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ELEPHANTS, CEYLON TEA AND KANDYAN DANCERS BECOME THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS AT THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL ZOO

By Walter Jayawardhana

Two performing Sri Lankan elephants- mother Shanthi and son Kandula joined by the Indian elephant Ambika, and a generous tea party given by Walter’s Bay international –the US subsidiary of Bogawanthalawa tea gardens at the tune of 70 staggering gallons of iced and hot tea on a sweltering summer day in Washington DC to 15,000 spectators became the main attractions of the “Asian Elephant Day” celebrated by the Washington’s national Zoo, August 23.
The most sought after summer festival of Washington DC became one of the exotic events in the US political capital when “Sigiri Lalanavo” a troupe of Kandyan dancers performed the island nation’s ancient dances to the beating of Kandyan drums which undoubtedly mesmerized city dwellers of the US metropolis .

The festival that focused on the Asian Elephants , with a special emphasis on Sri Lanka, that has produced the world’s first and largest elephant orphanage at Pinnawela and made the conservation of the largest mammal on land of the planet earth a priority reserving many wild life parks for the pachyderm provided the Washington DC crowds also to watch how the natural hauling machines were put to work for logging. Elephant bath and weigh-in, logging and mud wallowing demonstrations attracted many city dwellers at the celebrations. The 60th birthday celebration of Ambika, a female elephant donated by India, to the Washington National Zoo was also an interesting feature of the elephant party.

The celebrations, organized jointly by the Smithsonian Institution, Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), an NGO working with the Smithsonian, and the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C., highlighted the efforts being made for protecting wildlife in the Asian region with special emphasis on Sri Lankan elephants. At the center of attraction were Shanthi, a female elephant donated to the National Zoo by Sri Lanka in 1977 and Kandula, a male elephant born to her in 2001.

The activities planned for the day kicked off with a breakfast reception, which was attended by a large number of VIPs, including Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Mr. John Berry, Director of the National Zoological Park, Mr. Robert Lamb, Executive Director of FONZ, a host of senior officials representing US Departments of State, Commerce, Agriculture, Office of the USTR, the FBI, media and many animal lovers and enthusiasts.

Director of the Zoological Park, Mr. Berry, briefed them on the on-going construction project of Elephant Trails, a facility designed for providing a larger area for elephants within a natural setting. He also highlighted the new strategies, pursued by the authorities concerned in Sri Lanka, in particular, the Center for Conservation Research and the Department of Wildlife in close collaboration with the National Zoo for mitigating the human-elephant conflict.

In his remarks, Ambassador Wickramsuriya touched upon the cordial relations continuing between the Smithsonian and the wildlife conservation authorities in Sri Lanka and the efforts being made for protecting elephants. He was pleased to note that Shanthi and Kandula had become a symbol of the strong friendship established between the people of the United States and Sri Lanka. The Ambassador assured that the Embassy would extend every possible support and cooperation to the Smithsonian Institution and FONZ in further enhancing the existing relations.

The Ambassador also thanked the United States for all the assistance and cooperation extended to the people of Sri Lanka. He said that fostering closer relations between the people of the two countries would certainly help them have a deeper understanding about each other and understanding each other would help them effectively overcome the common challenges and difficulties they face today in the international arena.

The public events, commenced after the VIP reception and continued till evening included many attractions such as Sri Lanka dance performances, demonstration of sari wearing, tea tasting. The research and conservation projects carried out by the Smithsonian Institution and the FONZ around the world were also demonstrated at the festival.

The female staff, who manned the demonstration of sari wearing, hardly had any time for their lunch, as well over hundred ladies, young and old, lined up to enjoy draping themselves in saris, both Kandyan and Indian styles, and taking pictures with their friends.

The tea tasting stall was another hive of activity from the beginning to the end with many queuing up for a cup of world famous Ceylon tea, served both hot and iced. By the end of the day, the stall had served staggering seventy gallons of tea, mainly iced, to the traditionally coffee drinking Americans. Walters Bay International, a Texas-based business partner of Bogawantalawa Estates in Sri Lanka, supported the Sri Lankan Embassy by providing teas and all the iced tea brewing equipment on complementary basis. It is pertinent to mention that Walters Bay International was adjudged the best iced tea at the World Tea Expo for four consecutive years from 2004 to 2007.


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