A safe haven for animals, not so safe anymore: the other side

Following a viral Facebook post, the country found out about Animal SOS and the ongoing conflict between this organisation and the villagers of the area. We published the concerns of Animal SOS in an interview with Director Kim Cooling before.

And this week we had a chance to talk to the villagers, their representatives and some of the authorities, and here’s their story:

A public nuisance?

We spoke to the lawyer representing the villagers of Ahangama and this is what he had to say.

“There are about 1,200 people in the village and they have concerns about the unbearable noise of the animals, the pungent smell and the risk of disease spread that had started after the installation of this establishment,” he said.

Talking about the legal complications of the matter, he said that in the year 2015, the villagers filed a Public Nuisance case against Animal SOS in the Matara Magistrate Court. The Magistrate imposed certain conditions for the shelter to follow, in order to preserve the environment and avoid conflict with the residents of the village.

Following this, Animal SOS made an appeal application to the High Court of Matara and the judges of this court referred to the conditions imposed by the Magistrate and held that the organisation had to adhere to those conditions within three weeks. However, the Animal SOS appealed to the Court of Appeal of Colombo and now are waiting on that judgment.

“Hopeless and helpless”

Sujith Priyashantha, a construction worker, who is a resident of the village said: “They started a treatment centre for animals in the year 2009 and we had no reason to be against that; we supported them. Then suddenly, over time, their animal population increased and now they have about 2,000 dogs and about 600 cats and the smell and the noise is just unbearable. These animals start barking for the slightest noise so our children cannot study, the elderly cannot sleep, we are completely helpless.”

He further added that the villagers are facing a lack of water for their agricultural purposes which are a result of the tube wells that were allegedly dug by the Animal SOS management.

Another key concern of the villagers is that the animal waste is dumped into the stream behind their land which flows directly into the main lake the villagers use for their day-to-day activities.

“This water flows into the paddy fields and is consumed by us, now most of our children are suffering from rashes, skin irritations, and respiratory issues due to this problem,” said another concerned villager.

Another concern of the villagers is that the adjacent land to the shelter, which is also owned by Animal SOS, is believed to be the dumping ground of animal waste and chemicals and is said to be maintained with such poor standards.

Guidelines for quality

Talking to Kaushalya Nanayakkara, the PHI of Midigama, we found out that animal husbandries and animal shelters have to abide by certain guidelines to function without harming the environment and its surroundings. It is required to place the animals in a specific area of land with measured distances between each animals and it is required to have treatment plants for the water.

“The Animal SOS does have treatment plants but they are not sufficient due to the huge population now. This organisation is doing a charitable cause, which we very much appreciate but it has so many issues,” said Kaushalya.

A humble request

The concern of most villagers is the loss of their peaceful environment and the huge public health risk posed by this open concept. Villagers living in their ancestral homes are threatened by disease, loss of livelihood, and unnecessary stress in their own homes and they urge that the Animal SOS be moved to a location outside their village where it would not affect their daily lives.

By Pujanee Galappaththi