Count the birds: Public urged to join global initiative

February 19, 2019 by

Published on SundayTimes on 17.02.2019 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190217/news/count-the-birds-public-urged-to-join-global-initiative-336547.html

As the annual initiative, Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) from February 15-18–where birdwatchers around the world are invited to count and report details of birds in the area in which they live– marks its last day tomorrow, a veteran ornithologist here has said it was important to keep a tab on what are regarded as common birds too.

Prof. Sarath Kotagama says that while many are concerned about the declining numbers of rare birds, the numbers of common birds, too, could dip towards extinction without anyone realising it and, therefore, it was important to take a count of those birds too.

The latest ‘State of the World Birds’ report published by BirdLife International reveals that while highly threatened species continue to go extinct, what were once considered common and widespread species too are in sharp decline. At least 40% of bird species worldwide (3,967) have declining populations, compared with 44% that are stable (4,393) according to the report.

“As the birds around are mostly common ones, even an amateur birdwatcher can identify most of the birds around us. So the public too can join in such citizen science initiatives such as the GBBC and make note of the common birds which can be an indicator of the state of the environment,” Prof.Kotagama explained.

Red-vented Bulbul. Pic by Hari Namasivayam

The global Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a citizen science project conducted annually in mid-February. During this four-day event birdwatchers around the world are invited to count and report details of birds in the area in which they live.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) based at Colombo University urges Sri Lankan birders also to participate in GBBC. “The migratory birds are still in Sri Lanka in mid-February, hence the timing of the GBBC is good to get an annual snapshot of birds here,” FOGSL president Dr.Sampath Seneviratne said.

“The GBBC is also a great opportunity to introduce not just adults, but children too to birding and build greater awareness of our biodiversity and its conservation. So get your kids to participate in this event,” urges Dr.Seneviratne.

Meanwhile pointing out that the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has announced its first coordinated flamingo count in the region on February 23 and 24, Dr.Seneviratne said that FOGSL will carry out a similar programme here too on the same days. He invites birdwatchers here to be a part of the programme by calling the FOGSL hotline on 0789330076. The Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus rosues) is a common winter visitor to Sri Lanka, and birdwatchers and wildlife photographers flock to Mannar and other northern regions to get a glimpse of the spectacular gathering of hundreds of these birds.

Flamingos (c) Janaka Bandara

How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count 
Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes on one or more days of the four-day event and upload their sightings on eBird (http://www.ebird.org). 

If you find it difficult to access eBird, make a list of the birds seen around in your area their numbers and details of the location, sounds etc and email to gardenbirdwatch.srilanka@gmail.com urges FOGSL or call their hotline 0789330076 for any assistance. 

White-breasted Kingfisher

Rose-ringed Parakeet

New Year 2019 – Wishing a Natureful New Year..!!

January 1, 2019 by

May the new year 2019 be a good one for the environment..!!

Getting to know all about those flitting beauties

December 16, 2018 by

Blue Pansy (Female)

Adam’s Peak is known as ‘Samanala Kanda’ (Butterfly Mountain) because large numbers of butterflies fly towards it during the pilgrim season. According to folklore these butterflies fly to pay tribute to the mountain and with the Adam’s Peak season starting next week, this is probably the best time to launch the ‘Field Guide to Butterflies of Sri Lanka’.

This field guide is by Dr. Michael van der Poorten, the acclaimed butterfly expert together with his wife Dr.Nancy van der Poorten. The authors’ 2016 book ‘The Butterfly Fauna of Sri Lanka’ was widely hailed as a landmark publication for its comprehensive coverage of the biology of the butterflies of Sri Lanka. But it was a large heavy book which was difficult to carry around; so the need for a small, easy-to-carry book that could be taken out to the field arose, giving birth to this compact field guide.

The guide provides a wealth of information on all of Sri Lanka’s 248 butterflies. Each butterfly is described with key information on its appearance, behaviour, habitat, flight period and prime locations for observation. The guide carries close-up images of butterflies taken from different angles featuring the most distinguishable features.

The butterflies of Sri Lanka are broadly grouped as Skippers, Blues, Brush-foots, Swallowtails, Metalmarks, Whites and Yellows. While a swallowtail butterfly could be distinguished easily from a skipper butterfly, some species within the groups are difficult to separate as the markings differentiating them could be hard to pick. While images point out these features, the guide additionally provides ‘identification keys’ assisting identification.

The authors: Nancy and Michael van der Poorten

The book is arranged by grouping together those species that look similar rather than by taxonomic order that scientists often use. This is a notable difference as it helps butterfly enthusiasts to identify a butterfly in the field.The detailed distribution maps showing current and historical records of the range of different butterfly species is another feature that is quite useful to verify specially the sighting of some rare butterflies.

Talking on the challenge of getting a good butterfly photograph, Dr.van der Poorten advises that a macro lens from 100 to 200 mm is a useful tool. But patience is what is absolutely essential if you decide to follow butterflies. The time of day too is important; the best time for photography is early morning when the butterflies start to warm up; many will open their wings when settled only at this time, our butterfly expert added.

Most of our gardens are visited by at least a few species of butterflies, so they are special creatures that can bring the beauty of nature to our own doorstep. In the chapter “Through the eyes of a butterfly” the authors give guidance to those who would like to make their garden butterfly-friendly. “In order to have a flourishing butterfly garden, you need to see the space through the eyes of a butterfly: what are the resources that butterflies need to survive. What will attract them to the garden and what will keep them around and prevent their departure elsewhere”. Butterflies are undoubtedly so beautiful and harmless that they are a great introduction for kids, so make your garden ‘butterfly friendly’, Dr.van der Poorten urges.

The Field Guide to the Butterflies of Sri Lanka by Michael and Nancy van der Poorten will be launched on December 20 at 6 p.m. at the Met Department Auditorium, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7. The field guide is priced at Rs. 4,500, but can be purchased at the launch at Rs.3,000

White Orange Tip (Male)

IndianAwl

 

Use forensic science to drag Mugalan’s killers into court

December 16, 2018 by

Top expert urges rethink on wildlife crime investigation. Published on SundayTimes on 09.12.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181209/news/use-forensic-science-to-drag-mugalans-killers-into-court-323990.html

[Note: this was published alongside of article investigating the slain of the Udawalawe Tusker ‘Mugalan’ http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181209/news/investigations-reveal-elephant-killed-for-its-tusks-2-suspects-remanded-323993.html]

Investigations into crimes against animals should be handled as forensically as normal criminal investigations, a top animal crimes expert urged as sadness and anger swept the nation over the killing of the Udawalawe tusker, Mugalan, last week.

Ravi Perera is regularly engaged in solving wildlife crime cases in Africa, especially in Kenya

The maximum penalty for the culprits was urged.

“A proper crime scene investigation is the first step in tackling wildlife crimes,” said Ravi Perera, an international expert in wildlife crime who has offered, using his Serendipity Wildlife Foundation, to train Sri Lankan personnel to investigate such incidents.

Mr. Perera has nearly 25 years’ experience in forensic investigation, with special expertise in wildlife crime. Now based in the United States, he is regularly engaged in solving wildlife crime cases in Africa, especially in Kenya where organised gangs of poachers hunt elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns.

“While the method of investigation is the same, a wildlife crime scene is very different to everyday crime scenes in cities’ Mr. Perera explained:

investigators are dealing with possibly a decomposing carcass or a carcass that has been partially or completely devoured by another animal.

“Very often, we have to work in harsh surroundings, rough terrain, and even in dangerous situations where elephants and rhinos could return to the location to protect the dead,” Mr. Perera said.

While a crime scene in urban areas could be sometimes worked with one or two personnel, a crime scene in the wild would require armed guards to secure the scene as well as personnel to take photographs, gather evidence and search the crime scene.

The crime scene itself is much larger in the wild, where a suspect’s shoe or footprints or a tyre track from a vehicle could be located several hundred meters away.

The animal could have been shot at one place but have succumbed to its wounds a distance away. The location where the animal was shot is as important as the place it died as key evidence could be found at either location or in between them.

“In shooting cases such as Mugalan’s it is important to focus on key evidence such as the projectiles (bullets) recovered from the carcass. If the projectile is not severely damaged, there is equipment in forensic labs to determine the type of weapon it was fired from,” the expert said.

Most projectiles found in animals remain intact due to body mass and bones unless there is an exit wound and the projectile is unrecoverable.

Mugalan shot at close range in Udawalawe. Pix by Rahul S. Hettiarachchi

“We also search for the casings that have been ejected from the weapon. Should a weapon be recovered, these casings can be matched in the lab to a test-fired casing from the weapon. Very often, a perfect match is enough to convict a criminal.

“If a suspect is found, a suspect’s clothing that he wore at the time of the shooting can be examined for gunshot residue,” Mr. Perera said.

Poachers in Sri Lanka also use wire snares and “hakka patas” – improvised explosive devices embedded in food that blow the animal’s head apart.

“Unfortunately, obtaining evidence from snares is almost impossible,” Mr. Perera said. “You have catch the culprit in possession of the device to even consider prosecution.

“Hakka patas too would be very hard to analyse for evidence as it is often discovered after the damage is done, and gathering DNA evidence to match to the suspect is impossible due to the fact that it has been severely contaminated with the baited fruit and is then mixed with the elephant’s saliva and other body fluids – not to mention that the explosion further destroys your evidence.”

Mr. Perera, who works with international agencies in curbing wildlife crime, raised the need for Sri Lankan authorities to use new tools and technology.

“Forensic tools and technology have increased in leaps and bounds within the last eight to 10 years,” he said. “When it was previously impossible to do so, presumptive blood tests, gunshot residue-testing, thermal imaging, infra-red photography, fingerprint analysis and much more can now be done onsite and the results obtained within a few minutes.

“Forensic crime labs are also equipped with laser imaging and various light sources to analyse fingerprints and machines to process DNA and obtain results in about an hour,” he said.

Ravi with the last remaining Northern White rhino Sudan before its death

How the public can aid investigations
People often gather at the site of an animal killing to satisfy their curiosity but wildlife expert Ravi Perera said vital evidence is destroyed when the site is indiscriminately trampled over.

Mr. Perera urged the public to support wildlife crime investigations by not disturbing the evidence.

“Our aim is to prevent contamination of the crime scene. If a crime scene is contaminated, it could compromise the entire case,” he said.

This is the reason that we secure an urban crime scene with yellow tape – to keep investigators in and keep all others out.

“Every single item located in that crime scene is regarded as important. Cigarette butts, discarded and crushed receipts, bus and train tickets, clothing, blood, water bottles, tyre tracks, shoe/foot prints and drink cans can be potential evidence. A receipt from a shop (with a date and time printed) can be used to identify a suspect on the shop’s video surveillance system, and then we have a ‘face’ to work with.

“In Sri Lanka, I see crime scenes totally destroyed when villagers and curious onlookers come right up to an animal carcass, and sometimes even touch it. It is important that a secured perimeter be established before work commences at the scene.”

Sri Lanka attends first-ever global summit on sustainable blue economy

December 15, 2018 by

Published on SundayTimes 09.12.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181209/news/sri-lanka-attends-first-ever-global-summit-on-sustainable-blue-economy-323968.html

From the Blue Economy Conference (c) http://www.nation.co.ke

Delegates from around the world gathered at Nairobi, Kenya, last week to discuss how to make the emerging ‘blue economy’ sustainable. The gathering is seen as the first global-level conference dedicated to discuss blue economy emphasising the need for sustainable use of oceanic resources.

Sri Lanka sent a six-member delegation that included officials from the Fisheries Department who said the discussions were very relevant to Sri Lanka.

The sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems, has been termed ‘blue economy’– a popular buzz word lately. The summit covered issues facing oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and other water bodies.

Fisheries is what comes to mind as the most important resource that oceans provide. However, as land-based resources fast diminish, oceans become the last frontier that can give an extended lifeline for humankind, experts point out. Nations have already started exploring the oceans for resources other than fish, such as minerals, oil, gas and other resources as well. According to reports India plans to spend more than $1billion during the next decade to develop and test deep-sea technologies – including human-piloted exploration submarines – in the Indian Ocean that could give access to once inaccessible mineral riches up to 6.8 miles (11 km) under water.

While Sri Lanka can benefit working closely with nations who have capabilities in extracting resources, Sri Lanka should not allow its resources to be over-exploited, point out experts. Sri lanka and India have already locked horns on the issue of Tamil Nadu fishermen invading our waters and employing harmful bottom-trawling methods to catch fish. Having international corporation to solve these kinds of issues is important, therefore it is important that Sri Lanka makes use of these kinds of summits to tackle trans-boundary issues strategically, the experts add.

Blue Economy (c) World Bank

Fisheries Department director Monty Ranathunga who was a member of the delegation that attended the Nairobi said at the end of the three-day summit eight statements, dubbed ‘The Nairobi declaration of Intent on Advancing Global Sustainable Blue Economy’ was issued.

Participants at the summit recognised that with population growth, demand for goods and services will also grow accordingly, and that this will exert additional pressure on land-based resources, which are slowly diminishing or already over exploited in many cases and welcomed the global interest in developing and conserving the resources of a sustainable blue economy,the official said.

Deep-sea mining possibly as damaging as land mining

The Nairobi declaration also stated that with collective determination, and building on efforts at local, national and international levels, the global community can intensify investments and harness the full potential of the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers to accelerate economic growth, create jobs and fight poverty. Simultaneously, the world can improve the health of the oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers and the ecosystems they support. The declaration also recognised that science and research are crucial for policy development, implementation and evaluation, the official further said.

Click below for ‘Nairobi Statement of Intent Advancing Global Sustainable Blue Economy’.

Nairobi-Statement-of-Intent-Advancing-Global-Sustainable-Blue-Economy

Savour and save the beauty of Mannar: A clarion call through pictures

December 2, 2018 by

Northern Sri Lanka’s beauty eluded the third eye of nature photographers for a long time because of security issues. But with restrictions eased after the war, well known wildlife photographers Thilak Jayaratne, Janaka Gallangoda and Nadika Hapuarachchi became frequent visitors to this region. The beauty of Mannar and Adam’s Bridge sand islands mesmerised these photographers and after a gruelling five-year effort, they compiled their experiences into a coffee table book ‘Mannar Unbound’ with the assistance of Tamara Fernando.

Mannar: A land of rugged beauty

‘Mannar Unbound’ is a result of their extensive field work documenting the flora and fauna of the region. The book spans a variety of photographic genres including avian photography, landscapes, underwater fauna and architectural ruins. Capturing the images on this challenging terrain requires infinite patience to follow trails, waiting patiently at nesting sites and often taking bumpy rides on a rough sea. The photographers had to visit the same sites repeatedly to photograph during different seasons – Nadeeka Hapuarachchi recollects the experience on behalf of the team of authors.

Some images of the book are worthy of special mention. These include photographs of species of pelagic seabirds in the Sand Islands, the critically endangered Dugong and some choice underwater treasures.However, “Mannar Unbound” is not just a collection of photographs as this visual story is intertwined with a historical story exploring the times of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial periods. The book goes further down in history telling Mannar’s tale from the glorious days of the Anuradhapura kingdom. It recollects how ‘Mahatiththa’ (Great Port) – as Mannar was known in ancient times –allowed Sri Lanka’s great kings to reap the benefits of the ancient Maritime Silk Route. The book then explores Mannar’s iconic pearl fishery and Robert Knox’s famous accounts of the region.

Adam’s Bridge, that consist of eight  sand islands under Sri Lankan territories is the only recorded location in Sri Lanka to have nesting sites for several species of pelagic sea birds. The photographers made many visits to photograph birds in these unique islands. They recall their experiences:

“Sea birds used to congregate on the third island of Adam’s Bridge National Park for their annual nesting season. When you approach the third island the first observation one makes is a mesmerizing low-set dark cloud hovering over the island, that happens to be large flocks of pelagic birds in multitudes, jostling each other to feed their hatchlings. If you were to compel a bit closer, the next encounter is a deafening cacophony of chicks and adults.”

The book recollects the mystical beauty of these sand islands. “It feels like you have this uninhibited piece of paradise all to yourself. During high tide nature puts on an extraordinary display, filling the basins of the islands with gushing sea water, which gives an appearance of the Amazon river basin on aerial photographs. The scenery melts effortlessly from white sandy beaches and gentle undulations of sand dunes to verdant salt marshes. I can happily spend the whole day here, watching from a vantage point at endless turquoise water crashing against deserted white sand shores,” one account states.

Spot-billed Duck

There are lots of coffee table books capturing the terrestrial animals. Rarely are there are books that capture the beauty of the ocean’s depths. But the photographers of ‘Mannar Unbound’ even dived to capture its unique marine biodiversity and  even managed to photograph a dugong – the most critically endangered mammal in Sri Lanka.

Mannar island is only a part of Mannar District, but if you have a closer look, it reveals a region that is also home to dry riverine forests, damana grasslands and dry monsoon forests. The book also portrays photos taken in other parts of Mannar District such as Madhu Sanctuary and Giant’s Tank.

“The leaves are still dripping from an overnight downpour when Janaka slings on his day pack and heads out into the river on a day with a damp morning chill. It is just after the daybreak and already the Madhu Forest is alive with hoots and chatter. A strange ululating chant starts up in the distance, fades out then builds again. ‘Listen! says Janaka, grabbing my arm and cocking one ear, that is a ‘Ulama’, can you hear? There are two of them, singing a duet”- the authors beautifully reconstruct their experience elsewhere in Mannar District in the chapter ‘Magic of Monsoon’.

“Photographs in this book freeze moments in time. But the story of Mannar is dynamic, cosmopolitan and changing even as the book goes to print. While our photographic stills capture images of beauty, they are threatened daily by encroaching industry, aggressive tourism and poor resource management. Mannar Unbound is a clarion call to savour the beauty of the region and to assist, urgently in its preservation” ‘Mannar Unbound’ concludes.

With nearly 300 breathtaking photographs that span nearly 400 pages, ‘Mannar Unbound’  is priced at Rs.9000, but there is a pre-publication offer of Rs.6500 until December 9. The ‘Mannar Unbound’ photographic exhibition portraying some of the work in the book will be held at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery on December 8 and 9. The exhibition is open to the public.

Greater Flamingo – a key Migratory attraction of Mannar

Gulf of Mannar’s rich biodiversity too featured in ‘Mannar Unbound’

Published on SundayTimes on 02.12.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181202/plus/savour-and-save-the-beauty-of-mannar-a-clarion-call-through-pictures-322539.html 

Science puts Lanka in headlines for all the right reasons

December 2, 2018 by

While power-greedy politicians vociferously tarnish the image of country through their undemocratic fights, scientists silently bring some dignity to the name of Sri Lanka.

Marine biologist Asha de Vos

Marine biologist Asha de Vos and cancer researcher Hasini Jayatilaka brought honour to the country when they were internationally recognised this month for their tireless efforts and groundbreaking discoveries.

Ms. de Vos, known worldwide for her research on blue whales and for campaigning for the conservation of oceans, was named in “BBC 100 Women 2018” – a list of 100 inspiring and influential women chosen from 60 countries.

“Asha works in the area of marine conservation to increase diversity, inclusivity and opportunity in the field” BBC stated on November 19.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to keep putting Sri Lanka on the world map for all the right reasons!” Ms. De Vos said, when notified of the honour.

Marine biology is usually dominated by males but Ms. De Vos’s trailblazing marine research has made her an idol for Asian women.

“I fight for the people in the developing world because 70 per cent of coastlines are around our shores, but because of the exclusive nature of marine conservation very few people have gone into the field. That is what I am changing,” the determined scientist said.

“I will not rest until I see people from all corners of the globe empowered to look after their patch of ocean, so together we can save not just this big blue tank of water but also ourselves.”

The other Sri Lankan scientist honoured few weeks ago, Hasini Jayatilake, was named in the prestigious Forbes Magazine’s list of “30 Under 30” young innovators, entrepreneurs and risk-takers who are changing the world and have been identified as leaders for the next generation.

Dr. Jayatilaka, just 28, discovered a signalling pathway that controls how cancer cells metastasise (multiply) through the body and a way to block that pathway. This has led to the development of new treatment targeting tumour growth and metastasis.

Currently a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University in the United States, Dr. Jayatilaka was born in Australia and raised in Sri Lanka, studying at Ladies’ College, Colombo.

Her education is international: she engaged in undergraduate studies in marine and environmental biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, gained her Masters in integrative bio-sciences at the University of Oxford and has PhD from the University of Western Australia and Johns Hopkins University in the States.

Meanwhile, last week the annual President’s Awards for Scientific Publication hailed 338 scientists for publishing high

Cancer researcher Hasini Jayatilaka

-impact scientific papers.

The awards were started in 2001 to recognise Sri Lankan scientists with a Sri Lankan institutional affiliation whose work reached international standards.

The publications are peer-reviewed and are awarded after a two-year gap to allow scientific scrutiny for the academic work’s validity and accuracy. This year’s awards recognised work published in 2016.

The awarding scheme is organised by the National Research Council (NRC), set up under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research.

“This award scheme was initiated in 2001 because of the perceived need to create a better research culture in our country by encouraging Sri Lankan scientists to increase their research output both in terms of quality and quantity, which was, at that time, at a very low level,” NRC Chairman Professor Janaka de Silva said.

Published on SundayTimes on 02.12.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181202/news/science-puts-lanka-in-headlines-for-all-the-right-reasons-322870.html

 

Attempt to ‘Rescue’ wild cat babies could backfire

October 14, 2018 by

Two wild cat cubs were found in a tree cavity several days ago by workers at the Bogawantalawa tea estate. The mother could not be spotted so the workers carefully took the cubs away, thinking they had been orphaned.

The Nallathanniya Beat Office of Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) was alerted to the find on October 4 and rushed to the estate where they found that the cubs were young fishing cats only a few days old.

The cubs were in good shape, said wildlife ranger Prabash Karunatilleke. He told the people who found them it was best to take them back to their hiding place because their mother would return for them.

“Fishing cats usually hide their babies when they need to go out on brief hunting trips to find food. Perhaps the mother ran away in fright at the approach of the estate workers, but it would have been around,” Mr. Karunatilleke said.

Wildlife officers put the babies back in the tree cavity and cleared the area of people. When they returned to the site the next morning the babies were not there. Fresh pug marks around the tree indicated the mother had taken her babies to another hideout, Mr. Karunatilleke said.

The wildlife officers had acted sensibly in putting the cubs back in the tree cavity, fishing cat experts said, adding that worried members of the public often believe they are performing an act of kindness in “rescuing” apparently abandoned fishing cat cubs when in fact they were separating babies from their mother.

“If you find a fishing cat cub just check the surrounding area for predators. If the cub seems to be safe, just wait and keep your distance as the mother won’t come if it feels your presence,” fishing cat expert Anya Ratnayake said.

“If the mother does not appear even after about two hours, then there is a chance that the cubs have been orphaned due to some tragic thing having happened to the mother.

“Then, and only then, take the initiative to help them,” Ms. Ratnayake advised.

“The cubs of all our wild cats, including leopards, are adorable and it is difficult to resist the urge to help them, but being with the mother is their best chance of their survival.”

Carnivores are difficult to rehabilitate and be released back to the wild as grown animals, wild cat experts emphasised. It is difficult to teach a baby wild cat the techniques of hunting and other skills that cats need to survive in the wild and which they learn from their mother.

Many fear the fishing cat, known as “handun diviya” in Sinhala. Ms. Ratnayake and fellow young fishing cat expert Ashan Thudugala are doing a good job trying to educate the public about this species.

The fishing cat is a medium-sized wild cat that lives in wetlands. They are nocturnal and secretive wild cats so studying them is difficult for researchers.

Fishing cats face many kinds of dangers. They adapt to wetlands in busy cities, even in Colombo, so are often run over and killed by accident when trying to cross roads.

They are also often caught in snares set primarily for wild boar in many areas. The loss of their wetland habitats is also a major problem.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.10.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181014/news/rescue-of-wild-cat-babies-backfires-315532.html 

NOTE: Experts opined that the cubs found on Bogawanthalawa are infact the cubs of the Rusty-spotted Cat; world’s smallest wild cat.  

Fishing cats often become roadkill. Babies could go orphaned, if mother get killed or translocated elsewhere (c) Toshan Wijerathne – Near Kirala Kele, Matara

Move to declare open season on wild boar despite warnings

October 7, 2018 by
The collateral damage of increased wild boar hunting would be high.
.
The Agriculture Ministry will seek Cabinet approval to lift the ban on the transport and sale of wild boar meat in the face of opposition from wildlife activists, citing the need to prevent the protected animal’s raids on cropland. Agriculture Ministry media director W.M.D. Wanninayake said wild animals caused about Rs. 18 billion damage of crops annually, with wild boar the major culprit as well as elephants, monkeys, porcupines and peafowl.

A wild boar caght in a snare in Nuwara Eliya

“Apparently natural predators of wild boar such as leopards and jackals have decreased, so we feel there is an increase in boars, which are being found in small forest patches even in Kandy and Colombo,” Mr. Wanninayake said.

He added that the ministry had carried out a random and rapid survey and reached the conclusion that crop damage by wild boar had increased.
The wild boar consumes ground vegetation, soil-dwelling creatures and carrion, also often raiding crops if their habitat is close to crop fields. Feeding in small groups, wild boar are active at night.

At present, a farmer can kill a wild boar if it trespasses onto his property but the meat cannot be transported or sold. “Last year, 15,000 guns were issued to farmers along with two lakhs of bullets with the main aim of protecting their crops, but only a handful of bullets had been used,” Mr. Wanninayake said.

Wild boar are, however, already being killed in large numbers and sold under cover as there is demand for the flesh. The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) warns that the legalisation and thereby liberalisation of the sale and trade of wild boar meat will result in unsustainable slaughter. It fears that increased demand for wild boar meat will make inroads into populations in national parks and sanctuaries.

“From an eco-system perspective, the wild boar is an important species,” the WNPS stated. “Free-ranging wild boar feed on animal carcasses, a scavenging role that significantly reduces the disease risk from rotting carcasses … They also feed on eggs, grubs and larvae of many agricultural pests, as well as weeds like sedges.”

Conservationists also point out the difficulties of regulating the wild boar meat trade if the law is relaxed. Although wild boar meat is traded widely undercover in the countryside only on 38 occasions last year did raids result in the seizure of meat offered for sale, according to Department of Wildlife Conservation sources.

Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardane confirms that Wild boar is not a protected species under Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO), so a farmer can shoot a trespassing wild pig without issue. But if transport and sale is legalized, DWC will has practical logistical, man power and other issues in regulating any trade of wild boar meat. “There is no way someone distinguish whether the flesh belong to a wild boar killed in a farm land or a from a protected area. The meat will be transport after packetted, so meat of other animals too would be freely transported” Mr.Gunawardane pointed out.

Change of social attitude due to legalization of wild boar meat would also be a negative impact. “First the move will change mindset of farmers to become hunters as they can now earn money by selling meat. Secondly, when wild boar meat can reach cities, people that had never tasted wild board will develop an appetite for venison which will create more demand”. Mr.Gunawardane stressed, that This is against the spirit of wildlife conservation.

Activists also fear a major problem would be caused by the methods of killing wild boar if their meat became a profitable big seller. Already, illegal methods such as trap guns, snares and “hakka patas” (explosives hidden in fruit and other food sources that blow off an animal’s jaws when bitten on) are being used to kill wild boar, and they also kill numbers of non-target species.

Elephant died eating Hakka Patas at Rambewa, A’pura – Oct, 02nd (c) DWC ape pituwa

Leading wildlife experts, elephant researcher Dr. Prithviraj Fernando and the former director-general of the Department of Wildlife, Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya, said current laws were more than adequate to prevent wild boars grazing on crops.

“The sale and transport of wild boar meat will legalise bush meat trade which goes against today’s world opinion. We are also due to host the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) next year where bush meat trade will be one of the important issues. If laws are relaxed, Sri Lanka’s move to legalise bush meat trade will no doubt be a topic of discussion bringing shame to the host country,” Dr. Fernando added.

“A farmer can kill a wild boar that destroys his crops,” Dr. Pilapitiya said. “But the new law looks like Sri Lanka is promoting the commercialisation of ‘bush meat’.” Other experts were also forceful in their opposition to the government’s plan.

“Where is the scientific evidence of an ‘exploding’ wild boar population?” leopard experts Dr. Andrew Kittle and Anjali Watson demanded.
They raised the possibility that forest loss and increased human encroachment into wilderness areas might be resulting in wild boars feeding in cropland.

Dr. Kittle and Ms Watson added: “Opening up a legal market for wild boar meat – which is essentially what is being proposed – requires a long-term and concerted effort to manage properly …. there would need to be regulations in terms of hunting seasons, annual quotas, licences and monitoring.”
Dr. Kittle and Ms. Watson revealed that data collected by the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust showed that in the past 10 years at least 38 leopards had been killed by snares set mostly for wild boar, with the actual toll probably “far higher”.

Leopard killed by Snares – Sept, 26 Nawalapitiya (c) DWC

“Snaring is an extremely unpleasant way to kill an animal as it results in extensive suffering and can drag on for a long time. We know of a young female leopard that was caught in a snare in December of 2017 or January of 2018 and only died from the wound in May.”

One of India’s leading conservationists, Ajay Desai, warned against kneejerk solutions. He said India too had wildlife conflict involving wild herbivores that grew more abundant in certain areas, with nothing been done about the consequences until local people put political pressure on authorities.
“So action was initiated when there were too many complaints and too much pressure, which meant quick action had to be taken and that meant no proper planning process and only quick kneejerk reactions to the crisis,” Mr. Desai said.

Trunk injury from snare -kalawewa (c) Dr.Prithviraj Fernando

19m Lankans face financial hit from climate change by 2050

October 7, 2018 by

Living standards in the Northern and North-Western provinces will be badly affected by changing climate and the economic engine of the Western Province will also falter, according to a World Bank study that links GDP to the impact of climate change. Published on SundayTimes on 07.10.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/19m-lankans-face-financial-hit-from-climate-change-by-2050-314779.html

Going in search of water: Women are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts

The Jaffna and Puttalam districts will be the top hotspots – areas where changes in average weather will adversely affect living standards – while the second most populous district in the country, Gampaha, is among the top 10 most vulnerable districts.

Gampaha has been heavily affected by recent droughts, and the World Bank report points out that western Sri Lanka, along with south-eastern India, northern Pakistan and eastern Nepal, have experienced “unambiguous” temperature rises of 1C to 1.5C (1.8F to 2.7F) from 1950-2010.

The report, South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards, combines average temperature and rainfall information with household survey data to recognise looming changes to the human condition.

Such changes inevitably affect the national economy. “In Sri Lanka, living standards could go down by around 5 percent, and in the worst-case scenario may decline by around 7 percent,” said Professor Muthukumara Mani, a leading economist in the World Bank South Asia Region and author of the report.
“Under the worst-case scenario, GDP will decline by 7.7 percent, an estimated loss of $US50 billion.”

According to the report, about 19 million people in Sri Lanka today live in locations that could become moderate or severe hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario. This is equivalent to more than 90 percent of the country’s population.

Stress was laid on the importance of coping with the changes of average temperature as much as the increase of severe weather events. “Global warming is proven, and the climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier. We are not doing enough, heading toward a 3C increase by 2100, and the poor will suffer most,” said Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, former vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We also tend to forget long-term effects as more focus is on the short term. In case of extreme events, we at least know kind of action that can be taken such as relocation, evacuation etc. and can have a robust mechanism to deal with natural disasters. But we don’t know much about gradual changes in temperature and how to face them,” Prof. Munasinghe said.

“Even a change of one week or two weeks of monsoon can have an impact on farmers. We still do not know what to do with the gradual changes.”
On current trends, humans would need the resources of two planets to satisfy our needs by 2030, Prof. Munasinghe said, stressing the need to take a sustainable path.

People employed in agriculture will bear the brunt of climate-change-caused hardship and many will face extreme poverty, the report states.
They have already begun moving toward other day jobs as they cannot rely totally on agriculture, according to figures shown at the study’s launch ceremony.

While less developed and agriculture-based households are more prone to livelihood upset, hardship will not be limited to rural areas: in Pakistan, the most vulnerable exist in urban areas. The report also states that female-run households are more resilient.

Dr. Herath Manthrithilake, head of the International Water Management Institute (IMWI)’s country programme, said the highlight of the study is its linking of weather changes to the effects on GDP, which allows policymakers to easily understand the consequences of climate change.

Dr. Manthrithilake said water will be an important resource and we would not be able to look as lightly on water management as we did in the last century. “We need to think about all the water resources and how to use them constructively — how we can combine usage. At the moment, once we use water for agriculture, we discard it. We need to find out how waste water can be reused,” he said.

Kusum Athukorala of Netwater Partnership pointed out that women are foot soldiers of climate change adaptation. “Often, women looking for water in parched land has been the tell-tale picture of drought. So they are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts,” Ms. Athukorala said.

Given that five of the top 10 vulnerable districts of Sri Lanka are in Northern Province – with Jaffna, Mannar and Kilinochchi the worst affected – it is important that changes in average temperature and precipitation be considered for planning and development activities in that province.

The urbanised west of the country will not escape a financial hit from climate change. The report states: “The highly-urbanised and densely-populated Western Province, which includes Colombo, is also predicted to experience a living standards decline of 7.5 percent by 2050, compared with a situation without changes in average weather. This is a substantial drop, with potentially large implications for the country, given that the province contributes more than 40 per cent of Sri Lanka’s GDP.”

The report states that as more people move from agricultural areas to urban areas to cope better with the economic effects of climate change these shifts will in turn create new climate impacts, particularly with risks to health.

The World Bank report suggests ways in which Sri Lanka could limit the problems caused by climate change. Increasing the share of the non-agricultural sector by a third could limit the deterioration in living standards from -7 percent to 0.1 percent. Reducing travel time to markets and increasing average educational levels would also help the country.

Link to the World Bank Report https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/28723/9781464811555.pdf

In other news: Environmental stories from Sri Lanka, week ending Oct 7, 2018

October 7, 2018 by

Red-eared terrapin: Evasive and Invasive
http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/10/07/red-eared-terrapin-evasive-and-invasive

Environmentalists argue immediate action is necessary to control an exotic pet turtle, the red-eared slider before it causes hefty ecological costs on the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19m Lankans face financial hit from climate change by 2050
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/19m-lankans-face-financial-hit-from-climate-change-by-2050-314779.html

Living standards in the Northern and North-Western provinces will be badly affected by changing climate and the economic engine of the Western Province will also falter, according to a World Bank study that links GDP to the impact of climate change.

Move to declare open season on wild boar despite warnings
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/move-to-declare-open-season-on-wild-boar-despite-warnings-314728.html

The Agriculture Ministry will seek Cabinet approval to lift the ban on the transport and sale of wild boar meat in the face of opposition from wildlife activists, citing the need to prevent the protected animal’s raids on cropland.

Leopard killed by a snares set for a wild boar – sept 26 Nawalapitiya (c) DWC ape pituwa

Bundala fish are dying due to waste from salterns, say fishermen
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/bundala-fish-are-dying-due-to-waste-from-salterns-say-fishermen-314744.html

A large number of birds that inhabit the park and migratory birds are also under threat as their source of food, fish in the lagoon are dying due to the pollution.

3

Sri Lanka President emphasizes safeguarding the environment
http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18B/Oct05_1538758565CH.php

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena said safeguarding environment is vital for the survival of all creatures including humans and that is why he had not taken many high positions entrenched with money and power and selected the Ministry of Environment to ensure the right to life of all the creatures including the human beings.

PM of Sri Lanka and Norway issue joint statement on marine life conservation
https://www.newsfirst.lk/2018/10/06/pm-of-sri-lanka-and-norway-issue-joint-statement-on-marine-life-conservation/

The statement states Norway and Sri Lanka share a similar conviction on prioritizing the conservation of the fragile marine environment.

Public servants liable for environmental damage in respective districts – President
http://www.adaderana.lk/news/50506/public-servants-liable-for-environmental-damage-in-respective-districts-president

The President said that all the public servants in a respective district will be liable for the environmental damage occur in that particular district and further requested to inform him if there is any political influence when enforcing the laws against environmental damage.

Female elephant electrocuted in Puwakpitiya
https://www.newsfirst.lk/2018/10/02/female-elephant-electrocuted-in-puwakpitiya/
A female elephant died after coming in to contact with an unprotected electricity cable in Puwakpitiya, Habarana last afternoon (October 01)

Train In Sri Lanka Kills Three Elephant Calves
https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/train-in-sri-lanka-kills-three-elephant-calves-1928075

A passenger train hit and killed three young elephants in eastern Sri Lanka weeks after two calves and their pregnant mother were fatally struck in the same region.

Father of three dies in elephant attack
https://www.newsfirst.lk/2018/10/03/father-of-three-dies-in-elephant-attack/

A 48-year-old father of three, died in Indigahawewa following an elephant attack.

Villagers bring relief to suffering jumbo
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/villagers-bring-relief-to-suffering-jumbo-314826.html
A team of veterinary surgeons have started treating the injured foot of this elephant at the Hondawel Pokuna Wewa area in Hambantota.

Fifteen (15) persons apprehended for engaging in illegal activities
http://news.navy.lk/eventnews/2018/10/01/201810011710/

When garbage is music to the ears
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/plus/when-garbage-is-music-to-the-ears-314399.html

Standing out in Brad’s filmography is the unusual film Landfill Harmonic. It is the story of the recycled orchestra of Cateura, a small community outside the capital city of Asunción, Paraguay. The instruments they play are entirely made from garbage. It is the kind of story that filmmakers crave, but takes a rare eye to hunt down. “Both entertaining and educational”, it looks at the power of music as a tool for transformation, as well as the message of believing in yourself, not giving up your dreams, and making the most out of what you have in life.

Heaven’s death traps

September 16, 2018 by

Runaway kites prove fatal for unwary birds – published on SundayTimes on 16.09.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180916/news/heavens-death-traps-311589.html

The sight of kites flying high in the skies being joy to the beholder but runaway kites are an increasing threat to local birds that become entangled in the strings.

Entangled victim: Egret caught in a kite thread (c) Sumith Bandara

Art master Shantha K. Herath was conducting a class last week when he heard a loud, stressful cry from the top of a tall jak tree. He rushed out and found a large bird trying to escape from a string that had wound around its legs.

The struggles of the large purple heron (karawel koka) made the problem worse. Villagers who gathered to see the plight of the bird called the Wildlife Department, which dispatched a local wildlife team to rescue the bird.

A week earlier, Sumith Bandara had a similar experience but by the time he spotted the entangled victim it was too late for the bird. “It was sad to witness the white egret hanging from the string like a white flag at a funeral,” he said. “The bird would have struggled many hours and had a painful death.”

About a month ago, Udeni Seneviratne shared on Facebook an incident in which an oriental darter had one of its wings entangled in a kite string.

Unable to bear watching the bird’s distressed attempts to escape, animal lovers decided to attempt a rescue but it was dangerous as the bird was high in a massive flamboyant tree where its panicked struggles could unsettle a rescuer, with a slip of the foot being fatal.

Eventually, the brave effort gave the oriental darter another chance in life. “We were happy to see the bird swimming off but its wing was injured,” Ms. Seneviratne stated.

The Wildlife Department sees at least one such victim a week in the kite-flying season but the real number of dead and injured birds would be greater, the veterinary surgeon at the department’s Wildlife Rescue Centre at Attidiya, Dr. Suhada Jayawardane, said.

“It is often very difficult to rescue the birds as they often become entangled high in trees,” Dr. Jayawardane said, recalling when the fire brigade had to be called in to rescue a brown-headed barbet that had become entangled near Ananda College, Colombo.

In India and Pakistan, where kite flying is a popular pastime and participants compete fiercely for dominance of the sky, a kind of glass-coated kite string (locally called manjha) is used and this is particularly dangerous for birds.

According to a Times of India report, 4,026 birds had to be rescued during a kite festival at Gujarat, and according to a conservator of forests the previous year’s toll was worse, with 8,300 becoming entangled in kite strings and having to be rescued.

Glass-coated string is not used in Sri Lanka and should not be allowed as it slices through the throats and membranes of birds.

Dr. Jayawardene said it was difficult to treat a bird with broken wings and pleaded with kiters not to leave runaway kites and their threads unattended. The veterinary surgeon also asked anyone who spotted abandoned kites to remove them.

The problem is not only in the sky: different lines trap marine life deep in the oceans. Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear is a serious problem, more so as, unlike in the case of kite strings, the equipment is especially designed to trap the fish.

The large purple heron who got a kite string wound around its legs. Pic by Shantha K. Herath

Brutal harvesting of gal siyambala treat leaves sour taste

September 2, 2018 by

With the gal siyambala season at its height experts are warning that unsustainable harvesting methods are pushing the fruit tree towards extinction while prices for the product have soared. Published on SundayTimes on http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180902/news/brutal-harvesting-of-gal-siyambala-treat-leaves-sour-taste-309655.html

Gal Siyambala tree laden with fruit (c) Ashan Geeganage 

With its velvet coat and sweetish acidic taste the gal siyambala or velvet tamarind has been a delicacy for generations.

The velvet tamarind tree (Dialium ovoideum) grows in evergreen monsoon forests and near rivers, especially in dry and semi-arid zones. It is not cultivated, so the fruit is harvested directly from the trees in the forests.

Increasingly, the harvesting is greedy and brutal, with little regard for conserving the health of the tree. Organised gangs from nearby villages go into the forest and chop down entire branches of the trees in order to pluck the fruit off them. It is common to find the remnants of these cut branches left under the trees.

Last week, 50g of gal siyambala fetched Rs. 80 at Dehiwala, with vendors lamenting that the fruit’s rarity increased the price.

Decades ago, gal siyambala could be found in large heaps at roadside fruit stalls and markets from August, when its season begins. Blooms appear on the trees from February to April and the fruits come on the market from August to November.

“At the end of August we visited a forest patch in Siyambalanduwa,” said Dr. Ashan Geeganage, who lives in Moneragala and has been lucky enough to taste the fruit directly from the tree.

“We found several gal siyambala trees, but only two of them had fruit. The fruits on the other trees had been plucked and some of the trees were chopped up very badly,” he said.

The head of the Department of Crop Science at the University of Peradeniya, Professor D K N G Pushpakumara, said this kind of harvesting was destructive and affected the fruiting of the following year’s crop.

Velvet tamarind trees are also cut down for the value of their timber as they can grow 30m high.

The species is now classified as “vulnerable” to extinction. The National Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka: Conservation Status of the Fauna and Flora, published by the Department of the Environment, lists 177 plants as “possible extinct” while a third of 3,154 species of Sri Lanka’s flora are listed as “threatened”.\

While the global IUCN status remain ‘Least Concern’; the tree had been pushed to ‘Vulnerable’ in National RedLIst 2012

Whip-tailed marine beauty spotted in Menik Ganga river

August 30, 2018 by

Yala is a paradise for spotted animals such as leopard and deer, but the spotty creature found last week in the Manik Ganga near Kosgasmankada was unusual. Published on SundayTimes on 26.08.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180826/news/whip-tailed-beauty-spotted-in-yalas-menik-ganga-308087.html

A party having a dip in the river’s shallows found a long-tailed creature with a disc-shaped body patterned with many small dark spots or reticulations. From one end to the other, it was about 1 foot long. Biologist Rex I. De Silva identified the creature from a photograph sent to him by bather Geemal Harold as a honeycomb stingray or banded whiptail stingray (Himantura uarnak).“The honeycomb stingray is a common marine species in our coastal waters but finding one in freshwater is unusual,” Mr. De Silva said.

The stingray is named after the barbed stinger on its long tail, which is primarily used in self-defence. Rays and skates are flattened fish closely related to sharks. They do not have hard bones like other fish but a skeleton of flexible cartilage such as found in the human ear and nose.

Marine sharks and rays occasionally enter freshwater during spring tides, Mr. De Silva said. In times of drought, when river levels fall, seawater intrudes some distance up rivers at high and especially spring tides. Sharks and other marine species follow the seawater for a considerable distance upriver.

Shark sightings in the Menik Ganga have been recorded over the past 30 years but not sightings of rays.

The disc-shaped body of the honeycomb stingray found by Mr. Harold’s party was about 30.5cm (one foot) in diameter but the species can grow up to 2m (6.6 feet), so the one found in Yala would be a young stingray that decided to have an adventurous journey upstream.

The stingray’s tail, called “maduwa” in Sinhala, which can be three times its body length, was dried and used in olden times as a whip for punishment, the barbs on the tail inflicting great pain.

Shark spotted near warahana 2016 (c) Janaka Karunaratne

Rays are masters at bottom-dwelling. They have eyes on the top of their head/body and so relies on other senses in finding food (crustaceans, small fish, snails, shrimp etc.) on usually murky ocean beds.

Special organs on their face called ampulae allow them to navigate and find prey with electromagnetic signals.

Sadly, stingray numbers are in decline due to over-fishing, habitat loss and climate change. At present, 539 species of ray are on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of endangered species, with 107 classified as threatened. The honeycomb stingray is categorised as “vulnerable”, making this Yala sighting special.

The smart three-wheeler that doesn’t ‘tuk-tuk’

August 6, 2018 by

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180729/news/the-smart-three-wheeler-that-doesnt-tuk-tuk-304677.html Published on SundayTimes on 29.07.2018

An electric three-wheeler with a Lankan heart and a Japanese soul is planning to make travelling eco-friendly
A plan to manufacture an electric three-wheeler in Sri Lanka was revealed this week, with its prototype showcased in Colombo for the first time. The Samurai three-wheeler, built with Japanese technology and currently being tested in Sri Lanka, could be launched in 2020.
The vehicle is powered by two batteries. It has a maximum speed of 60kph with test results showing a more powerful thrust than the normal fuel-powered three-wheeler. At normal cruising range, its batteries could last for about 80km.

Prof.Monte Cassim

The new kid on the block will be silent so the traditional “tuk-tuk” sound will be absent if it is introduced to the roads. Currently being tested at the University of Ruhuna, the Samurai will move to Peradeniya University for test runs on mountain terrains.

Designed by T-Plan Inc., a Japanese engineering consulting company that provides technical support for automobile giants such as Toyota, Daihatsu and Subaru, the Samurai is slightly larger than a conventional tuk-tuk and is designed differently.

The first notable difference is that it has two wheels in front and two at the rear. Japanese engineers say this design is a safety feature that gives the driver more control of the three-wheeler. Sudden turns while driving often result in conventional three-wheelers toppling over but the new design would be more stable. The two wheels in front would hinder reckless and haphazard turns, the designers said.
The changed front shape also provides more space for the driver’s legs, which will help reduce leg injuries in crashes.

One of the major advantages of the electrical three-wheeler is that it is emission-free, which would help achieve climate change-related emission targets. Sri Lanka pledged to make a 10 per cent reduction of emissions in the transport sector, yet the country has large fleet of vehicles that consume fossil fuels. There are more than a million three-wheelers according to the Department of Motor Traffic, and this number is rising.

Electrification of transportation is an urgent task for Sri Lanka because the country spends a huge portion of its foreign reserves on importing fossil fuels, pointed out Professor Monte Cassim, an academic based in Japan who helped initiate the Samurai project. While some question the Samurai’s environmental benefits if electricity is largely generated from fossil fuel, Prof. Cassim has an answer. “Demand for electricity goes down from 10pm-5am and in this period the excess capacity for electricity generated from hydro power etc. goes wasted,” he said.

“Hence this time should be utilised for charging the batteries of vehicles to get the maximum eco-friendliness from the ‘electric vehicles’.” A basic problem with electric three-wheelers is the time it takes to recharge the batteries, with the Samurai’s batteries taking six hours to fully charge. The Samurai team came up with a unique solution: a battery exchange system.

The new kid on the block: The Samurai three-wheeler,

According to this plan, pre-charged batteries would be kept in strategically located exchange stations. Drivers could exchange their used batteries for fully-charged units at these stations in a matter of minutes, in the time it takes to fill up a three-wheeler with petrol.

For the battery-swapping model to be successful a mechanism was needed to inform the driver when the battery is running low and where the nearest exchange station is located.

Fujitsu Group, a well-known, innovative company in Japan, proposed customising its existing cloud-based information exchange system for the Samurai. The Samurai project is one of the initiatives nurtured through the Japan-Sri Lanka Comprehensive Partnership (JCP) set up with a mandate to stimulate science, technology, and innovation-led development in Sri Lanka through Japanese technology.

All-Island Three-Wheeler Drivers’ Union head Lalith Dharmasekara is positive about the electric vehicle. “The drivers are happy about most of the features and if practical issues can be minimised, the new three-wheeler would be popular,” he said.

Who needs glyphosate when friendly weeds can fight for you?

August 6, 2018 by

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180722/news/who-needs-glyphosate-when-friendly-weeds-can-fight-for-you-303543.html published on SundayTimes on 22.07.2018

The government last week lifted the ban on glyphosate, in deference to complaints that the tea and rubber industries find it difficult to control weeds without the popular weedkiller – but a project successfully proves that weeds among tea bushes can be controlled without chemicals.

Good plants that grow under tea to make a carpet that deters growth of bad weeds

“You do not need agro-chemicals to control weeds in tea plantations as you can ecologically control the plants that are harmful,” Giri Kadurugamuwa of Rainforest Alliance, which has successfully experimented with an ecological method to control weeds, said.

“We must first understand that not all plants that grow in the underlayer are harmful: only about 25 per cent of the plants are weeds that suppress the growth of the tea bush, resulting in a drop in harvest,” Mr. Kadurugamuwa said.

The other plants are “good”, some enriching nitrogen in the soil, others being edible or having medicinal value.

“So, by assisting these friendly herbs to dominate the undergrowth we can control the growth of bad weeds,” Mr. Kadurugamuwa explained.

Initially, noxious or troublesome weeds must be removed manually before the weeds flower. This process need to be repeated periodically in the initial stages.

After a few cycles, a thick mat of good weeds that have been allowed to grow under the tea bushes will prevent the bad weeds from regrowing.

Once this natural control of weeds is established, growers do not need to put in intensive labour to uproot bad weeds frequently, and the money spent previously on weedkiller is also saved, Mr. Kadurugamuwa said.

There are more benefits to this process, the agriculture expert points out. The plants in the undergrowth protect the soil and enrich biomass, adding compost to the tea bush soil. “Many of the good leguminous plants have a root system that can add atmospheric nitrogen to the soil. Nitrogen is a good fertiliser, so, now, the tea bush gets an additional supplement of fertiliser.

During first few months, the bad weeds has to be uprooted

“Besides, it is known that the roots of some friendly plants add ‘friendly chemicals’ that can, in fact, assist the growth of the tea bush.

“It is like we provided a natural ecosystem of ‘friends’ to live with the tea bush. One feels good to be among friends than be alone, and now the tea bushes will be growing happily,” Mr. Kadurugamuwa said jocularly. “But jokes apart, the productivity of the tea goes up under the new method without herbicides,” he said.

Tea planters usually follow a ‘clean floor policy’ where no plant is allowed underneath the tea bushes – but this exposes the soil to erosion when it rains heavily.

With the new methodology, however, the soil is covered with a carpet of friendly plants so the soil is conserved. Some of these friendly plants, such as goku kola and mukunuwenna, are popular foods for humans, and there are herbs such as undupiyaliya that are used as medicine, so these are added advantages to growers.

Weedkillers do not kill tea bushes but can weaken them: they are, to an extent, poisonous to the tea bush. Mr. Kadurugamuwa showed us a tea bush that had decayed sections of bark as a result of exposure to weedicide.

The methodology explained by the Rainforest Alliance was first experimented on about two years ago in a pilot project at the Hapugasthenna Plantations in Hatton. Mahendra Peiris, who conducted the research from inception, showed us his thriving tea plot now after several cycles of this method.

In doing so, Mr. Peiris also pointed out that popular weedkillers are not effective against some weeds so that in any case manual labour has to be employed for weeding. Thus the new method is also cost-effective, he said.

The project was also supported by Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s project for mainstream sustainable tea production in India, China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

A tea bush decayed due to the use of too much weedkiller

Armed with knowledge of the trial, the Rainforest Alliance, with the help of GEF funds, trained farmers to use the methods in their plots. They also established a training centre at an abandoned tea factory and made some of the farmers “trainers” in order to spread the message to the others.

During a previous field study visit, The Sunday Times met several farmers from the Ratnapura area who practise this method. According to a Tea Smallholder Development Authority (TSHDA) official, the Ratnapura range has the highest number of tea smallholders, about 100,000. Of these, about 5,000 are using this weed management system and gaining benefits.

Karunawathi, one small-scale tea grower in Kahawatte, Ratnapura, who owns an estate of one acre and 20 perches in extent, said her income had increased after turning to the new weed management system. Another grower, Sumanawathi, said now she harvests 500kg per acre whereas earlier it was only 400kg, so the new system has helped to increase yield.

The manager of another tea estate, Sanath Gamage, said his estate has become more environmentally friendly under the new system. Mr. Gamage maintains a log that shows hare, lizards, land monitors and birds frequent these areas more than they previously did.

Birds can be monitored to show signs of potential pests, said Mr. Kadurugamuwa. For example, if a group of babblers spend a deal of time feeding in one area, that could be a sign that this portion of ground has been infected by a pest. The birds while reducing the number of pests, also gives an early warning to the farmer.

The Rainforest Alliance project is not without its challenges. It is not always easy to turn farmers away from weedkillers. Manual labour is required to remove bad weeds, and this is challenging on slopes. Large plantations are reluctant to practise the method.

Experts point out, nevertheless, that tea bush productivity in Sri Lanka is in constant decline and that given this situation it is indeed wise to promote this alternative method of de-weeding tea, especially given its many benefits.

“Let’s all hope that growers will start adopting these kinds of environmentally friendly practices to break the dependency on agro-chemicals,” Mr. Kadurugamuwa said.

Snake Identification Service to Save People, Snakes

August 5, 2018 by

Expert sets up website to prevent human and snake deaths. Published on SundayTimes on 15.07.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180715/news/how-to-keep-our-serpents-in-paradise-302412.html

Hump nosed viper (කුණකටුවා) venomous

To prevent the needless slaughter of up to 10,000 snakes a day by people panicking over snakebite death, toxinology expert Dr. Kalana Maduwage is urging the public to use a snake identification website he has masterminded to find out if a snake is venomous.

The Snake Identification Service (www.snakesidentification.org) will assist doctors and others to accurately identify creepy-crawlers and save both human and snake lives – news to celebrate tomorrow (July 16) on World Snake Day, which highlights the diversity of snakes and the important role they play.

“I developed this Snake Identification Service because of the many phone calls I am having every day from doctors,” said Dr. Maduwage, highly respected as an authority on snake venom toxins and antivenoms. “Many doctors at hospitals are not able to identify snakes.”

Sri Lanka has rich snake diversity with approximately 105 species, more than half of them endemic to this country. Most of the snakes are non-venomous and not a threat to humans.

About 15 species of sea snakes and only a few of the 90 land-inhabiting species, such as the Indian krait, cobra, Russell’s viper, saw-scaled viper, hump-nosed viper and Ceylon krait, have lethal bites.

Wolf snake – a common creature often misidentified as venomous

Snakebite is a major medical public health issue in this country with about 80,000 people being bitten annually, resulting in about 400 deaths. Most of the victims are farmers in poor agricultural communities, with most being admitted to hospital for anti-venom treatment.

There are two kinds of venom, so early and accurate identification of the snake responsible for a bite is critical in treating the patient.

Anybody in difficulties can log on to the computerised Snake Identification Service to obtain help.

Users are asked to upload information about the snake of concern or interest to them. “The expert team behind the Snake Identification Service will be immediately notified and we will respond quickly,” Dr. Maduwage said.

Dr. Maduwage, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Peradeniya who has carried out important research on snake bites and treatments, has also developed a series of video lectures that explain snakes and treatments for snakebite.

This nine-part series titled “Snakebites: The Whole Story”, covers all important aspects of Sri Lankan snakebites and can be accessed freely on YouTube through links on http://www.snakesidentification.org.

Dr.Kalana Maduwage

Dr. Maduwage believes these lectures will fill the knowledge gaps on issues related to Sri Lankan snakebites.

It is often difficult to find accurate information on snake identification, bites, clinical features, hospital investigations, treatment, first aid, preventive strategies and other issues, Dr. Maduwage said. Even in standard medical and other textbooks, updated information on these areas is missing, leaving medical professionals groping for answers to snakebite complications they face.

The first part of the lecture series gives an overview of Sri Lankan snakes and their high diversity. The second covers the identification of venomous snakes and easy ways to distinguish them from non-venomous snakes.

There are four lectures on clinical features of snakebite, investigation, treatment and snake antivenom that are specifically for medical professionals in Sri Lanka confronted with snakebite victims.

The lecture series also covers first aid in treating snakebite, useful for people who either live or work in snake-prone situations. A lecture on the prevention of snakebite describes where snakes are commonly found and their activities. The final presentation is on the conservation of Sri Lankan fauna, including threats to snakes.

Dr. Maduwage, who has discovered a number of snake species, emphasises that snakes, as top predators, play a vital role in eco-systems as they control the breeding of pests such as rats in paddy fields, helping to save crops.

Snake venom is used to produce antivenom and many other medications. Several common antihypertensive drugs such as Captopril were developed from snake venom.
“So the presence of venom is not a reason to kill snakes,” Dr. Maduwage pointed out.

“As far as I know, about 10,000 snakes are killed every day only in Sri Lanka due to lack of identification and the wrong impression that ‘all snakes are dangerous’,” he said.

Dr. Maduwage said he was grateful for the help of medical student Parakrama Karunatilleke in setting up the Snake Identification Service website, and for the assistance of three young doctors, Dr. Bhagya Nikapitiya, Dr. Sajith Tillekeratne and Dr. Asiri Seneviratne, in developing the YouTube lecture series.

No excuse for snake shows in ayurveda
Wildlife officers raiding a house in Rajagiriya two weeks ago found 21 snakes including a green pit viper, python, green whip snakes, ornate flying snake and cat snakes being kept without a permit by an ayurvedic practitioner. The man, who was later released on bail, said he had kept the snakes for educational and identification purposes – which the law allows ayurvedic doctors to do if they obtain a permit.

Decades ago, ayurvedic treatments using medicinal oil and medicinal stones claimed to have antivenom properties were more popular than western medicine for treating snakebite victims. Ayurvedic doctors, sometimes commonly known as “beheth thel karayas” (people who sell medicinal oil) used to exhibit snakes in public areas as a tactic to grab people’s attention to sell their products. 

“Keeping snakes for education/identification is a fake excuse. We can educate people without live snakes,” Dr. Kalana Maduwage said. 

 

Cash crop or villain? Palm oil expansion debate rages

August 2, 2018 by

Published on SundayTimes on 08.07.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180708/news/cash-crop-or-villain-palm-oil-expansion-debate-rages-301636.html

“The establishment of new oil palm plantations, expansion and re-plantation should be discontinued in Sri Lanka,” the Central Environment Authority (CEA) has recommended, asking for time to study claimed critical side-effects such as high water usage, soil erosion, high agro-chemical usage and potential destruction of biodiversity.

The protest at Deraniyagala against the expansion of palm oil cultivation 

Palm oil, locally known as katupol (“katu” meaning thorny and “pol” meaning palm nut), is in high demand over its popularity as a cooking oil and for a myriad other uses such as the manufacture of soaps, cosmetics, candles, lubricating greases and edible products such as margarine, ice cream, chocolate and bread.

CEA Chairman Chandrarathna Pallegama said measures would be taken to study the impact of established oil palm plantations. “We continue to receive many public complaints related to oil palm cultivation,” he said. “The CEA has been unable to find justifiable reasons for the complaints so a committee of stakeholders has been set up to seek answers to public concerns.”

Depletion of groundwater is the main issue raised with the CEA, and as a result of protests the District Coordinating Committees (DCC) of Galle, Kegalle and Kalutara have decided to temporarily halt new oil palm plantations in their areas. The latest protest, by villagers at Sapumalkanda, Deraniyagala on June 20, led to tense situations with the protest leaders being assaulted by other factions.

Palm oil (Elaeis guineensis), which is of African origin, was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1967 by the Nakiyadeniya Estate in the Galle District.

A policy decision was taken in 2014 to expand oil palm cultivation on grounds of crop diversification. The plan stipulated that the maximum allowable extent of plantings would be 20,000 ha in marginal, abandoned land and economically unviable land (rubber estates that were more than 30 years old) and that only 20 per cent of such land could be converted to palm oil plantation. This plan is still in operation.

Environmentalist Jayantha Wijesingha fears palm oil could soon replace comparatively eco-friendly rubber. “Sri Lanka has more than 10 plantation companies involved in oil palm planting to date. Rubber is one of the relatively beneficial plantation crops established in Sri Lanka and any success by the plantation companies to replace rubber, including plans to plant oil palm in more than 10,000 acres of land in the central hills, means imminent destruction [of the environment],” Mr. Wijesingha said.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, the leaders in palm oil cultivation, large areas of primary forest have been cut down to make way for the oil cash crop, causing a huge outcry.

Environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform stressed that Sri Lanka should focus on crops that have local use rather than cash crops aimed at exports. Mr. Chamikara also pointed out that no proper study of the environmental impact of palm oil was carried out before its introduction to Sri Lanka.

Minister of Plantation Industries Navin Dissanayake calls such criticism unscientific and emotional, saying palm oil production would be profitable and save foreign exchange.

Professor Asoka Nugawela of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Wayamba also said palm oil has the potential to become a key export and that research was required to stop it being regarded as an enemy. He said many arguments against the crop were baseless and that even justified fears could be effectively mitigated.

A Palm tree plantation

Pointing to the concerns that palm oil cultivation led to severe depletion of water resources, Prof. Nugawela pointed out that the Nakiyadeniya plantation was now more than 50 years old and that no water shortage in the area had been reported.

He also pointed out that global outrage against palm oil was caused by palm oil companies cutting down natural forests and causing biodiversity crises in countries such as Indonesia, whereas in Sri Lanka it was only unproductive and aged rubber land that was being converted to palm oil plantings.

“Most of our plantation crops are naturally found in tropical rainforests. We have domesticated them and established commercial plantations for the benefit of mankind.

“If we select land with suitable climatic and soil conditions and then establish and manage them using good agricultural practices I doubt that these will do harm to the environment. If it is otherwise, that would be the fault of management and not the crop,” Prof. Nugawela said.