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Attempt to ‘Rescue’ wild cat babies could backfire

October 14, 2018

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
The collateral damage of increased wild boar hunting would be high.
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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

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

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

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

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

August 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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.

Cycling together in Palmyrah country

August 2, 2018
This year’s ‘Yathra’ organised by Eco-Friendly Volunteers (Eco-V) saw youth from the North and South getting a firsthand view of the northern environment. Published on SundayTimes on 08.07.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180708/magazine/cycling-together-in-palmyrah-country-301256.html

‘Vanni Yathra 2018’- a cycling journey by youth from both the North and South highlighted the importance of joint ventures in protecting nature. Launched on June 4 from Kilinochchi, the journey ended in Vavuniya covering over 200 kilometres in nine days.

Vanni Yathra team cycling past Palmyrah trees unique to the north

The team behind the effort- Eco-Friendly Volunteers (Eco-V) had previously organized seven such ‘Yathras’ or journeys covering different parts of Sri Lanka. ‘Yathra’ means journey in Sinhala and the participants are called ‘Yathrees’. Bicycles were used for these journeys which have been going on since 2011 with the aim of promoting the ‘poor man’s vehicle’ as an eco-friendly mode of transportation, said Eco-V’s president Kanchana Weerakoon.

Isyar Newton was the leader of VanniYathra 2018. Newton has been a ‘Yathree’ since 2011 (he was 31 then) and took part in the past six such journeys. Newton was an ex-LTTE combatant and very thankful for the opportunity he got to take part in the ‘Kelani Nadee Yathra’ (journey along Kelani river) in 2011 while he was under rehabilitation.

“Kelani Nadee Yathra’ was a turning point in my life. It was the first time that I got to see the beauty of Sri Lanka and got to know youth from different parts of the country. These ‘yathras’ helped me to realize that youth in Sri Lanka are like-minded as we had loads of fun while campaigning for the environment,” Newton said. “I feel 30 years of my life got wasted due to the war and now feel very productive as I’m now fighting a new kind of battle to protect the environment.”

Newton changed his lifestyle, became vegetarian, stopped drinking fizzy drinks, and now campaigns against environmental pollution and an unhealthy lifestyle. He has participated in many training programmes and became an environmental activist and champion from the Northern Province. “Newton learnt Sinhalese very fast and became the Sinhala- Tamil translator for our programmes. Whenever we had a programme, he always travelled from Kilinochchi and early morning at 6 a.m. he would be at our door-step,” Eco-V’s president Kanchana said. “He became “Our Newton” and I’m happy that he did drive his own JourneyVanni Yathra,” she added.

The 15 youth from North led by Newton were joined by 15 from the South led by Chapa Erandi – another young Yathree who emerged through Ruhunu Yathra 2016. Chapa lives in Deniyaya, in the Matara district and was delighted that she received the chance to explore the North closely for the first time. The team explored the forested areas while travelling and learnt about the plants and different eco-systems in the region. “The chance we got to observe lots of birds at Nandikadal lagoon is the most memorable,” Chapa recalled.

Newton and Chapa planting a tree while a child looks on

Chapa found the campaign interesting as it helped them to educate the Northern community. Healthy food, hygiene and clean water, climate change, healthy living and reducing the carbon footprint are some of the topics this youthful team spoke of. “Northern communities after 30 years of war, only today get to deal with these concerns.

“Language was a barrier, but we were divided into a number of groups, so that our Tamil colleagues could help us to pass the message of conservation to the people,” Chapa said. “Meeting schoolchildren in Pudukuduiruppu was special, as unlike schoolchildren in Colombo, they rarely get the chance to learn about the environment and biodiversity,” she added.

Kanchana also said the bicycle has been used for the journey purposefully as it has become a global symbol of shifting towards sustainability. However, in the social fabric of Sri Lanka many people are choosing motorcycles, cars and three-wheelers for travelling, even a short distance. The bicycle was the Northerners’ main mode of transport, but soon after the war many have changed their lifestyle and shifted to motorbikes and scooters. “Elevating the status of the bicycle in society and showing people the various functions and sustainable attributes to cycling was also an objective of Vanni Yathra 2018,” Kanchana concluded.

Spreading the environmental message among the local community

New spiders named after Enid Blyton’s goblins and brownies

July 22, 2018

Published on 01.07.2018 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180701/news/the-adventures-of-bom-chippy-snooky-and-co-300177.html

With interest in books high this week with the Big Bad Wolf book sale reaching Sri Lanka, a second time, it seems fitting that names for six tiny spiders newly discovered in this country come from the books of the famous children’s writer, Enid Blyton.

These goblin spiders, minute six-eyed creatures living in leaf litter, were discovered during a country-wide survey conducted by Professor Suresh Benjamin and Sasanka Ranasinghe of the National Institute of Fundamental Studies.

They will be known as Cavisternum bom, Ischnothyreus chippy, Pelicinus snooky, P. tumpy, Silhouetella snippy and S. tiggy after Blyton’s goblins Bom, Snooky and Tumpy, and brownies Chippy, Snippy and Tiggy, from The Goblins Looking-Glass (1947), Billy’s Little Boats (1971) and The Firework Goblins (1971).

In European folklore, according to the website, Science News, goblins and brownies are mischievous fairy-like creatures that live in human homes and even do chores while people are asleep in exchange for food.

“I enjoyed reading Enid Blyton as a child,” Prof. Benjamin said.

The six “Blyton goblins” are part of a group of nine discovered by Prof. Benjamin and Ms Ranasinghe, with the first three named after Sri Lankan literary giants, Carl Muller, Michael Ondaatje and Shyam Selvedorai.

“I enjoyed reading the work of these authors and, given their contribution to the field of literature, it was decided to name the new spiders after them,” said Prof. Benjamin at the time, his appreciation of literature clearly evident.

The new discoveries bring to 45 the number of scientifically detailed goblin spiders found in Sri Lanka, across 13 genera (groups). Goblin spiders, or Oonopidae, are one of the biggest spider families in the world, with more than 1,600 species.

They range from 1mm to 3mm in length and live in leaf litter, rarely spotted by people.

Prof. Benjamin said a characteristic of these spiders is that they do not make webs but actively hunt smaller prey such as soil mites and worms that wriggle through the humus of the forest floor.

The research team surveyed more than 100 localities all over Sri Lanka. “Many goblin spider species were often only found in a few sites whilst others were found only in a single forest patch and absent even in the immediate surrounding forests. These species, short-range endemics with very restricted distributions, may prove to be important flagship taxa [group of species] for monitoring the effects of climate change and other threats on forest habitats in Sri Lanka,” the research team stated.

The results of another study by Prof. Benjamin, on crab spiders, was also published earlier this month in the prestigious journal ZooTaxa. Crab spiders have two front pairs of legs angled outward and bodies that are flattened and often angular, also, like crabs. Crab spiders do not build webs and usually sit among flowers, bark, fruit or leaves to hunt visiting insects.

The new discoveries see Sri Lanka being home to 393 species of spiders. A large proportion of these species was described over the past two decades and almost all of the new species (55 of 58 new species) are endemic, currently not known outside Sri Lanka.

Field sampling

Prof.Suresh Benjamin

 

 

Norwegian research vessel sail in to probe fish stocks

June 24, 2018

Nansen will address 38-year gap in marine surveys. Published on SundayTimes on http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180617/news/norwegian-researchers-sail-in-to-probe-fishing-stocks-298464.html

The long-awaited Norwegian research vessel, RV Dr Fridtjof Nansen, which sails around the globe helping developing countries set up ecosystem-based fishery management, will reach Colombo on June 22.

The Nansen, regarded as the world’s most advanced marine research vessel, will sail around Sri Lanka for 26 days, surveying oceanic conditions and fish stocks.

The ship is named after Norwegian scientist, explorer, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), who became famous for his North Pole expeditions. The Nansen Research Programme commenced in 1974.

This is the third consecutive research vessel dedicated to surveying marine resources in developing countries. The ships have made the equivalent of 60 voyages around the globe since the programme’s inception.

The first Nansen vessel surveyed Sri Lankan waters in 1978 and 1980. Since then, no such comprehensive survey on Sri Lanka’s marine environment has taken place.

In the last decades, depletion of marine fish stocks has been rampant. A major aim of the Nansen Programme is to help scientists understand the reasons for such depletion and provide data to help to lessen pressure on fishing.

“Most of the data about fisheries are extractions based on catches by fishermen. An independent study is required to assess depleting fisheries stocks and find out new fishing grounds. There can also be under-utilised fish stocks that can be harvested successfully, and research would help us to identify such opportunities,” said National Aquatic Resource Research Development Agency (NARA) Deputy Director-General Dr. Palitha Kithsiri.

While sailing on a pre-defined path around the Sri Lankan coast, the Nansen will lay nets and carry out experimental trawling at various points. The fish and other creatures caught in the nets will be analysed for detailed information on species, sizes, and catch quantity. As well, acoustic methods will be used to estimate the quantity of fish found in those waters.

Sampling will be undertaken on plankton, fish egg and larvae, jellyfish, top predators and marine life in the main oceanic zones: demersal (bottom-feeding fish in deep waters and on the seabed), mesopelagic (fish found in the intermediate ocean layer, 200-1000m deep) and pelagic (fish that swim largely in open water away from the seabed).

The onboard researchers will collect data on water parameters, sea temperature, and salinity, and will map the sea bed using powerful eco-sonars.
“So, in a nutshell, the research will collect data that will help to implement an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), which is more than simply assessing fish stocks,” Dr. Kithsiri said.

The Nansen Programme is executed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in close collaboration with the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) of Bergen, Norway, and is funded through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

The Nansen’s 2018 research campaign began in January in Durban and, after taking in Sri Lanka, is expected to end in mid-October in Thailand, FAO program officer Roshini Gunaratne said.

“The overall objective of the programme is to strengthen regional and country-specific efforts to reduce poverty, create optimum conditions for achieving food security and nutrition through the development of sustainable fisheries management systems” Norwegian Ambassador Thorbjorn Gaustadsaether said.

“Norway, as a maritime nation, believes in sustainable development and plays a leading role in battling marine litter,“ the ambassador added. Plastic pollution of the oceans has become a huge problem: plastic and plastic microfibre being ingested by fish is killing them and has the potential to enter the human food chain through the fish we consume.

Global warming will change the dynamics of the ocean but we know very little about such changes. One obvious example of climate change is the coral bleaching caused by ocean warming.

While sea temperature fluctuations disrupt oceanic currents, excess carbon dioxide, believed to be the triggering fact of global warming, could create acidification by dissolving additional carbon dioxide in seawater from the atmosphere.

Fish species are particularly sensitive to these parameters, so it is expected that changes in acid levels in the seas would change fish movement patterns.

Changing temperatures in the seas could make migratory fish such as tuna, sardines and squid could shift their paths of migration and this would affect fishing catches.

Capacity-building is central to all the activities of the Nansen programme. Twenty Sri Lankan scientists active in the fisheries sector will gain the opportunity to be part of the Nansen programme according to NARA’s Dr. Prabath Jayasinghe, who has been nominated the local cruise leader of the Nansen.

A conference on sustainable development goals linked to the oceans will also take place as part of the visit of the Nansen.

The Nansen vessel docked at Colombo

Nansen’s gear used for experimental fishing

The State-of-the-arts equipment inside the ship

Even fish favourites threatened with extinction
When we visit the market to buy fish from the “malu lella” we seldom think about how these fish that are free-living creatures can face extinction if we continue to catch them without set limits.Some fish, such as sharks, are slow breeders that cannot stand over-fishing. The increasing price of some fish varieties is an indication that they are becoming rarer.Sri Lanka’s favourite fish, the yellow-fin tuna (kelawalla) and seer fish (thora) are categorised as “Near-threatened” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Fauna – only two steps away from the more dire “Endangered” category.Some coral-inhabiting fish such as the hump-head wrasse are “Endangered”, along with elephants and leopards – but fish rarely gain the attention its terrestrial counterparts attract in conservation.

The ocean has different zones based on depths and particular fish inhabit each regions. NARA’s Dr. Palitha Kithsiri said the Nansen’s research will focus on studying the mesopelagic (200m-1000m deep) region, which is currently not much targeted in fisheries.

කලකදී සැඟව යන ගව කොකා (Cattle Egret)

June 24, 2018

Cattle Egret is a common bird – but can you spot this bird in your area these days..? The photos show ground of University of Colombo on the morning of 26th of May 2018. There were 55 Cattle Egrets foraging on the wet ground with number of them in full breeding plumage. The birds started gathering few days prior, where about 35 cattle egrets were counted on University Grounds on 22nd of May. On 22nd of May; Prof.Kotagama pointed out this could be a congregation before a seasonal movement/ migration and when I visited university of Colombo on 4th of June – not a single Cattle Egret could be spotted.

Elsewhere (in India), it researchers observed Cattle Egrets show seasonal movements during their breeding season along with the monsoon – getting disappear in June and emerge back in September. So our cattle egrets too could be following a similar pattern without our notice.

So do observe cattle egrets and report cattle egret sightings. If you remember an area where cattle egrets were present earlier, please make a visit this week to the location to find out whether they are still there. You can send observations to gardenbirdwatch.srilanka@gmail.com.

Following is an article about the phenomena appeared on Vidusara 20.06.2018

A cattle egret in breeding plumage (c) Evarts Evarts

දිගු කකුල් සහිත, මාළුන් අල්ලා ගැනීමට ම පිහිටි උල් දිගු හොටක් සහිත, බොහෝ විට ජලාශ්‍රිතව දැකගත හැකි සුදෝ සුදු කුරුල්ලන් ‘කෝකුන්’ සේ පොදුවේ හැදින්වීමට අප පුරුදු වී සිටින්නෙමු. ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ දී අප දකින සුදු පැහැති කොකුන් සියල්ලන් ම පාහේ එක් වර්ගයක් යැයි සිතුවත්, සැබහින් නම් එවන් කොකුන් වර්ග 4ක් සිටි. මහ කොකා (Great Egret), මැදි කොකා (Intermediate Egret), පුංචි අනු-කොකා (Little Egret) සහ ගව කොකා (Cattle Egret) මේ කොකුන් වර්ග වේ.

මේ අතරින්, පළමු කොකුන් තුන් වර්ගයම ජලාශ්‍රිත ව වාර්තා වුවත්, ගව කොකා නම්, බොහෝ තැන් වල වාසය කිරීමේ කලාව හොදින් ප්‍රගුණ කරගත් කුරුල්ලෙකි. සෙසු කොකුන්ට සාපේක්ෂව ගව කොකුන්ගේ ගෙල කෙටි වන අතර පැහැදිලිව දැකිය හැකි ත්‍රිකෝණාකාර හිසක් පිහිටා තිබේ.

ගෙරි-කොකා නැතහොත් ගව කොකා ලෙසද හදුන්වන කුඩා ප්‍රමාණයේ කොකෙකු වූ Cattle Egret, වචනයෙන් කියවෙන ලෙසම බොහොවිට ගවයන් ආසන්නයේ බොහෝවිට දැක ගත හැකිවේ. ගවයන් ගේ චලනයේ දී සහ ගමනේ දී කලබල වී ඉවත් වන ගෙම්බන්, තනකොලපෙත්තන් වැනි කෘමින් ද පණුවන් ද ආහාරයට ගන්න අතර ගවයන් ගේ ඇගේ වසන  මැස්සන්, අටමස්සන්, කිණිතුල්ලන් අල්ලා ගන්නා නිසා, ගවයන් ට ද මේ කුරුල්ලාගේ ගැවසීම ප්‍රයෝජනවත් වේ.

Cattle egrets with cattle (c) Audubon Society

ගවයන් ගැවසෙන ස්ථාන වල බහුලව සිටියත්, ගව කොකා පරිසරයට හොඳින් අනුවර්තනය වීමට හැකියාව පෙන්න්වන්නේ, ගවයන් නොමැති නගරාශ්‍රිත ව ද හොඳින් දිවි ගෙවීමට ඇති හැකියාවයි. විවිධ ප්‍රදේශ වල පැතිර සිටින ගව කොකා, විශේෂයෙන්ම නගරාශ්‍රිතව කුණු බැහැර කරන ‘කුණු කඳු’ ආශ්‍රිතව ව සුලබ දසුනකි.

සාමාන්‍ය කාල වල දී සම්පුර්ණයෙන් සුදු පැහැති වන ගව කොකා සුවැදී සමයේ දී හිස, ගෙල සහ ඉහල පිට කය රන්වන් පැහැයක් ගනී. බොහෝ විට තෝරාගත් ගසක සමුහයක් ලෙස කැදලි තනයි. මෙම ගස බොහෝ විට දිය පාරක් හෝ වැවක් අසල තිබෙන බව අද්යයනය කර තිබේ.

සාමාන්‍යයෙන් සුවැදී සාමය මැයි සිට ඔක්තෝබරය දක්වා දිවෙන බව සදහන් වේ. එහෙත් මේ පිළිබද නිසි අධ්‍යයනයක් අවශ්‍ය බව පෙන්වා දෙන්නේ, සුවැදී සමය පාදක කරගත් සංචරණයක් මොවුන්ගේ දක්නට තිබෙන බැවිනි.

උදාහරණයක් ලෙස ගතහොත්, කොළඹ ප්‍රදේශයේ දී මැයි මස අගදී පමණ මේ කුරුල්ලන් එක් වර අතුරුදහන් වන අතර, ඔක්තෝබරය පමණ වන විට නැවතත් දක්නට ලැබේ. ඉන්දියාවේ කල අධ්‍යයනයකට අනුව, නිරිත දිග මෝසම් වැස්සත් සමග එම ප්‍රදේශයෙන් අතුරුදහන් වන ගව කොකුන්, නැවතත් ඔක්තෝබරයේ දී එම ප්‍රදේශයට පැමිණේ. මිට අමතරව කාලයකදී නිහැරීමක් (Migration) ද, සමරහ ගව කොකා ගහණ විසින් සිදු කරන බව අනුමාන කෙරේ.

කොළඹ ප්‍රදේශයේ දී සිදුකල නිරික්ෂනයන්ගෙන් ද පැහැදිලි වුයේ, ගව කොකුන් කාලයක දී ප්‍රදේශයේ දී දැකගත් නොහැකි බවය. මෙහි දැක්වෙන කොළඹ විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයේ පිට්ටනියේ දී මැයි 26වැනිදා උදෑසන ගත ජායාරූපයකි. මෙහි දැක්වෙන පරිදි ගව කොකුන් 55ක් පමණ ගණනය කිරීමට හැකිවිය. මිට දින කිහිපයකට පෙර සිටම, විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයීය පිට්ටනියට මේ කුරුල්ලන් එකතු වීම ඇරඹු බව, එම විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයේම මහාචාර්ය සරත් කොටගම මෙම සිදුවීම හැදින්වුයේ, මෙය මේ කුරුල්ලන් වෙනත් ස්ථානයක ට යෑමට ප්‍රථම සිදුකරන එක්රැස් විමක් විය හැකි බවය. කියූ පරිද්දෙන් ම ඊලග සතිය වනවිට, පිට්ටනියේ එකුදු ගව කොකෙකු හෝ වාර්තා නොවිය.

ඔක්තෝබරයේ දී මේ කුරුල්ලන් නැවත දක්නට ලැබෙන බවත්, මෙය සුවැදී සාමය පාදක කොටගත් ගමනක් ලෙස සිතිය හැකි බවත් මහාචාර්ය කොටගම අප වෙත පැවසිය. “ගෙරි කොකා ගොඩක් බහුල ව දැකගත හැකි කුරුල්ලෙකු නිසා, බොහෝ විට අපේ අවධානයට ලක් වෙන්නේ නෑ. ඒත් මේ දවස්වල ඔබේ ප්‍රදේශයේත් මේ කුරුල්ලා දැක ගන්න පුළුවන් ද කියල නිරීක්ෂණය කරන්න” යැයි මහාචාර්ය කොටගම ආරාධයනක් කළේය.

කුරුල්ලන් ගැවසෙන කුණු ගොඩක් වැනි තැනක් මේ කුරුල්ලන් නිරීක්ෂණයට හොද ස්ථානයකි. නැවතත්, මේ කුරුල්ලන් දක්නට ලැබෙන දිනය ද සටහන් කර ගැනීමෙන් මේ පොදු කුරුල්ලා ගේ හරිහැටි නොදත් විස්තර සොයා ගැනීමට ඔබටත් උදව් කිරීමට හැකි වනු ඇත. ඒ නිසා ඔබගේ නිරික්ෂණයන් gardenbirdwatch.srilanka@gmail.com වෙත යොමු කරන්න.

The aggregation of Cattle Egret on University Grounds on 26.05.2018

Clicking not just a picture but a story

June 24, 2018

Amanda Samani Jayawardhana who specialises in conceptual photography to hold her maiden exhibition. Published on SundayTImes on 18.06.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180617/magazine/clicking-not-just-a-picture-but-a-story-297936.html

“Photography is more than just a collection of random clicks. I treat the camera as a tool that helps me to express a story,” says Amanda Samani Jayawardhana who will hold her maiden solo photography exhibition titled ‘Artsy’ next weekend.

Amanda Samani Jayawardhana

 

The 50 photographs she has chosen to exhibit cover a wide array of subjects ranging from nature, culture, people, babies, jewellery – each with its own story.

Speaking to the Sunday Times magazine, Amanda says she is fond of conceptual photography that is often staged to illustrate an idea.The photos testify that she has a keen eye to capture a unique story out of ordinary settings. The photograph showing dozens of bee-like insects gathering to feed on sugar crystals was taken when the insects were feeding on sugar thrown out randomly by a roadside juice seller. Amanda took the photograph at an angle to bring the heart shape into the frame.

This juice seller Amanda had met in India, she observed, would throw out the last bit of sugar at the bottom of each sack containing the sugar for the bees. It was the dry period and the man had said that without this sugar, the insects would starve. Yet however, short of food, the bees were disciplined in feeding; unlike humans who would try to grab all they could. “I wanted to capture this story in my photograph,” Amanda says.

She also sets the stage to take some of her photographs to tell a specific story. In one, she painted nuts and bolts in bright red before giving them to a labourer to hold. “These people are compelled to do manual work, but they too are humans in our society who have a warm heart as much as we do. I made the red nuts and bolts to be held in a heart-shape to contrast that,” said Amanda again emphasizing that she wants viewers to read the stories told by these photos.

Touching on lighter themes, Amanda has included a number of baby photographs in her exhibition. “Baby photography is becoming a more commercialized area in photography now and I wanted to see it in a very natural angle to give every single photograph a soft touch,” she says. Parents of course want a memorable photo and Amanda advises keeping the background simple and trying out natural light as much as possible. “Babies are unpredictable, so you need to be ready to click on the moment of truth that brings out their smile or any specific activity to get a memorable photo,” she says.

A professional art photographer with nearly seven years experience in the industry, Amanda has already bagged over 40 national and international awards for her photography.

Bee-like insects foraging on sugar crystals

Having started photography at Grade 6 using a small 110 (one-ten) camera given by her grandfather, Amanda pursued her hobby even at school. After gaining a B.A. (Hons) degree in Image Art Special at the Department of Fine Art, University of Kelaniya, she worked as a visiting lecturer at the Sri Palee Campus and lectures diploma students of the National Photographic Art Society of Sri Lanka.

Amanda who is also an active member of the Women’s Photographic Association of Sri Lanka says she hopes her exhibition will encourage other women photographers. “We still have restrictions in our society or with our own mindset. But it is indeed time to break free and I do hope my exhibition will encourage more women photographers to come forward to do their own events to promote photography,” she says.

Amanda will conduct a separate session on June 23 evening for schoolchildren who are interested in art photography and has invited many girls’ schools to participate.

The ‘Artsy’ photography exhibition will be held on June 23 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the JDA Perera Gallery at Horton Place, Colombo 7.

Elephant master

Dirty hands, warm hearts

Floating lifeline to rescue dying Bar Reef

June 13, 2018

Scientists hope a line of buoys enclosing threatened sections of the Bar Reef will provide a lifeline for the dying marine sanctuary. Published on SundayTimes on 13.05.2018
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180513/news/floating-lifeline-to-rescue-dying-bar-reef-293881.html

Bar Reef, off Kalpitiya, is one of the marine sanctuaries affected by catastrophic coral bleaching. Marine activists who deployed a number of floating buoys demarcating two sections of Bar Reef from March 26-29 to keep human activities at bay and assist the reef’s recovery, say a united front is vital for the success of such projects.

“Evidence-based science, support from the community and the right attitude are the combinationthat will work to conserve Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity,” marine researcher Dr. Sewwandi Jayakody said.

Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary covers 306.7 sq km of coral reef and is considered the healthiest coral reef area in Sri Lanka, with live coral cover of around 80 per cent of the underlying layer, until it was hit by a warm oceanic current in 1998 that also destroyed other coral reefs around the island.

Bar Reef recovered to some extent from this destruction, but was again damaged by another large coral bleaching event in 2016. “On some areas of Bar Reef, the live coral cover had fallen lower than 2 per cent,” marine researcher Prasanna Weerakkody revealed. Dead corals have turned into rubble that moves with strong currents, impeding coral building-organisms from settling in and thus slowing the recovery of the reef.

Human activities such as fishing on the reef further disturb the recovery process, so marine biologists agreed that keeping the area free of such activity could hasten its recovery. Coral reefs in and around the southern coast at Hikkaduwa, Rumassala, Unawatuna and other places have not recovered from the 1998 bleaching event. Mr. Weerakkody suggested that one factor that had contributed to the partial healing of the coral reefs in the northern, north western and eastern seas was that the war had restricted seagoing activities in these areas. This prompted the notion to keep an area of the damaged southern reef protected from human activities.

Most of the coral reefs are located adjacent to beaches, but the Bar Reef is farther from the shore and is fully submerged. In some parts, the Bar Reef is nine metres (30 feet) underwater but there are shallower areas just a metre below the surface that are affected by human activity, and a section measuring half a sq km and another smaller section have been “fenced off” by buoys.

Mr. Weerakkody explained that setting up the buoys had to be carefully-planned as they had to be fixed firmly underwater so that they would not move around and damage the coral.

The laying of the buoys was carried out by the Ocean Resources Conservation Association (ORCA) and the Department of Wildlife Conservation under the Environmental Sensitive Areas project which is implemented by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment and is supported by the UNDP with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The critical factor is how different parties joined hands to protect a natural resource, said Dr. Jayakody, senior lecturer at Wayamba University, which is also involved in this project.

“This has been a case where scientists, policy-makers, funders and even communities came together for the protection of a natural resource,” Dr. Jayakody said.

The co-operation of ORCA, the Wildlife Department, the navy, the UNDP, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), district and divisional authorities and community members of Kandakuliya, Kudawa and Kalpitiya was the crucial factor in the success of this assignment, she said.

The project team had involved the community by educating people on the importance of the Bar Reef for their livelihood. The coral reefs act as fish breeding grounds, so a healthy reef would bring up fish stocks that would help fishermen. They were told a healthy coral reef would be a jewel for tourist operators and this too would benefit the community,

As Bar Reef is difficult to monitor, being at a distance from land, Dr. Jayakody is calling on visitors to the reef and others to respect the buoy boundaries as the success of the project would depend on this.

Coral expert Arjan Rajasuriya, who co-ordinates the IUCN’s coastal and marine programme, also emphasised the importance of isolating sections of the reef from human activity and obtaining community support.

Calls to protect Colombo’s urban wildlife as dead otter discovered near Parliament

May 30, 2018

World Otter Day falls on Wednesday (May 30); but an unfortunate otter inhabiting the marshes of Kotte, close to Parliament, did not live to see this day http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180527/news/calls-to-protect-colombos-urban-wildlife-as-dead-otter-discovered-near-parliament-295913.html

Environmentalists have asked motorists not to speed on the roads adjacent to urban marshland after the carcass of an otter was discovered close to the Parliament vehicle park and jogging track at the Kimbulawela junction recently.

Naturalist Rukmal Rathnayake who was one of the first to spot the dead mammal around 6.30 a.m. on May 19 said, “The otter was a well grown healthy female. There was blood on its body indicating it was hit by a speeding vehicle at night.”

Otters are known to inhabit the Kotte marshes and the nearby Thalangama lake and otter scats and paw marks have been sighted on the area’s muddy banks, but this shy, mainly nocturnal animal has never been spotted in this urban area. Sandun Bandara, Land Reclamation and Development Corporation’s Environmental Officer said that the otter that met her untimely death may have been inhabiting the Diyasaru Park.

Known as ‘dhiya balla’ in Sinhala the otter is a semi aquatic carnivorous mammal. There are 13 different species of otters found worldwide and the one found here is the eurasian otter, scientifically known as Lutra lutra.

No World Otter Day for her: The dead otter found close to Parliament

The eurasian otter has been categorised as ‘vulnerable to extinct’ by the National Red List of Threatened Fauna; but amazingly these elusive mammals still survive on the fringes of an urban city like Colombo.

Chair of the Otter Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Prof. Padma de Silva who has been studying the distribution of otters in Sri Lanka since 1988 said during the day these shy mammals are found in dense thickets of bush or fern close to water bodies. Pawmarks on streamside mud or droppings beside water bodies are the first signs of their presence. She said although Sri Lanka has a healthy population of otters, they were facing threats due to the ever increasing loss of wetland habitat.

Experts said incidents of otters being killed in road accidents have been recorded occasionally. In 2014, a dead otter was reported by Kithsiri Almeida in Puttalam while another one was reported in Udawalawe. However, they pointed out that the number of otters killed in road accidents could be higher as their carcasses are often mistakenly identified as civet or mongoose.

They said it was important to have over passes or under passes especially in urban wetland areas, known to be inhabited by otters and other wildlife, as they do in other countries, so that these animals could cross the road safely.

The experts also said it was important to protect the wildlife found in the remaining marshy areas in the outskirts of Colombo in Kotte, Thalawathugoda, and Kimbulawela. They said these areas still have quite a population of urban wildlife including rare nocturnal creatures such as the otter and fishing cat. Pointing out that although it was tempting to speed on these stretches of roads, especially at night, they urged motorists to be mindful when driving in these wetland areas and protect the urban wildlife that Colombo is still blessed with.

Otter killed in Puttalam 2014 (c) Kithsiri Almeida

Otter facts
With webbed feet and slender body; the otter’s body is well streamlined for a life in the water. Otters are supreme swimmers and are called ‘seals of freshwater’ says Asoka Yapa in his book ‘Mammals of Sri Lanka’.

An otter in Horton Plains. Pic by Rajiv Welikala

Otters are known to submerge themselves in water for five to eight minutes. They are also known to slow down their heart rate, so that they need less oxygen while underwater.

An otter has two layers of fur: a dense undercoat that traps air and a topcoat of long, waterproof guard hairs that helps it to stay dry. Their main diet is fish, but the Otter also has cravings for crustaceans such as fresh water crabs.

Prof. De Silva points out that they are opportunistic feeders. An otter’s rounded nose has whiskers above the lips and it is said that these can detect water current changes as well as the presence of prey or potential predators lurking in the water.