Biodiversity for Kids -> National Icons

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Sri Lanka’s 62nd Independence Day is celebrated on February 4. Puncha and Panchie are curious about the lion in Sri Lanka’s flag, and also want to know more about our National Flower, National Bird and National Tree…

Father came home early that day, after casting his vote, and was looking for something.

“Amma.. where is our National Flag..?” Father asked.”Check the cupboard,” replied Amma, who was busy making their lunch.

Panchie was curious. “Why are you suddenly looking for the National Flag Thaththa..?”
“Hey, Panchie… We celebrate our Independence Day on February 4th, every year, “Thaththa said, as he found the Flag and unfolded it.

“We should hoist the National Flag at our houses to mark Sri Lanka’s independence which we got in February 1948”, explained Thaththa while dusting the flag. “Why do some people call it the Lion Flag?” Panchie had another question.

“Ah Panchie… It is called the Lion Flag, because there is a lion printed on it,” Puncha who came from nowhere teased Panchie as usual. “A Lion..? I like them, because I heard they are so brave,” said Panchie.

“I’ve seen them on TV. They look beautiful with fur around their head.””Yes, that is called a Mane. But only the male lions have it,” explained Thaththa. “The lion is called the king of the jungle.””Will they catch us if we go to the jungle Thaththa?” Panchie was worried about their Professor Uncle who always went to the jungles to find out more about animals.

Na (Iron wood): Mesua ferrea

“No Panchie, we do not have lions in Sri Lanka. The lion in the flag signifies that we are a proud nation as brave as a lion,” Thaththa clarified.

“The lion was the symbol on the flag of Sri Wickrama Rajasingha – who was Sri Lanka’s last king – and we started using it as our National Flag with a few additions, at the time we got independence,” Thaththa explained.

“The lion also carries a sword to show its bravery,” Puncha added more to the discussion. “Thaththa, our teacher said that we have a National Flower too. Is it true?” Now Puncha was curious.”Yes, the Nil Manel or water lily is our National Flower. It is a bluish, star-shaped flower that grows in lakes. It was named our National Flower in February 1986,” Thaththa said.

Wali Kukula (Sri Lankan Jungle fowl): Galus lafayettii

Wali Kukula (Sri Lankan Jungle fowl): Galus lafayettii

“Remember the flowers we took to the temple to worship Lord Buddha..? That is Nil Manel,” he reminded both kids. Panchie loved the mild fragrance of the Nil Manel flowers. “Nil Manel is a symbol of purity and truth.”

Nil Manel (Water Lily): Nympheae stellata

“We also have a National Bird and a National Tree. Hasn’t the teacher told you about it..?” Amma, also joined their conversation.

“Yes.. yes.. I’ve forgotten,” Puncha now remembered what he had learnt last week at school. “The Na tree (Iron wood) is our National Tree and the Wali kukula (Jungle fowl) is our National Bird,” he was quick to add.

“Very good… Now come here, I will show you a Na tree,” said Amma, showing them the neighbour’s Na tree that could be seen from their kitchen. “Why are some of the leaves different Amma..?” asked Panchie seeing a mix of reddish and greenish leaves.

“Well, Panchie, the tender Na leaves are reddish in colour, but become green when they grow older,” Amma explained. Panchie had also seen the
neighbour’s rooster on the wall.

“Aiya… aiya… there is our National Bird… Come quick,” Panchie shouted.
“No Panchie, that is not a Jungle fowl. It is just a normal domestic rooster. The Jungle fowl lives only near jungles,” Puncha did not tease his sister this time.

“Because it is an endemic bird that can be seen only in Sri Lanka, we call it the Sri Lankan Jungle fowl,” Puncha knew a lot about birds. “I don’t understand Aiya.. that is also a fowl isn’t it?” Panchie was confused.

Puncha brought his school book. “Look Panchie, this is a Jungle fowl. Can you see it has a bright yellow and orange crest on its head, unlike the domestic rooster,” Puncha pointed out.

“But why do we need a National Bird, National Tree or a National Flower, Thaththa..?” Panchie asked.
“Well, most countries have symbols to show their uniqueness. It is also a respect to the unique
biodiversity of each country,” Thaththa said. “For example, the Sri Lankan Jungle fowl is an
endemic bird that can be seen only in our country and the Na tree and Nil Manel are culturally unique to our heritage,” Thaththa clarified.

After dusting the National Flag, Father gave it to Puncha, to be hoisted in readiness for Sri Lanka’s Independence Day.

Planting a tree on January 1, 2010 to commemorate the International Year of Biodiversity

Thivyan Suresh, St. Peter's College, Colombo 4

Claudia Reginald, Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena

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