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Taking a challenge by its wheels


With a spirit of adventure and determination to help a cause in their hearts, a group of 12 cyclists ride across Sri Lanka. Duvindi Illankoon reports

When Ajith Fernando decided to mark his 50th birthday in style he would never have imagined the consequences. No sooner had he ambitiously decided that he would cycle around Sri Lanka was he approached by several others, amongst them Ranil De Silva, Managing Director of Leo Burnett Solutions. Ranil was the one to suggest that perhaps Ajith and his fellow cyclists could raise something for charity along the way. The idea stuck and they would end up picking a cause dear to their hearts; cerebral palsy, a condition that affects an estimated 40,000 children in Sri Lanka at present.

For Sarinda Unamboowe, one of the 12 cyclists who would eventually make the trip, trekking across Sri Lanka for a cause is nothing new. Sarinda was a force behind the Trail campaign, which raised USD 1.6 million (and counting to a goal of USD 2 million) for the construction of a Radiotherapy Unit and to develop the Paediatric High Dependency Unit in Jaffna after a legendary walk from one end of Sri Lanka to the other. It’s easy to imagine Sarinda leading from the front, breezing his way through the journey with a smile but he was heavily overweight at the time of taking on Around the Pearl-97 kilograms to be exact. “Honestly? People thought I wouldn’t make it,” he tells us with relish. “But I did-we all did.”

It was simply a matter of training, training and more relentless training. Luckily, perhaps, most of the cyclists on board were already enthusiasts- or “we would have had a situation on our hands,” says Yasas Hewage of WrooM, a community of cyclists who meet on a regular basis for excursions. The cyclists began training individually a few months ago; Sarinda, together with Charlene Thuring (the only woman in the group), began working on an extensive training schedule. “It’s not easy,” they tell us. “We had only driven mountain bikes before and those too comparatively shorter distances.”

The plan was to cycle around the country while keeping to the coastline, and an estimated 1427 km was to be covered! A formidable team of 12 was formed; Ajith, Sarinda, Charlene and Yasas, together with Suren Abeysuriya, Jehan Bastians, Dushmantha Jayasinghe, Annudatta Dias, Peter Bluck, Sanjay Mendis, Gihan Hemachandra and Ravi Weerapperuma were the brave souls who put themselves up for the task. Along the way they were joined for short distances by colleagues and friends.

The journey began on April 10 with the first leg from Colombo to Weligama and by the end of that first day some could barely move. Over the next 10 days they settled into a routine; at 4.30 a.m. the team would wake up to an “amazing buffet spread with peanut butter sandwiches,” (and jam if they woke up on the right side of the bed)-they would then pack their gear, complete with water bottles and plenty of Jeewani for sustenance and set off with the sunrise. Each day the cyclists would aim to cover an 80 km minimum-they managed to do a maximum of 180 one lucky time-, pedalling for about 6-10 hours overall.

The team didn’t really travel with any medical assistance but “we knew our way around cuts and bruises,” says Yasas. Accompanied by

a capable back-up team, they cycled from town to town, through curious villages, deserted roads and sandy beaches. They would occasionally struggle to keep themselves hydrated and would often take a tumble off the bike. Staying over at hotels, at the end of the day “all we could do was fall into our beds,” Yasas says. “After 10 hours, your bum doesn’t talk to you.” Supplemented with a cream aptly titled ‘Bottom Butter’, they managed to make it through the trip without serious consequences. Eventually taking mercy on their bodies, the team decided to take a day of rest in between. “I think that was the only time we got to really bond,” laughs Charlene. Taking a bad tumble on her third day Charlene found herself looking to her teammates for support and they didn’t disappoint. “They watched out for me all the time-we all did that for each other I think.”
From Weligama they would follow the coastal belt to Kataragama, Arugam Bay, Pasikudah, Trincomalee, Mullaitivu, Jaffna, Mannar and Chilaw. They remember one arduous trip over 100 kilometres of gruelling, broken road near Mullaitivu. Having asked other cyclists and locals and told it was about a 40-50 kilometre trip, they set off happily only to find themselves on a seemingly never-ending ride over unforgiving terrain. Yasas’ wife Ajani, who was leading the support team, ended up with her vehicle stuck in the sand. “We were stuck in the middle of nowhere and our vehicle was stranded,” remembers Yasas. “Eventually everyone managed to pull together and get it moving.” The morale of the story? “Never ask a cyclist to gauge distance.”

But they’ll tell you it was all worth it in the end. “I had done several things to challenge myself before,” says Sarinda. “But when you’re doing it for a cause there’s a far greater sense of purpose and achievement. After Trail I had decided that hereafter I would do both together-challenge myself while harnessing it towards something good. This was perfect.” This is why the entire journey was self-funded by the cyclists; not a single cent raised through Wheels for Wheels, the official name of their initiative, will be channelled for expenses. Instead the money raised will go towards the cause and nothing but the cause.

For Yasas, who has been cycling for most of his life but never really with a specific goal in mind it was an eye opener. “We suddenly realized that every time we’re spinning a wheel it can raise money for a pair of different wheels for someone else,” he says. “To realize that all this cycling could be focused towards giving a pair of wheels for somebody who really needed it was an amazing thing.” While the initial target is 1000 wheelchairs (at roughly USD 100 per wheelchair that works out to about Rs. 12 million), they hope to keep Wheels for Wheels alive until enough funds have been raised for anybody who needs their assistance. “Now it’s about people coming forward and supporting the cause. They could raise awareness, donate or even do something like we did.” Much of the awareness campaign for cerebral palsy happened on social media and the web. “It’s not a very concentrated condition. But 40,000 children are affected in Sri Lanka alone. Not all of them can afford the treatment and facilities needed to make life easier.”

For Ajith, this project and journey was somewhat of a personal crusade as well. His daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age; “she was one of the lucky ones,” he reflects. “We treated her at the earliest stages and now she leads a perfectly ordinary life.” What people need to realize, he says, is that while the body might appear to be severely affected in those who reach the advanced stages the mind is not. Unfortunately, most families are unable to afford wheelchairs for their children and this is why the children are often confined to one room, with no freedom to move about. He’s thrilled because this journey has also served to inspire his daughter to go out and raise more awareness about the condition. “She has always felt that she was one of the lucky ones. Now she knows she can do something to help the kids who weren’t as fortunate as her.”

Returning to Colombo last Sunday (20th) and the Independence Square, the 12 cyclists were joined for the last leg of their trip by friends, family and well-wishers. “Up to Independence Avenue it was mostly about us,” they smile. “When you’re taking a tumble off your bike on a dirty, dusty road you’re not going to be thinking about the cause. But returning to Colombo, and meeting these little kids with cerebral palsy who were all waiting for us; that was just amazing. All that effort, all the falls and the injuries-it made perfect sense.”

The Around the Pearl initiative by Wheels for Wheels was conducted in partnership with the Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation and WrooM. Sponsors and partners for the initiative include Janashakthi Insurance, Orient Finance, CAL, Jetwing Hotels, Blinking Bikes, Shift, Leo Burnett and Wijeya Newspapers.

Visit www.aroundthepearl.lk
to contribute.

Cerebral Palsy: What you need to know

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the term for a group of non-progressive disorders of movement and posture created by abnormalities or damages to the motor control centres of the brain. CP is usually caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a child’s birth, or during the first 3 to 5 years of a child’s life and can cause problems with posture, movement and coordination. It is one of the most common childhood disabilities.
In Sri Lanka the number of children with cerebral palsy is as high as 8-10 per 1000 births while it is 6 per 1000 births in the developed world. Sri Lanka has an estimated 40,000 cases of cerebral palsy amongst children (this stands in comparison to an estimated 17 million around the world).

While no unique cause has been detected for the condition, it is usually associated with difficult or premature births and brain infection, says Mayuri Bandara, a Speech and Language Pathologist based at the Gampaha District General Hospital. Early detection is key to alleviating the more serious symptoms of the condition, which can include respiration problems.

There’s no cure for cerebral palsy. However, there are plenty of treatments and therapy-specifically speech therapy- that can reduce the impact of the condition by easing symptoms such as spasticity, improving communication skills and finding other ways to do things. A wheelchair can greatly improve the quality of life for sufferers of cerebral palsy. Those with CP cannot use standard wheelchairs as the seating must provide specialized support for the trunk and legs. “These wheelchairs are even more costly than the standard ones, hence many families are unable to afford them,” says Ms. Bandara. The wheelchairs bought with the aid of the fund will be distributed to children with CP in districts around Sri Lanka based on the prevalence of the condition, and will be given specifically to children with a Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) score of 4 or 5 after assessment.

While government hospitals offer therapy and consultation, the Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated solely to the cause also offers specialized education, speech and physiotherapy for children with cerebral palsy. Visit their website on www.cplanka.org for more information.


The next holiday hotspot ... is Sri Lanka the new Bali?

IT’S a small island off the south coast of India and it’s being touted as the new Bali. So what is it about Sri Lanka that has travellers sitting up and taking notice?
We spoke to Australian photographer, Lincoln Jubb, who recently returned from a trip to Sri Lanka, about why he thinks this place is so special.

Why I chose Sri Lanka

I went to Sri Lanka in December last year with my girlfriend. We went during the on season, exploring Negombo and Hikkaduwa on the southwest coast, Galle, Unawatuna and Mirissa on the south coast and then up to Ella for a few nights.
We finished our trip on the east coast during the off season at Yala National Park for a safari.
I was originally inspired to go because my parents went to Sri Lanka back in 1982 when they were the same age as my partner and I.
My Dad being an avid surfer showed me photos of uncrowded waves and spoke of the whole simplicity of the place.
My partner and I have clocked up 15 trips to Bali between us and decided we needed a new adventure where there were waves, sun and amazing food without all the bulls&#t of Bali.
I had some friends come back from Sri Lanka who kind of roughed it and didn’t overly enjoy their trip so I made sure I did some research into places I wanted to stay and visit.
We booked some amazing accommodation and stayed at some really beautiful places.

The new Bali?

The quality of waves are definitely better in Bali but in saying that the waves are less crowded in Sri Lanka and if you go off the beaten track during the right seasons you will score.
I have heard people refer to Sri Lanka as Bali in the 80s. It’s definitely backwards.
The capital city Colombo is dirty and crowded and the shopping isn’t great but once you hit the southern province you come across these amazing pristine, uncrowded beaches littered with palm trees that look like something straight from a postcard.
The beaches of Bali just don’t compare. I find Bali over crowded, dirty and overly westernised whereas Sri Lanka hasn’t been butchered by western culture. Yet. (I didn’t see a single McDonald’s the whole trip).
However Sri Lanka is expanding and becoming more of a place for tourists. Places like Unawatuna are massive tourist attractions with beach parties and nice restaurants on the beach.
On the other hand you can go up into the mountains and not see a westerner for days, it’s nice.
I think Bali has become accustomed to the bogan Aussie tourist yet in my whole three week trip to Sri Lanka I think I met only three other Australians.

Beautiful people

The people are amazing and so so beautiful. You walk down the streets past the front of the stalls and you think you are about to get hassled like you do in Bali but the locals just smile at you and say hello.
No pressure to buy anything from anyone. Everybody was so friendly and so hospitable. The service is amazing everywhere you go. One of my favourite things about the trip, besides the food, was how beautiful the people were.


I think the thing that surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed the place and how big the country actually is. Three weeks was definitely not enough.
My sister and her partner just got back after seven weeks and still only explored the mountains and south coast.
I got some great waves but not amazing waves so I definitely want to go back again soon and surf some other areas.

It’s affordable
I’d say its definitely cheap. We stayed in some nice places but it was affordable. In terms of accommodation you get what you pay for. I’d suggest you do your research.
The food on the other hand is so cheap and delicious. We were having the freshest seafood and delicious curries for nothing. You can walk down the street and have the best curry you will have in your life for $1. Alcohol and shopping are also cheap.

Is it safe?
The most dangerous thing in Sri Lanka are the buses. We almost got hit by a bus on multiple occasions. Driving over there is scary — I’d definitely hire a driver as there are no road rules.
We saw numerous accidents and many local people die each year getting hit by buses. I can’t stress enough how crazy the bus drivers are!
Other than that it is super safe. We didn't have any real incidents or run ins with anyone.
DFAT does recommend Australian travellers exercise a high degree of caution due to security threats.

News and Image Courtesy of www.news.com.au

Why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife


In this two- part article, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne looks at the physical, evolutionary and human-induced forces that have contributed to this island’s biodiversity

This is the story of how ice and ancient civilisations with evolutionary forces have made a tropical island super-rich for wildlife on a scale that is not seen anywhere on moderately or large islands. Sri Lanka’s super-richness on a proportionate scale eclipses large islands such a Madagascar, Borneo and New Guinea.

Alfred Russell Wallace the founder of modern biogeography and Charles Darwin with whom he shared the theory of evolution were both influenced by what they had observed on islands. They both would have been surprised by Sri Lanka. Almost every key driver of evolution seems to have played a part in shaping its biodiversity. The result is an island which is rich in wildlife both in terms of endemic tropical biodiversity as well as large land animals and marine mammals and in concentrations which give rise to some of the world’s most interesting wildlife spectacles.

It’s an island which Wallace and Darwin or modern biologists could not have imagined as so many of the bio-geographical and evolutionary forces have come into play simultaneously, to create an unrivalled richness. To top it all, it’s a compact country with good tourism infrastructure making it optimal for wildlife tour operators. This article is about the physical, evolutionary, and human factors that have made Sri Lanka something seemingly imaginary, but yet real.

In a previous article in this newspaper (January 13, 2013) I explained why Sri Lanka has a claim to be the best all-round wildlife destination from a wildlife tour operator’s perspective. In this article I explain the physical, evolutionary and human-induced forces that have made this happen. In essence, I would simplify it conceptually into a three part ‘business model’ for the creation of a top wildlife destination. The first is a set of physical factors, especially those influencing both surface and underwater topography. These together with other planetary phenomena such as plate tectonics and monsoons create structural or topographical complexity on land and under water.

Together with time, the topographical or structural complexity on land with monsoonal rainfall has led to the creation of distinct climatic (and hence ecological) zones that are the engine for speciation. Sri Lanka has benefitted from other physical factors such as an ancient Gondwana start and having deep seas close to it unlike other continental islands.

Having set up the right conditions for evolutionary factors, the engine of speciation needs to be fed with raw material. The output of the species production factory will be enhanced if besides the operation of long intervals of evolutionary time scales, new species production is boosted by fresh stocks of mainland species through immigrant waves. Sri Lanka has managed to produce a phenomenally above normal species richness (see box story) primarily from evolutionary radiations within the island resulting in endemic genera and species and later by supplementing it by land-bridging repeatedly with the mainland. This has become more apparent recently through phylogenetic studies using DNA. I would describe this as a five stage process for building up the number of species.

During periods of glaciations, water is deposited as ice on land and sea levels fall forming a land bridge in the shallow seas. This is still physically evident in the discontinuous land bridge between Mannar and India, known as Adam’s Bridge. New waves of immigrants are imported to the island via the land bridge and dispersed and then isolated by rising sea levels drowning the land bridge during warming after an ice age (a post glacial). The new arrivals are physically stressed into niches by complex structural and physical factors of topography and climate. In essence the process is connect– import and disperse– isolate–stress–speciate. Glaciations have been a key agent of the island’s super-richness in allowing large land mammals to colonise and persist in Sri Lanka. However, phylogenetic studies indicate that most of the radiations of endemic species occurred before the land bridge connections of the Pleistocene epoch in the Quarternary.

The third of the large scale factors is that it has benefitted from human factors or a cultural overlay. The last has two aspects. Firstly, the decline of ancient kingdoms has resulted in great seasonal gatherings of wild elephants and one of the best sites for Leopards. This creates wildlife spectacles which make great viewing on wildlife safaris. (These spectacles have also been complemented by evolutionary factors mentioned above resulting in species radiations which are of great scientific interest even though species such as amphibians are not high on the list of commercial wildlife safaris). The second aspect of the cultural overlay is that the deep respect for life makes wildlife viewing easy as man and animals co-exist with great tolerance.

(Next week: The three factor ‘business model’ that has been at work to create this extraordinary richness)


Ancient Forest Damsels


Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne discovers lineages from Gondwanaland

Prowl like a hunter, moving slowly,watching for movement. I am looking for an animal that carries the legacy of an ancient lineage – one which stretches back to India, breaking away from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland, around 130 million years ago. Sri Lanka has a strong claim to be the best all-round wildlife destination. One reason for this rich biodiversity is the ancient lineages of animals that have evolved into endemic species. I’m seeking fearsome hunters. In the adult stage most of them are robust flyers, but I am looking for a family of them which are weak flyers. These are the enigmatic forest damselflies. Being weak flyers may be onecontributory factor to their limited distribution.
Unlike some of the other showy dragonflies that zip around in the open areas like dazzling jewels in the sunshine, the forest damsels prefer shaded forests and live around seeps or tiny little streams.
My family and I are in Belihul Oya, which is a perfect location for dragonfly waters with a mixture of aquatic habitats suiting different species. Leaving my family to be pampered with tea on the veranda, I make my way down a steep slope shrouded in riverine forest. A fast-flowing irrigation channel holds some endemic Shining Gossamerwings. The rising sun catches four outstretched wings and an iridescence which echoes that of the precious minerals these waters sweep downriver.

I dally a little, walking down the irrigation channel, stopping to admire a Blacktippedm Flashwing. Its body is a glistening green, the wings translucent, turning violet with iridescence. I want to glimpse into a world in the distant past and work my way around the forested slope looking for seeps. In 2010, Matjaž Bedjanic¢ described three new species, taking Sri Lanka’s tally of endemic forest damsels to 20. He informed me that more were in the process of being described. All Sri Lankan forest damselflies are endemic, and confined to the wet and intermediate zones in the southwestern as well as central parts of Sri Lanka. The island is classified as one of the global hotspots for forest damsels. One of the reasons for the remarkable variety of forest damsels here, in Sri Lanka, lies in its distant geological history.

The ancient forest damsels began to be separated at different times as Gondwanaland broke up over millions of years ago. The Indian plate (which holds Sri Lanka) collided into Asia and created the Himalayas. The ones in Africa crossed into Europe, through the North Atlantic Land Bridge, into the New World. They are still found in Central America and on the northern tip of South America, forming the Polyommatinae sub-family. They died out in Europe and Africa, leaving the sub-family Platystictidae ranging from Sri Lanka and India, to across South-East Asia to New Guinea, together with the Sinostictinae sub-family in China and Vietnam. The forest damselflies are small and incon spicuous, and I would have to be within a few feet of them to see them. So I step into a dark, moist streak of moistures which oozes off the slope like the oily excrescence off the temple of an elephant in musth. Hunters from ancient Gond-wanaland had died out in Africa and Europe, creating a distributional gap. If I travelled west from Sri Lanka, I would have to skip continents until I reach South America to find them.
Where are the ones in Belihul Oya? My thoughts drift to a chat over coffee and croissants in London with Dr Klaas- Douwe B. Dijkstra (he a leading authority on African dragonflies), who told me more about the forest damsels having a lineage stretching back to Gondwanaland. This led me to look up a PhD by his Dutch compatriot Dr Jan van Tol, which explains the evolutionary history of the forest damsels. A faint quiver of light glimmers off wings over the shaded seep. I edge closer and sit down on a cold and wet hummock. Weak wings flutter – but with a resolute of steel to combat an intruding male, or so it seems. The dance of the sunbeams does not suggest they are a mating pair. A forest damsel perches in its characteristic fashion at the edge of a leaf tip.
It’s fascinating that an entire family comprising 200-plus species of damselflies should do this. Its abdomen drooped, lending the endemic Drepanosticta lankanensis – its common name of Drooping Forest damsel. There is a stud of shiny blue on the abdomen. Perhaps its function is no different to the fashion in Europe of wearing shoulder pads and shoes that are studded with shiny metallic spikes. Perhaps it’s a signal. Finally fashion has converged with nature forged in Gondwanaland.


Questions Over Amnesty Period Granted for Wildlife Offences

Tuesday, 24 september 2013

By Sarasi Paranamanna

Following a press briefing by the Minister of Wildlife Conservation Vijith Vijayamuni Zoysa, environmentalists expressed their concern and disbelief over the recent decisions taken by the Minister. They claimed that the decisions made by  him regarding illegally abducted elephants, illegal turtle hatcheries and raiding illegally captured ring necked parakeets have jeopardised the very subject the Minister is supposed to safeguard.

The press briefing which caused quite a stir among the environmentalists focused on granting an amnesty period to hand over the illegally abducted elephants. It was widely reported that the Minster has decided to provide licences for the elephants that are handed over to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) during this amnesty period. There were news reports which also claimed that the Minister has decided to stop the raids conducted to confiscate illegally captured ringed parakeets and to issue licences for illegally run turtle hatcheries.

A collective of environmental organisations gathered to express their objection to these decisions and some environmentalists raised doubts over the credibility of the advisers to the Minister who advise him on issues relating to wildlife.
“We know that Minister Zoysa is just another legislator who doesn’t have a deep understanding about wildlife and that his advisers help him to reach certain decisions. But it is questionable that anybody who knows anything about wildlife would advise the Minister to reach such decisions, unless they have an ulterior motive other than protecting wildlife” said environmental activist Nayanaka Ranwella.

Amnesty period- doing more harm than good?
Ranwella claimed that since the Minister’s decision was announced about providing licences to illegally abducted elephants, attempts to abduct elephants are already being reported from Yala, Habarana and Galgamuwa. He also said that they have received news of a group that has camped outside a forest area in Anuradhapura to abduct elephant calves.

He pointed out that the amnesty period will be a stepping stone for those who are involved in the racket of abducting elephants.

“These elephants are taken from their mothers and sometimes the mother is killed while abducting the elephant calf. Most of these animals are then sold to temples and wealthy businessmen. Some of the elephants that go in processions are abducted elephants that have been domesticated” he alleged.

Nadeeka Hapuarachchi from the Galle Wildlife Conservation Society said 359 elephants have been registered in the DWC as elephants not living in the wild. From that 359 elephants 94 are in the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens and the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Thus about 205 elephants are among the possession of private owners.

Ranwella commenting on this situation said that while there are 205 elephants with private owners, they often complain there aren’t enough elephants to participate in Perahera processions and added that their claim is not environmental friendly because there have been many instances where elephants have been treated in the most brutal manner to tame them. He also added that after 1990 there have been no births among the domesticated elephant population in Sri Lanka and added that most of the elephant calves found in temples and houses of wealthy businessman are elephant calves that have been abducted from the wild. He noted that most elephant calves have to undergo severe conditions as they are kept in enclosed areas and garages because they are closely hidden until tamed.

 “There were even video tapes of persons holding the top most positions in the Dalada Maligawa allegedly beating an elephant calf. When MP Jospeh Micheal Perera donated the elephant ‘Kapila’ , to a temple it died of malnutrition. Kapila was also said to be an abducted elephant. Also we have found out that elephants released into the wild from the Udawalawe Elephant Care Centre are being abducted. Since a chip is inserted into these elephants’ hind legs for the purpose of later identifying it, the abductors are now careful to remove it when the elephant is caught. In some cases when the elephant calf is still conscious they have cut into the legs of the elephant to take the chip out. This type of cruel activities are further encouraged by the Minister’s decision to grant an amnesty period to turn in abducted elephants so as to give them licences. It is similar to declaring that all rapists are given an amnesty period” charged Ranwella.

No legal basis for amnesty period?
Senior Environmental Lawyer, Jagath Gunawardena said the Minister cannot declare such an amnesty period as there is no legal provision to do so.  He pointed out Section 12 of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) which states that no elephant can be kept out of the wild without registering and obtaining a licence from the DWC. He noted that there is a legal assumption by the Act that any elephant kept without a licence is a stolen elephant.

Gunawardena also noted that  when an unlicenced or illegally abducted elephant is found, the captors or the ‘owners’ are prosecuted under the Public Property Act for
There were even video tapes of persons holding the topmost positions in the Dalada Maligawa allegedly beating an elephant calf. When MP Jospeh Micheal Perera donated the elephant ‘Kapila’ , to a temple it died of malnutrition. Kapila was also an abducted elephant
violating public property. He said that while this is a non- bailable offence the Minister does not have the power to grant amnesty for violating public property under the Act.

“The only thing the Minister can do is to waive off the fine provided for the offence. Thus it is clear that whoever advised the Minister to take these decisions did not know the boundaries of the legal framework protecting wildlife” he added.

Meanwhile Hapuarachchi claimed that one of the advisers to Minister Zoysa is also a defendant in a court case relating to an alleged illegally abduction of an elephant in Balangoda. He said that in such circumstances there is reasonable room to question the credibility of the advisers.



Will establish a DNA database
When the Minister’s media secretary, Nayana Thennakoon was inquired about this issue earlier, he said the Minister came into this decision to discourage the abduction of elephants and to have a complete record of the domesticated elephants.

“The Minister has given instructions to set-up a DNA database after inserting a chip into these elephants that have the licence to be reared out of the wild. This will immediately tell us which elephant is illegally held, as ones who will have licenses will have the chip and their records will be in our data base with their DNA data” he said.

However Minister Zoysa declined to comment further on this issue. He said he will be holding a press briefing soon to explain his decision and told us to contact him later as he is busy with provincial election activities.

Banning raids on illegal sale of parakeets
Gunawardena also criticised the decision taken by the Minister of Wildlife Conservation to ban all raids conducted to apprehend those who sell parakeets without a licence. He said that though they are not protected animals according to the FPPO they cannot be sold without a licence as all sales of wildlife done without a licence are illegal according to Section 49 of the FFPO. He said that it would be a dereliction of duty as the immediate power to apprehend these illegal sellers placed on the DWC. He said though the Minister claims that the Customs have the duty to take these illegally imported bird nests and birds into custody , the legal provisions merely pass the duty to Customs if the need arises but the provisions has not excluded the power of DWC to carry out raids.

Turtle hatcheries promoting turtle conservation for tourism?
 Shantha Jayaweera, an expert on Marine Biology and a member of the Organisation for Aquatic Resources Management (OARM) voiced his concern about the legalisation of illegally run turtle hatcheries.

He said there are 15 turtle hatcheries islandwide and only about two of these hatcheries follow the guidelines to conserve turtles.

“They were advised to keep 20% of the hatched turtles in their ponds for the tourism attraction factor and to release the other 80% of the hatched turtle to the sea to increase he turtle population. But only about two hatcheries follow this process. Others try to put as many turtles as they could into one pond and in some places there is hardly enough room for the turtle to come to the surface and breathe as there are too many turtles in one pond. So how can we expect the DWC to monitor these hatcheries and ensure that they will be committed to turtle conservation” he questioned.

Jayaweera said most turtle hatcheries do not release the hatched turtles into the sea right after they come out of the egg because they want to keep them at least for three days for the tourists to see.  He said they label these turtles as one day old turtles and three days old turtles for the tourists to see young turtles and eventually after several days they are released into the sea.

 Explaining the repercussions of this method, Jayaweera said that for two days after they are born turtles flap their arms to go as far as they can go, out into the sea. Only on the third day they begin to search for food. He pointed out that they try to go as far as possible to avoid predators that eat young turtles. However when they are released on the third day they do not learn to swim but merely wait for food in the shallow sea. At this moment Jayaweera said that most of the turtles are eaten by other predators or they try to eat each other as they cannot find food in the shallow sea. In this manner most of the turtles do not live to be fully grown turtles and their gene pools die due to the non completion of the reproduction cycle.

“Out of the seven species of turtles found in the world, Sri Lanka can see five species in our shores and all of them endangered species. Thus it is important to have an organized mechanism to conserve turtles. Most of the hatcheries take the eggs and put it in a sand pit which has a concrete bottom. But the depth of the pit the turtles dig to lay eggs is different from each species as they need different temperatures to hatch. So only a small number of turtle eggs are hatched or some hatched turtles find it difficult to dig their way out of the pit if the pit is too deep. In the end it causes their population to dwindle because of human intervention. The best conservation effort is the one done in Rakawa as the conservation of eggs is done where the turtle lays eggs and the turtles  can go straight to the sea when the eggs are hatched” he added.

Jayaweera expressed his doubts over the monitoring process and questioned that if the DWC cannot limit the coral destruction, how can they be effective in monitoring turtle hatcheries which are geared towards promoting tourism and not turtle conservation.

DWC’s media spokesperson Hasini Sarathchandra however said that though the process is not initialised yet, when the licences for the unlicensed hatcheries are issued the DWC will be carrying out regular inquiries to see whether the licenced ones are up to the specified standards.


Civil Defence Forces steps in to solve Human - Elephant conflict

Civil Defence Forces personnel are to be deployed to prevent elephant-man conflicts said minister of Wildlife and Peasants’ Services, S.M. Chandrasena.

Accordingly 5,000 personnel are to be deployed as they assist Wildlife officials to protect the elephant population as well as the crops of the farmers.

Nearly 190 elephants have been killed due to elephant – man conflict this year only, said the Wildlife Department.

Killing elephants by explosives hidden in crops (well known as Hakka pattas), eaten by the animals has increased in recent times and eight elephants have been killed in the past few weeks by this practice. They included two elephant calves aged six and eight years.

Wildlife department surveys say that there is a population of 5,000 – 6,000 elephants in Sri Lanka.

Source: Daily Mirror (Monday December 13,2010)

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Amphibian communication error- A Toad and Tree Frog attempts mating

We found the below interesting encounter, from our Naturalist's journals. Although the observation was some years ago, we would still like to share the story with you as our monthly dose of wild life!

… There are 109 species of amphibians in Sri Lanka and 92 of them are endemic. A mature male Duttaphrynus melanostictus was observed in an evening., while it was puffing its vocal sac and calling sharp on the ground. Firstly the male D. melanostictus jumped towards an artificial pond up to about one meter to the edge of the pond. At once a mature male Polypedatus cruciger jumped on to toad's back. The male tree-frog stayed on the male toad's back for about ten minutes …

(Source: National conservation Review–1993/A guide to the Biodiversity of Knuckles forest Region IUCN – 2003)

Please read full review here

The paper you are viewing here is authored by A. A. Thasun Amarasinghe & W. Gayan M. Edirisinghe
Special thanks to Thasun for sharing this knowledge with our readership! Photo credit: Authors;www.scienceblog.com;ca.wikipedia.org

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The endangered Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush Myophonus blighi eats an endangered lizard


Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush Myophonus blighi is a globally threatened bird species (IUCN status Endangered) endemic to Sri Lanka, found mainly between 1,200 m and 2,100 m, where it is confined to densely wooded, ferny ravines and gorges, especially those with a rapid torrent running through them. Its food is reportedly mostly insects, but snails are also considered important and it has been recorded eating reptiles and amphibians including geckos, small Calotes or Ceratophora lizards and tree frogs (probably Polypedatus) (BirdLife International 2001).

Between 09h15 and 10h15 on 29 March 2006 at Riverstone in the Knuckles Forest Region (altitude:1,385 m) in Matale district in Central province of Sri Lanka (7º24'55"N 80º48'35"E) we watched a mature male Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush foraging on the ground. The temperature at that time was 23oC, the humidity 79%, the weather cloudy.

First the bird hopped slowly towards us up to c.1 m distance. Then it jumped over a small dead stem lying on the ground and caught a mature male Sri Lankan Leaf-nosed Lizard Ceratophora tennenti (Plate 2) sitting on the bole of a small Keena tree Calophyllum walkeri. The bird caught the prey by its neck and dashed it twice on the dead stem, but the lizard then escaped and ran about a metre before the bird jumped over and caught it again at the neck. Again the bird dashed the lizard twice, this time on a rock, then took it under a shrub and beat it a third time on another rock. The first two dashes using the rock were done slowly, the third one was quicker and so powerful that the lizard was thrown about 60 cm.

The bird retrieved it and returned to the rock on which it had just dashed it. After 30 seconds it repeated the same action, and over the course of half an hour it beat the lizard 49 times mainly in groups of three.

After this treatment the bird released the dead prey and rested for about a minute, then caught the lizard by the snout, ventral side upwards, and manuscript, Dr. Zeenia Nissam of the Department of Zoology, Open University of Sri Lanka, for her generous support for the field visit, Mr. Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi (WHT–Wildlife Heritage Trust), Mr Kasun Ekanayake and Mr F. S. Abeywickrama (YZA–Young Zoologists' Association of Sri Lanka) for valuable help in preparing this paper.

Figure 1. Stages in the catching and eating of a lizard by a Sri
Lanka Whistling Thrush Myophonus blighi. (a) The bird hops
slowly towards the lizard. (b) It catches the lizard at the neck.
(c) It starts to swallow the prey head-first. (d) The lizard's tail
projects from the bill.


bird watching, birding, sri lanka


'Makarae' – in Gal Oya National Park a rare predatory act was observed recently. "Hoona" – as popularly known is a frequent visitor to most Sri Lankan houses. But the type we are used to are no longer than a few inches, but the type our Naturalist observed in the National Park was about 1 foot long.

This is an excerpt of his own account…
(in a ) …while lying on a large rock boulder (4 m height and 6 m wide) (the Gekko) moved slowly to the forest floor. In this ground there were two small rat holes nearby and one was owned by antelope rat (Tatera indica) and other by mole rat (Bandicota bengalensis). After a few minutes we heard a small noise like 'crivk crivk crivk'. At this instance the gecko (Hemidactylus maculatus hunae) quickly came out from the hole of the mole rat holding a juvenile mole rat (5 cm long) from its mouth. Then the gecko dashed the prey three times on the granite rock wall and repeated this action five to seven times. Then it swallowed the prey at once from its head…" at about 22:45 h. After five minutes the gecko immediately retreated back to the cave. No additional observations of predation on this rat species by were recorded.

The Spotted giant gecko Hemidactylus maculatus hunae is the largest subspecies recorded in Sri Lanka and it considered to be endemic to the island. Forty two species/sub species belonging to nine genera of geckos, family Gekkonidae, have been recognized from Sri Lanka and 31 (71%) of them are endemic to the island (Amarasinghe et al., 2009)


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