Delft Island, called Neduntivu by locals, is an 8 km long and 6 km wide island at the Palk Strait, 40 km west to the Jaffna peninsula. The Indian shore is visible Delft.
The name of the well-known Dutch city “Delft” was given to the strategically imprtant island by Rijcklof van Goens, who played a crucial role in overcoming the Portuguese in Negombo and Colombo and was later on gouvernor of Ceylon 1659-1672 and governor-general of the Dutch East-India Company (VOV) 1678-1681. The Portuguese had called Delft Island “Ilha das Vacas”, meaning “island of cows”. There is some irony in this Portuguese name, see below.
The island consists of shrub lands with Borassus palms. also known as Palmyra palms. The landmark of Delft is a colonial Dutch fort in the western part of the island.
Another landmark of Delft are animals otherwise rarely seen in South Asia, namely wild horses (Equus ferus caballus) - or more precisely: feral ponies. The estimated population is 1,000 individuals. Sometimes whole herds of ponies can be seen seen wading into sea. The wild ponies were introduced by the Portuguese rule, the Dutch used Delft island for breeding horses by and the British continued the practice.
The Portuguese also introduced Baoab trees (Adansonia) from Africa. They used it for curing deseases of the horses. Due to the tropical climat, husbandry of horeses has been very difficult on the tropical Indian subcontinent, usually horses of cavalries in India had to be imported from Arabia or Persia. Tellingly, gaining a monopoly on horse trade in the Indian Ocean was one of the main ambitions of the Portuguese when fighting against their more peacefully engaged predecessors, Muslim seafarers.
The Ministry of Wildlife Conservation are working on establishing a pony sanctuary on Delft Island, also providing care, since some ponies have starved to death during dry seasons. The main threat to this unique pony population is an invreasing number of cattle depending on the same grass that becomes rare during the dry season. An additional problem is the natural lack of water on the flat arid island. In the 2011 dry season about 5% of the wild horse and cattle populations died due to water deficiency. This is why the Sri Lankan Navy built troughs on Delft Island.
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