another reason for the registration of pets as the Association points out is the irresponsible breeding of pets by its owners. “A license should be given to people to breed their pets as many make it a commercial venture with no thought for the animal,” said Ms. Bibile.

 She explained that the female dogs are sometimes made to breed pups every six months, with no proper care taken of these dogs.

She explained that this not only led to questions on morality where the animals were not given a rest but also to inherent diseases in the pups that are not visible when they are purchased.

The Association therefore said it was important to make the registration and sterilization of pets mandatory to stop such irresponsible breeding.

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