Colombo's National Zoological Gardens (or the Dehiwala Zoo) has been in operation since the mid-late 1930s, stemming from a holding operation in Sri Lanka by John Hagenbeck. The official opening date is 1936 apparently (I've seen other dates), which makes this year the zoo's eightieth anniversary. Back in the 1970s when Singapore was deciding to build a zoo they came to Sri Lanka to see how to do it, and some of the Colombo Zoo people went to Singapore to help set the new zoo up. I was suspecting that the Colombo Zoo had probably not aged as well as the Singapore Zoo, and I had heard some pretty negative things about it. It wasn't an absolutely terrible zoo, but it really wasn't a good zoo at all either. It made me think of Singapore Zoo in some ways - the small stage-type enclosures for example - but in more of an Indian sort of way if that makes sense. It seems to have gone through a few spurts of redevelopment, so you have what look like original cages from early last century, then the open-style ones from the 1970s or 1980s, and then in several areas there is new construction going on for, e.g., a new chimpanzee enclosure and a new elephant enclosure. I think a lot of the enclosures would have been cutting-edge when first constructed, especially the 1970/80s-type ones (like open ape enclosures with climbing frames), but nowadays it's pretty poor all-round. Entry is 2500 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR) for a foreign adult, so it is very steeply-priced for an Asian zoo. Local adults (of the SAARC countries) are 700 LKR which still isn't cheap. Nevertheless, because it was a Saturday, there were a lot of people there. I only saw about five other white people though. Given the entry prices it is a real shame that the zoo is in the state it is, and one wonders where that money goes. The zoo is reasonably large, and the lay-out is basically divided into animal groups - carnivores mostly in one area, ungulates in another, birds in two or three areas. There are some randoms dotted around, but mostly the zoo is arranged taxonomically rather than zoogeographically. There is quite a confusion of paths leading everywhere but it isn't too difficult to make sure you see everything, and the map-boards scattered around the zoo show a handy arrow system to enable you to know where to go (or where you've been). Often in Asian zoos certain animal groups fare very badly indeed (apes, macaques, bears...) while others are often housed quite well. At the Colombo Zoo there aren't really any stand-out enclosures. Mostly any good enclosures are "good" more by comparison with the others around them. Rather than do a walk-through review - because the rambling nature of the paths would make for a confusing and sometimes repetitive read - I'll run through the animal groups and make comments on them. The full species lists will follow the review. Of all sixteen primate species at the zoo only one is housed well (spider monkeys on an island with a couple of giant trees). The orangutans and chimpanzees have open enclosures which probably look nice for your average visitors - no bars or mesh - but there is very little in the way of climbing opportunities, just a basic wooden frame on grass, and the actual enclosures are pretty small with nothing for the apes to do. The brown lemurs have an island but it's pretty small, and just grass and a few branches for climbing; all the other primates are in cages ranging from very small (ring-tailed lemur and siamang in particular) to quite large (the silvered leaf monkeys are the best-off), but they are all fairly spartan. Next to the grey langur cage there is an old cage sitting empty with a sign proclaiming it to be a "menagerie type cage that used for exhibit animals in the past" (sic) - but almost the only difference between this cage and the monkey cages next to it was that the former had vertical bars and the latter had mesh. Otherwise they were practically the same. The carnivores had a mixed bag of enclosures. The pit for the brown bears was obviously old and really not acceptable at all. Then there were newer ones which I fancy were simply repurposed pits - the walls given a mock-rock cover, the front having a viewing window added, and the floor earthed and planted. They looked good superficially, and the tiger one was fine even if not overly large (although perhaps not originally a pit as some of the others seem to have been). One was for fishing cats, and a couple of smaller ones for golden palm civet and small Indian civet, of which not surprisingly none were visible. (To the zoo's credit all the shelters were open for the animals to retreat into if they wished - there were a number of animals I didn't see either because they were nocturnal or just because it was too hot and they were in their shelter out of the sun). But contrasting with the more modern look of the mock-rock enclosures, there were also the little cell-type cages you see all over Asia for small carnivores, with wire, bare concrete floors, and some shelves and logs for the animals to rest on - I thought these were old cages but looking at my photos they actually look new, and on the map-board this area is labelled as meerkats. The ungulates mostly had rather interchangeable enclosures - almost all of them quite small bare pens with vegetation round the sides to make it look a bit nicer, or sometimes built around big old trees. Very Singapore Zoo, but not as lush. Some pens were very small, others quite large. The hippos in particular (of both species) had extremely small pens and pools, although the pigmy hippos had several unused pens so I'm not sure if all are usually kept together (I saw six animals in two pens) or if they are usually more spaced out. All the elephants were chained in place, even the one which was in a "large" enclosure with pools. The impression I had was that the only time they weren't chained was when they were doing shows. The zoo has quite a large bird collection, although not too many unusual or "interesting" species for me, and very heavy on parrots and pheasants. Lots of macaws at the zoo. Most of the birds are housed in very basic old aviaries, not large but mostly not too small. Some look like what a hobbyist might have rows of in his backyard. There are two large walk-through aviaries, one for exotics and one for natives. The exotic one is pretty wasted. There is a row of quite small aviaries along one side for parrots, and the actual walk-through part is mostly devoid of birds except guineafowl and pheasants. I saw one green touraco but nothing else in the upper levels. The native aviary is much better. There are only three smaller aviaries inside, with Malabar pied hornbill, Sri Lankan grey hornbill, and an albino koel. The walk-through part is lushly-planted like a forest (unlike the exotics aviary where the plantings are more trees-on-lawn) and has a small selection of Sri Lankan birds like junglefowl, alexandrines, hill mynahs and lesser whistling ducks. This aviary is probably the best exhibit in the zoo in terms of appearance, space for the animals, and care of the animals. There are many birds of prey and owls at the zoo. The aviaries for these are generally adequate to small - but in the childrens zoo (or, at least, where there is a little playground so the equivalent of a childrens zoo area) there are some diabolically-small cages in which hunker miserable-looking eagles and owls. I have said this before on the forum, in relation to Western as well as Asian zoos, but I find it bizarre how often the animals in childrens zoo areas are housed in completely inadequate conditions when you might argue that a childrens zoo is where they should be housed very well, as an example to the children. Except for the green turtles (in the aquarium) and a Komodo dragon (in a cage elsewhere in the zoo), the reptiles are all kept in the Herpetarium which is a combination of open-air pens and terrariums inside a building. There are a few exotics in here - rhinoceros iguana, "red iguana", green anaconda, and some crocodylians - but most species are native. There are several interesting snakes in here. See the species lists. The enclosures are all basic, probably adequate for the animals' needs. There are also several species of native frogs kept in the aquarium although I only managed to spot a couple of them. The aquarium is next to the sealion pool, near the zoo's entrance/exit. The public path through the building is very dark and narrow, so you can't linger very easily without causing a traffic-jam. There are several tropical tanks with common marine and freshwater fish such as you'd find at a pet-shop, and some larger fish in inadequate tanks (pacu, piranha, alligator gar, tarpon) as well as a couple of unhappy green turtles. The second part of the building is less cramped, and the tanks here are nicer, better lit and well-planted. There's not much to say about the aquarium because most of it really is just common hobbyist fare. Outside the aquarium, near the sealions, is a penguin enclosure with underwater viewing. I don't know which species it was for originally, but it is now empty of penguins and the pool just houses pacu and some other fish. Unexpectedly there is also a butterfly house at the zoo. This is basically like an aviary rather than being an enclosed house as is necessary in less tropical places. I'm not that interested in butterflies, but I had a wander through in case there was anything else in there. I only saw a couple of butterflies, so the stocking levels might need some work.