Crows have a Right to glide the skies and roam freely in any part of Sri Lanka
Posted on April 30th, 2020

Senaka Weeraratna

Arahant  Mahinda in his very first encounter with King Devanampiyatissa at Mihintale 2300 years ago delivered an invaluable piece of advice to the King: He said:

“Oh! Great King, the birds that glide the skies and animals that roam the forests have an equal right to live and move about in any part of this land as thou. The land belongs to the people and all other living beings and thou art only the guardian of it”

This utterance of Arahant Mahinda is one of the greatest statements made in the history of both human and animal rights, as it defines the space that both categories are mutually entitled to.   

I would like to share some thoughts on the value of birds particularly crows to our Sri Lankan society.

Some time in year 2002 there were reports in the newspapers of the destruction of the lives of over 150 crows in the heart of Colombo.

150 crows had died in Colombo by consuming a chemical known as carbo-fluran.  It was said that a leading Hotelier in Colombo 3 had deliberately poisoned these birds since it was found that the Crows were interfering with the Hotel’s outdoor Buffet arrangements.

Leaving food mixed with poison for animals is barbaric conduct and a clear infringement of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907, which is still the governing legislation despite its obsolescence. Rs. 100.00 is the maximum fine for committing a heinous crime on an animal under this legislation. The quantum of the fine has not changed since 1907, thereby revealing the insensitivity of our current political leadership and lawmakers to crimes against animals and their suffering, in the country.    

If Sri Lanka is taken to task internationally on lack of statutory recognition of animal rights than on violation of human rights as we see happening today at UNHRC in Geneva we will have nowhere to look. The lack of political will in Sri Lanka to extend effective legislative protective cover to defenseless animals is unsettling to all those who care for these voiceless sentient beings.


Crows constitute a part of the traditional Fauna and is an important link in the ecology of this country. It is a natural scavenger and discharges a vital function by complementing the role of the Municipal Council in removing rubbish from the roads and alleys of Colombo.

Any one closely observing the Crows would realize that they are also an intelligent species. Like children of human beings, young Crows love to play between themselves and sometimes with other species. They can be very exciting to watch when they are engaged in their little games, and moving from tree to tree, telephone pole to telephone pole or roof top to roof top. 

People who dislike or destroy crows are those who are alienated from the traditional Buddhist culture of this country. They are unaware of a long – established bond that exists between mainly rural people and this bird and why people in some parts of this country still religiously participate in ‘Balukaputu Dana ’ – feeding stray dogs and crows.

There is enough scientific evidence to demonstrate that crows are some of the most intelligent of the birds, and may also be more intelligent than many of the highly regarded mammals such as cats and monkeys. Given their superior brain power ( compared to other animals ), their love of play, their tightly knit family groupings, their preference for life-long mate pairing, their relatively simple lifestyle, and a rather complex ability to communicate with sound, crows are entitled to a lot more respect than has come their way from some uncaring humans. It is no wonder that in some regions of the world where crows and ravens are common, the indigenous peoples have often placed these birds very high in their totem pole or scale of reverence.

Homo Sapiens

The planet Earth belongs to all living beings. If there is an over population of one species then the chief culprit are the Homo Sapiens. (Homo Sapien – Latin for ‘wise man’). Humans have been increasing in numbers exponentially and encroaching on the living spaces of other non – human living beings. The crow is an intelligent animal performing a vital service in scavenging and cleaning the environment. It would be an ecological disaster if crows are removed from our environment.

The accumulation of garbage and food waste at Colombo Public places and parks is largely the fault of the CMC. If the work is done on time then there will not be waste matter for the Crows to feed on or pick and drop pieces here and there. But this is not widespread as some allege. If the trash at public places is collected daily and properly then the crow population will decrease rapidly.  

Extermination of the Sparrow in China

Chairman Mao Tse Tung (later called Mao Zedong) when he was the leader of China, made the mistake of exterminating the Sparrows and it led to the greatest mass starvation in history.

In 1958 Mao Zedong, decreed that all the sparrows in the country were to be killed. He decided that China could do without pests like sparrows. Mao thought that sparrows ate too much grain and it seemed rational to him for all sparrows to be killed. Sparrows were getting in the way of the economic development of China.

People were mobilized to eradicate the birds. They used beating drums to scare the birds from landing, forcing them to fly until they died of exhaustion. People tore down sparrow nests and shot sparrows down from the sky. The result of the campaign was to push the birds close to extinction in China.

The impact of this ill-conceived decision was that it caused a domino effect of destruction. Three years later, as many as 45 million people were dead.

The disastrous nature of the Great Sparrow Campaign became evident in 1960. It was discovered that the sparrows didn’t only eat grain seeds. They also ate insects. With no birds to control them, insect populations boomed. Locusts among other insects swarmed all over the country, eating everything they could find — including crops intended for human consumption. On the other hand, people quickly ran out of things to eat, and millions starved. Though the numbers of fatalities vary, some scholars, estimate that the fatalities were as high as 45 or even 78 million. Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng, who chronicled the famine in his book “Tombstone,” estimates the deaths at 36 million people. (The book, published in the U.S. is banned in China.)

Mao Zedong wanted to conquer nature. But he lost that battle. His policies led to a famine in which millions of lives were lost.

There are some echoes of this disaster in the Coronavirus Pandemic which started in the Wet Markets of Wuhan, China in December 2019. Abuse of wild animals e.g. bat, has led to a virus jumping the species barrier and the rest using a cliché ‘is history’.  

Senaka Weeraratna

Senior Advisor

Justice for Animals Sri Lanka 

One Response to “Crows have a Right to glide the skies and roam freely in any part of Sri Lanka”

  1. Mahinda Wickramarathne Says:

    How can this writer know whether a person is a traditional Buddhist or not? What is this writer’s right to judge on others?

    The article that appeared in Lankaweb about Crows early this week is about Colombo’s crow problem. Not about rural Sri Lanka.

    About unmerciful killing of birds, that article clearly stated that “We cannot do these in Sri Lanka. We are a Buddhist country….. We must adopt humane methods. …. the best methods is genetic engineering.”

    Genetic engineering means reducing the fast breeding of Crows without killing them.

    It is like Family planning.

    That article about Crows is right.

    That article about Crows touched based on Colombo’s stray dogs. It stated that Colombo’s stray dogs are humanely sterilized by the CMC. Should this also be stopped? Should Innocent people of Colombo allowed to be attacked by stray dogs and become rabies infected?

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