Mattala airport, which services just one flight a day, was built in the home district of former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse, 250 kilometres by road from the capital Colombo, at a cost of $210 million.
This week some 350 troops, police and volunteers spent a day driving out about 150 deer and 50 buffaloes that had apparently become trapped when an electric fence was set up to prevent wild elephants straying into the facility.
An airport official involved in the operation said animals regularly got in the way of flights at the site, which lies in the middle of two wildlife sanctuaries and on an avian migratory path.
“We used fire crackers to scare the animals and push them out of the perimeter, but it was not very successful,” he said on condition of anonymity, adding that a bigger operation was planned shortly.
There have been no accidents involving deer or cattle at Mattala, but the first flight to land there was struck by a bird, shattering its wind shield.
Another aircraft had to be grounded after one of its engines was destroyed when a peacock flew into it.
The airport employs 550 workers and is only used as an alternative when aircraft cannot fly into Colombo’s international airport.
Faced with a huge white elephant, the authorities last year turned some of the air cargo terminals at the Mattala airport into rice storage to accommodate the bumper harvest in the region.
Former president Rajapakse spent lavishly on infrastructure and was criticised for ignoring feasibility studies and environmental warnings.
His projects included a deep-sea port, six-lane highways, an international conference centre, a cricket stadium and a dry-zone botanical garden.