On 29 October, the World Veterinary Association (WVA) and Ceva Santé Animale (Ceva) announced the winners of the 2020 Global Animal Welfare Awards. The award recognises individuals and institutions for their outstanding work and dedication to promoting animal welfare.
Sri Lanka’s very own Dr. Tharanga Thoradeniya of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Colombo was recognised as one of the three veterinarians to receive this award for her role in improving animal welfare – particularly promoting welfare and ethics of research animals among varied groups through training and harmonising.
Trained as a veterinarian, she then specialised in human nutrition and biochemistry. Due to her veterinary background, she was invited to join the Animal Ethics Review Committee at the Faculty of Medicine to look after the animal facility in the Faculty and also the Sri Lanka Association for Laboratory Animal Science, which allowed her the opportunity to use her background and experience in the fields. Here, she proceeded to introduce the concept of “one welfare” for the betterment of both human and animal health.
We spoke to Dr. Thoradeniya about her thoughts on having received such a prestigious award and how this kind of recognition would factor in the progression of her life’s work.
She shared that she has dedicated her work to creating awareness around the importance of looking into animal welfare, especially in animal research and the potential it has to improve science. She stated that she works with several groups of experts involved in addressing the ethics and welfare of animals involved in research.
Dr. Thoradeniya went on to clarify that when an animal is confined, they are out of their element; their needs must be addressed and they must be cared for in a way that they maintain their natural behaviour and physiology, which would then lend itself to giving accurate/reproducible results in research. She added also that they do promote alternatives, and shared that animals should be used for research only where there is absolutely no other alternative, in which case it must be done with the minimum scientifically justifiable number of animals as is possible and with very minimum pain.
She stated that they are concentrating on promoting the principles of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement) and an additional “R” for Rehabilitation and a “bigger R” for Responsibility. She stated that together with her welfare collaborator and last year’s recipient of the Global Animal Welfare Award Dr. Vijay Pal Singh, she created a forum where they take this concept of the welfare of research animals to other parts of Asia; they carry out competence-based workshops and trainings in order to sensitise those in the practice.
Dr. Thoradeniya also shared that she is hopeful that in having received this award, there would be more attention drawn to the importance of animal welfare, and more like-minded people would collaborate and expand the initiative. She added that she has laid the groundwork to create a platform – the forum on animal welfare and ethics – where such persons can come together under one banner to share resources and knowledge. She stated that in promoting the importance of animal welfare in Sri Lanka, researchers here have been extremely receptive and open to learn and change, which has been encouraging when carrying out their work within the island.
On a closing note, she also added that this concept of animal welfare should be instilled in young researchers from a young age, stating that the instinct to care for animals is present in children; that we must normalise it by creating this awareness in students early on through their curriculum. She said she promotes the importance of compassionate behaviour towards animals even in the Medical Faculty and believes that it is imperative that it’s taught to students. It can only improve their quality of work, as being good to animals can only lead to them becoming compassionate, empathetic, and thereby successful medical professionals, she said.