Author Archive

Antarctic seal in town – Let it be free..!!

December 23, 2019 published on 15.12.2019 on SundayTimes

It seems the elephant seal from the Antarctic might be here for Christmas, continuing to attract crowds and cause traffic jams in Colombo. The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) that was first spotted on November 20 off Unawatuna has been resting on rocks off Wellawatte and Kollupitiya in Colombo, creating traffic congestion along the Marine Drive as curious crowds gather to watch it.

The closest colony of southern elephant seals is 6,500km from Sri Lanka, in Antarctica. This seal, which has apparently been driven here by ocean currents, is resting on Lankan beaches while going through what is termed a “catastrophic moult”.

“The moulting is an annual process for elephant seals go through and that is why its face has strips of fur falling off. This will happen all along its body, and the moult takes about four weeks,” marine mammals expert Dr. Asha de Vos of Oceanswell said.

“During this period the animal is basically shedding hair and skin, making it look pretty scabby but also making it pretty grumpy – please respect its need for space,” Dr. de Vos said.

She applauded navy and wildlife officers for controlling the crowds to give the seal rest.

When the seal was first sighted off southern Sri Lanka, it was speculated that the animal was sick as it was often seen passively resting on rocks. There was an attempt to capture it to check its health, but Dr. de Vos said the animal was healthy.

“The information going around that the animal is sick is not accurate. We have continued to monitor its body condition and have been talking with seal experts in the USA and South Africa who work with these species.

“Our assessment is that this animal is healthy and going through a completely normal process, so leave it alone,” Dr. de Vos appealed.

As the moulting process may take few more weeks to complete, it is thought the Antarctic seal will celebrate Christmas in Sri Lanka before heading back home or wandering the seas.

No respite from onlookers

The Southern Elephant Seal spotted on the beaches in the stretch between Kollupitiya and Wellawatte is being disturbed by curious onlookers who are attempting to feed the animal, take pictures and touch it.

In the absence of any wildlife officials to protect the animal, people were also seen throwing small stones or pebbles at the animal to gain its attention before snapping a picture.

At times Navy personnel who were present were able to keep the public away, but in their absence the people were seen getting closer to the seal and trying to touch it.

The seal, at times was seen taking evasive action to avoid the crowds by getting back into the water and surfacing from another spot, but only to be disturbed by onlookers all over again.



Bambalapitiya beach: The seal continues to attract crowds. Pix by Amila Gamage











Antarctic seal in ‘catastrophic moult’: Expert

December 9, 2019 published on SundayTimes on 08.12.2019

The southern elephant seal from Antarctic polar regions continued its mysterious way around the coast this week, visiting Colombo on Friday for several hours and resting on rocks off Kollupitiya beach before returning to the water. Experts pleaded with the public not to disturb the Experts pleaded with the public not to disturb the creature as it was undergoing a traumatic but natural moulting process, shedding fur and skin.

The southern elephant seal on the Kollupitiya beach on Saturday (c) Damith Danthanarayana

Southern elephant seals live in cold Antarctic regions and observers were mystified when this seal was initially spotted on a beach off Unawatuna on the south coast on November 20.

Since then it has made appearances around the coast, and in the days before reaching Colombo was seen at Lunawa on December 4, and prior to that in Wadduwa for two days and, before that, in Ahungalla on December 1.

Wherever the seal came to rest, locals gathered in numbers to photograph the unusual sight, sometimes disturbing the animal which lies passively on rocks.

Photographs taken by the paper’s Galle correspondent, Sugathapala Deeyagahage, indicated that the seal’s skin was damaged. The photographs were sent by The Sunday Times to noted veterinarian Dr. Claire Simeone of the Marine Mammals Centre in California, for her analysis.

Dr. Simeone, an expert in seal rescue and treatment, said the seal appeared to be moulting, a natural process whereby seals shed old skin annually to make way for a new one.

“Some seal species moult all of their fur and the top layer of skin over a short period once a year,” Dr. Simeone said. “Elephant seals come onto shore for a brief period to complete this normal step so that a new, clean coat can be revealed.”

Moulting is a normal process for many other species. The most familiar example is snakes, which shed their skin periodically. Some insects and spiders moult by shedding their rigid exoskeleton to let the organism grow. Birds shed old, worn feathers to replace them with fresh plumage. Cats and dogs shed fur in warm weather.

“While most animals, like pet dogs, shed hairs year-round, elephant seals do it all at once,” Dr. Simeone said. “The process is so abrupt that it’s called a ‘catastrophic’ moult. Because the animal is susceptible to the cold during this period it spends the entire month ‘hauled out’ on land.”

“During this time it spends most of the time dozing and lazily flipping sand onto itself in an attempt to manage body temperature. It doesn’t eat and may lose up to 25 per cent of its body weight. Please do not attempt to move it back into the ocean,” marine mammals expert Dr. Asha de Vos of Oceanswell added. 

Dr. Simeone said the catastrophic moult process is very taxing for the animal, so it was best to give this seal plenty of space to rest.

An expert on southern elephant seals, Dr. Greg Hofmeyr of the Port Elizabeth Museum in South Africa, states that when moulting, the old skin of the elephant seal starts to peel off like wallpaper.

He said the first real evidence of the moult is often seen behind the front flippers and around the eyes, and the entire moult takes about four weeks, with the two weeks in the middle being the most intensive.

Dr. Hofmeyr said when seals come ashore for the moult they will typically move a few times to select a good spot, and then lie in that spot for three to four weeks unless they are disturbed.

“Since the seal in Sri Lanka looks like it is in good condition, I don’t think that the moult will be an issue for him,” Dr. Hofmeyr said assuringly.

He suggested a group of volunteers be formed to keep people away from the seal. “Perhaps keep people 20m away, though the response of the seal will determine whether the distance is suitable. We used this system to guard an adult ellie seal and pup over 20 days in October-November this year. Since she was nervous, we had to keep people 100m away,” Dr. Hofmeyr said..

Dr. de Vos warned that as the moulting process is intensive the seal could feel vulnerable and threatened and become aggressive if anyone went too close to it.

“We continue to ask that people maintain a distance of at least 25m from the seal to give it sufficient space to go through this important lifecycle event,” she said.

Dr. de Vos requested any updates on the seal’s progress to be sent to of Oceanswell through @OceanswellOrg on Facebook and Instagram.

Team hunted down hidden quarry in Jaffna’s rugged terrain

December 9, 2019

Remnants of war were still evident in 2014 when this team launched its search operation in the Jaffna peninsula. Members combed the territory, checking muddy marshes, waterholes, beaches, thorny scrub jungles and abandoned facilities; they moved carefully across the rugged landscape, turning rocks, lifting decaying logs and even fallen palm leaves in their path.

Bombed out pits-turned freshwater pools have become home to Uda Handya fish (Killifish). Pic Sameera Karunarathna

They conducted the operation both in daytime and by stealth at night, maintaining silence and listening for movements and sounds from those disturbed by their presence. They chased down those trying to flee.

This team was, however, not a search party looking for caches of weapons or landmines but a group of herpetologists studying the reptiles and amphibians in the Jaffna peninsula.

Altogether, 44 species of reptiles and 15 species of amphibians were found, including 18 that had not previously been reported from Jaffna. The documented tally of the peninsula’s reptiles and amphibians now stand at 85 species.

The findings of the team, consisting of Majintha Madawala, Thilina Surasinghe, Dinesh Gabadage, Madhava Botejue, Indika Peabotuwage, Dushantha Kandambi, Sameera Karunaratna and well-known herpetologist Dr. Anslem de Silva, were published this week in the Russian Journal of Herpetology.

The team had some pleasant surprises.  “Soon after we landed from the boat on Delft island and had just started turning over fallen palm leaves we found 15 saw-scaled vipers, known as weli polanga in Sinhala.

“They are all venomous snakes, but it was a happy start for herpetologists like us,” study author Sameera Karunaratna said.

The last battles of the three-decade-long war took place at Nandikadal Lagoon and that is where the research team found the rare Beddome’s striped skink (Eutropis beddomei), a beautiful red skink that moves rapidly.  

“It is so fast and makes sudden moves to elude pursuers so you’d need at least a team of 10 people to catch one,” said Mr. Karunaratna, laughing. “The good news is that there is a healthy population of this skink.”

Among other special findings, the research team found a green whip snake (ahatulla) which is not common in this area.

Mr. Karunaratna said there is considerable urban biodiversity in Jaffna. “We found soft-shelled terrapins and hard-shelled terrapins in the drainage of Jaffna town itself,” he said. “We also found some empty shells that indicate they would have been targeted for meat.”

He said the team’s field survey was based on four field visits covering 12 days, so the area covered was small.

“The fact that we managed to find this many reptiles indicates that Jaffna and northern Sri Lanka could harbour even more reptile species,” Mr. Karunaratna said.

“Our study will provide a basic foundation for conservation planning and future research,” he said.

Eutropis-beddomei (Beddome’s stripe skink) found in Nandikadal

Fish find home in artillery holes
 Huge pits created by artillery explosions that pockmark the landscape of the peninsula show the intensity of the bloody war fought in the north – but many of these pits are now nurturing colourful life.The pits, which range from 15m in diameter to several perches in extent, become artificial pools when filled with rain, herpetologist Sameera Karunaratna said.

“We found varieties of killifish species known as ‘uda handaya’ in these earth depressions that act as artificial pools now,” Mr. Karunaratna said.

“There are dozens of them in the area and in drier periods the shallow areas dry out but water remains in the deeper sections, giving a lifeline to the fish.”

Killifish are small creatures that are short-lived and lay eggs. Some lay their eggs where floating plants grow while others bury them in the sand of the pools they inhabit. When the pools dry up the fish die but when rains return and the pools fill up, the eggs hatch and life begins again.

Science should guide the peninsula’s growth plans
With the new government in power, many expect a fresh wave of development in the Jaffna region but experts are urging that this does not follow the previous pattern of ignoring environmental concerns.Development became the priority for northern Sri Lanka area when the civil war ended in 2009.

In order to prevent initiatives backfiring over lack of environmental planning, the Central Environment Authority (CEA), in collaboration with the Disaster Management Centre and the United Nations Development Programme, carried out an “Integrated Strategic Environment Assessment for the Northern Province” (ISEA-North), with work beginning in 2009 itself, prior to the resettlement of people displaced by the war.

Its purpose was to accelerate economic growth by identifying freely available land and resources for development while providing a framework to protect environmentally and culturally sensitive areas.

Information gathered from stakeholder agencies allowed researchers to identify sensitive and disaster-prone areas where development should be restricted or managed. Further, the study identified more than 200 new archeological sites.

Areas suitable for development activities such as industry, agriculture, ecotourism and other ventures were identified and mapped, with the most sensitive forests, wildlife, marine, coastal and archaeological areas excluded. After completion in 2012, the plan was reviewed in 2014.

The Sunday Times learns that some aspects of this comprehensive strategic plan have been largely disregarded. Analysts said wasting this effort was a pity, pointing out that overseas observers had specially visited Sri Lanka to learn from the ISEA-North process and UN has recognised the participatory scientific approach as a model for rebuilding in crisis/conflict situations. The report can be downloaded from the CEA website,

As nesting season begins, Sri Lanka’s olive ridley turtles face myriad threats

December 6, 2019
  • With the main nesting season for olive ridley sea turtles getting underway, the species faces a range of threats in the waters and beaches of Sri Lanka.
  • The country’s navy recently rescued 32 turtles trapped in shrimp fishing nets in the island’s north.
  • Marine turtles in Sri Lankan waters often end up entangled in nets, posing a serious threat to their survival.
  • Sea turtles worldwide are seriously affected by the fisheries industry, with millions killed every year.  published on Mongabay on 04.12.2019

COLOMBO — The Sri Lankan Navy has rescued 32 sea turtles that were likely being reared for their flesh, highlighting just one of the key threats to turtles migrating through this Indian Ocean island at this time of year.

A naval patrol on Nov. 24 in the Gulf of Mannar, which separates Sri Lanka from India, initially identified a turtle trapped in a shrimping net. A team of sailors deployed to rescue the animal discovered more turtles trapped in the net. In all, they rescued 32 sea turtles, among them olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Removing a fishing hook from a turtle. Image courtesy of the Turtle Conservation Project.

Though turtles are frequently trapped by accident in fishing nets, it appears likely these animals had been caught elsewhere and corralled in these shrimp pens, according to navy spokesman Isuru Sooriyabandara. He told Mongabay that a patrol two days earlier, on Nov. 22, had seized 4 kilograms (9 pounds) of turtle flesh from a boat close to the same location, raising the prospect that local fishermen were keeping the turtles for later consumption.

Sri Lankan waters are home to five of the seven species of marine turtles: the green turtleolive ridleyhawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea).

It’s the first two, however, that account for nearly the entire population of nesting turtles in Sri Lanka: 68 percent are green turtles and 30 percent olive ridley turtles, according to the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA). While the peak nesting frequency for green turtles in this region runs from February to April, the period between November and March is prime time for olive ridleys, which flock in the hundreds of thousands to beaches around the Bay of Bengal, including parts of Sri Lanka, to nest.

A turtle flipper seriously damaged by getting caught in a fishing net. Image courtesy of the Turtle Conservation Project.

But the rise in turtle numbers during this time of the year leads to a spike in hunting of the animals by local fishermen — a trend that navy spokesman Sooriyabandara said authorities were vigilant about.

Still, fishing nets set in the Gulf of Mannar and elsewhere accidentally catch a lot of turtles, especially in the final quarter of the year as they migrate across Sri Lanka waters to their breeding grounds, according to Thushan Kapurusinghe, the project leader of the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) in Sri Lanka.

Entangled in fishing nets

The TCP conducted its first olive ridley rescue program from September 1999 to March 2001, in a bid to save turtles entangled in nets. It hired a boat and followed fishermen as they went fishing at dusk. The nets were checked throughout the night for possible entanglements, and any turtles found were immediately released. Over the two and a half years of the project, a total of 278 olive ridleys were rescued, comprising 157 females, 86 males and 35 whose sex was undetermined.

“The monitoring was strenuous, as a fishing net could extend several kilometers and these are laid on considerable distances to prevent turtles from getting entangled. So only a portion of fishing nets could be monitored by the TCP boat each night,” Kapurusinghe said, adding that the real rate of entanglement was likely much higher.

The front flippers of this hawksbill turtle found in Kosgoda was badly damaged due to a cut caused by a fishing net, so they had to be amputated. Image courtesy the Turtle Conservation Project.

Lalith Ekanayake, the chairman of the Bio Conservation Society (BCSSL), which also focuses on turtle conservation, said that while entangled turtles are able to keep their head up to breathe, the turtles that get caught deeper underwater are at high risk of drowning. Even those saved from the nets don’t always get away clean; many suffer injuries from the nylon mesh of the fishing nets, sometimes so severely that they require amputation of their flippers.

The IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Marine Turtles Specialist Group also recognizes the impact of fisheries as the biggest threat to marine turtles, while other threats include hunting, egg extraction and other pressures. “The turtles virtually everywhere are impacted by fisheries, especially longlines, gill nets and trawls. Millions of turtles are killed indirectly by fisheries every year worldwide,” said Roderic Mast, co-chair of IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned or discarded at sea, known as ghost nets, pose the worst of fishing threats to turtles, Mast told Mongabay.

All marine turtle species found in Sri Lanka are listed as endangered on the country’s National Red List and are legally protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance and the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act. But laws alone can’t address the threats, Ekanayake said, adding that there needs to be greater awareness among fishing communities about their role in the issue. Both the BCSSL and the TCP run awareness campaigns about the importance of marine turtle conservation.

A sailor rescuing a juvenile green turtle from a shrimp net in the Gulf of Mannar, northern Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of the Sri Lankan Navy.

Turtle nesting sites abound all around Sri Lanka, with the major nesting beaches on the western, southwestern and southern coasts. There’s a rapid decline of turtles all over the island, Kapurusinghe said, especially the leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead varieties.

“For example, the Rekawa nesting site [in the south] hasn’t seen a leatherback turtle in two years or a hawksbill in four years, which is alarming,” Kapurusinghe said.


Banner image of a turtle stuck in a fishing net. Image courtesy of the Bio Conservation Society.

Allow Elephant Seal to rest before risky journey home back to Antarctica

December 6, 2019 published on 01.12.2019 and on 24.11.2019

The southern elephant seal pup spotted at Unawatuna a fortnight ago continued to resurface off adjacent beaches: it was seen resting on rocks at Midigama on November 23, near Polwathumodara bridge in Weligama on the 26th and on successive days at Ahangama, Dewata in Galle and Mahamodara bridge in Galle.  

It is thought the animal is in distress and disoriented as the waters around Sri Lanka are much warmer than the water they naturally live in the deep Antarctic.

As the animal is resting passively on rocks it was assumed at first that it was wounded or ill. The navy and some fishermen attempted to capture the seal to check its condition but they found it to be fit and strong when it pulled a net away from them and escaped.

The Director-General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Chandana Sooriyabandara, said officers would not try to catch the seal again.

“Let it be free in our waters. Let the animal decide what it wants,” he said.

The problem is that local residents gather whenever the seal surfaces to gain a glimpse of the unusual visitor, some of them going very close to it to take photographs and video.

Marine mammals expert Dr. Asha de Vos asked for the seal to be given space to rest.

“Elephant seals live in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions so its native range would be several kilometres away from home. He is lost but might soon try to start finding its way back. It needs rest before starting its journey back,” she said.

She also warned about safety. The seal looks passive and does not move until people get very close. “But if threatened, the seal can be dangerous as it could pounce back, biting,” Dr. de Vos said.

The southern elephant seal is the largest seal species in the world with males weighing as much as four tons.

Experts believe this individual could have begun its long journey from a seal colony on Kerguelen Island in the north Antarctic, 6,400km from Sri Lanka.

Marine watcher Ranil Nanayakkara said photographs of old wounds on the seal indicated it could have been travelling for several months.

“Those rounded wounds on its back could have been caused by bites by cookie-cutter sharks,” he said. These sharks, which can grow to 22 inches, live in warm waters so this could indicate that the seal spent some time in warm waters, Mr. Nanayakkara said.

Mr. Nanayakkara warned that deeper waters around Sri Lanka would also not be safe for the seal on its return journey as there could be killer whales, which often hunt seals. 

“Perhaps the seal had been forced to change its normal route in an attempt to escape such attacks and became caught in a current that dragged it all the way to Sri Lanka,” Mr. Nanayakkara said.

A ranger at the Hikkaduwa DWC office, Uthpala Adaranga, said there was a danger of the seal becoming entangled in fishing nets as it came close to shore, and he appealed to fishermen and other locals to alert rangers if the animal was seen or found in distress.

Marine mammals veterinary surgeon Claire Simeone of the Marine Mammals Center in the United States said elephant seals eat squid and deepwater fish, and finding this prey might be a challenge for an seal this far from home.

Dr. Simeone said southern elephant seals only come onto land twice a year, to mate and for their fur to moult. While it is rare for them to come farther north than the sub-Antarctic islands where they live, there have been cases where seals have been spotted on beaches in South Africa or Brazil. There was a sighting of Southern Elephant Seal in Oman, the furthest until now in tropical waters.

Lester presents ‘Brush with birds’

December 1, 2019 Published on SundayTimes on 01.12.2019

Well known wildlife artist and leading naturalist Lester Perera is getting ready for his next exhibition,  ‘Brush with Birds – the frozen moments from the wild’. About 50 paintings using mixed media, pen and ink, watercolour and acrylic on canvas would be featured covering raptors, shore birds, forest birds including the birds that are endemic to Sri Lanka.

He uses his brush to capture them on canvas, he smiles and “as a birdwatcher, when I visit the wilds, I do literally ‘brush’ with birds letting my eyes pass through gently observing without disturbing them,” says Lester explaining the exhibition title.

A well known bird artist who has been featured as a guest artist in prestigious international exhibitions held in the UK and France, in 2005, Lester donated some of his paintings to be auctioned at the British Bird Watching Fair in Leicestershire, with the proceeds going to the conservation of birds in the Orient.

‘Brush with Birds’ is Lester’s 10th exhibition in Sri Lanka. He had his last exhibition, ‘Wild in Ruins’ in 2014 on a different theme, painting birds and nature in archaeological sites such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Most of the paintings in ‘Wild in Ruins’ were in black and white, but ‘Brush with Birds’ brings birds to life in colour.

“For me, visiting the wilderness is like a visit to a religious place which calms me. I look at every detail and freeze those moments in my mind like someone taking a picture. Even a dead branch has a lot of detail to pay attention to,” he says.

“Brush with Birds” will be at the Harold Peiris gallery of the Lionel Wendt on December 6, 7 and 8 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Entrance is free.


Young eyes on nature

November 29, 2019 published on SundayTimes on 24.11.2019

“Young Eye on Nature” the annual wildlife photography exhibition and “Kin Wild” the annual wildlife arts exhibition by the Young Zoologists Association (YZA) will be held on November 28, 29 and 30 at the J.D.A. Perera Art Gallery, Colombo 7.

‘Kin Wild’ -the exhibition of wildlife paintings and sketches is the longest running wildlife art exhibition in the country. The Young Zoologists Association established the ‘Wildlife Arts’ group in 1989 to assist youth talented in drawing.  YZA held the first wildlife art exhibition in 1990 and since then it has been an annual event.

YZA initiated its wildlife photography exhibition to showcase the talent of its young members who chose photography as a media to capture the beauty of nature long before the digital age of photography. YZA groom the youth who aspire to be wildlife photographers teaching them techniques, while guiding them to take the ethical path. Its members use wildlife photography as a tool to raise awareness among the public on the need to conserve nature.

YZA is conducting Wildlife Art and Wildlife Photography classes every Sunday at the National Zoological Gardens, Dehiwala. The best art and photographs by its members chosen through a selection process will be showcased at these exhibitions.

Entrance is free for these exhibitions.



Elephant seal native to Antarctica spotted for first time in tropical Sri Lanka

November 27, 2019

Published on Mongabay on 26.11.2019

  • A juvenile southern elephant seal from the Antarctic region was recently spotted off Sri Lanka’s southern coast.
  • The seal appeared exhausted, and while there have been calls to capture it to assess its health and/or raise it in captivity, experts recommend leaving it alone and giving it time to find its way back home.
  • The species has rarely been recorded venturing into tropical waters.
  • In its native habitat, it’s threatened by the melting of the pack ice on which it breeds, as a result of global warming.

COLOMBO — Uthpala Adaranga, a ranger with Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation  (DWC), was initially doubtful about the call he received of a seal spotted near Unawatuna, off the country’s southern coast on Nov. 20. He assumed, as had happened in the past, that it was another case of misidentification, given that the tropical Indian Ocean island lies well beyond the native range of seals. But to Uthpala’s surprise, it was a seal — a marine mammal never before recorded in Sri Lankan waters.

The seal, about 2 meters (6 feet) long, spent all day on Dalawella Beach, drawing a crowd of onlookers. Wildlife officials together with navy and police personnel had to cordon off the beach to allow some resting space for the animal.

The very next day, the seal disappeared, only to resurface two days later on Nov. 23 near Midigama Beach, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) farther south. This time, it was seen resting on rocks, offering a better view to observers, including of visible signs of old wounds. When a navy team attempted to capture the seal to assess its health, it disappeared again and has not been seen since.

Using amateur video shared on social media, marine biologist Asha de Vos identified the animal as a southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), named for its nose that resembles an elephant’s trunk. The largest seal species in the world, the southern elephant seal spends most of its time near Antarctica, only reaching land twice a year to mate and to molt.

De Vos told Mongabay that this individual seal could be from an elephant seal colony from one of the islands off Antarctica, possibly the Kerguelen Islands. That means it would have had to swim about 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) to get to Sri Lanka — a feat that’s possible with the aid of ocean currents.

“Seals are active swimmers, but it’s hard to speculate why this individual swam this far north, leaving its native range. The individual found in Sri Lanka looks exhausted and would have reached the beach for some rest,” de Vos said.

Greg Hofmeyr, the curator of marine mammals at Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld, South Africa, and a specialist on southern elephant seals, confirmed that southern elephant seals are known for migrating long distances of thousands of kilometers between sub-Antarctic islands and their foraging areas in the Southern Ocean. Many younger animals have an exploratory phase in their life, and the individual spotted in Sri Lanka could be one, he added.

But he said the seal sighting in Sri Lanka, so far away from the species’ native range, was unusual, as seals in general are rarely recorded near the equator.

In 1989, a southern elephant seal was spotted off Oman. It was shot dead for identification purposes. Hofmeyr said there had also been seal sightings in the Mascarene Islands, close to Madagascar, but still about 3,600 kilometers (2,200 miles) south of Sri Lanka.

These seals aren’t considered threatened because they occur in several populations, many of them large, some of them growing, and none of them isolated. But global warming has become the main threat to their existence, manifested in the loss of the pack ice habitats in which they breed, Hofmeyr said.

‘Give it space’

With the confirmed sighting, the question now for conservationists and officials in Sri Lanka is what to do about the elephant seal. The species is perfectly adapted to the Antarctic cold, and the tropical waters around Sri Lanka would be too harsh for it. There have been calls to capture it and house it in a zoo, although it’s not clear that Sri Lanka has suitable facilities.

“We do not have facilities to accommodate an animal that swims thousands of kilometers and dives thousands of meters in search of food. My advice is to give the animal space, so it can rest and then begin its journey back,” de Vos said.

Claire Simeone, a conservation veterinarian at the California-based Marine Mammal Center, which rescues and rehabilitates seals, said the seal in Sri Lanka could find it difficult to survive in the warmer waters, but that keeping it in captivity would be harder.

“Ideally, the seal’s health should be evaluated by a veterinarian familiar with the particular species,” she told Mongabay. “If the seal is sick or injured, rehabilitation at a zoo or an aquarium could be helpful. But unfortunately, it is challenging to provide the conditions needed for this species in a zoo for its entire life, because they can dive to more than 2,000 meters [6,600 feet] deep. Elephant seals eat squid and deep-water fish and finding this prey might also be one of the challenges to an animal this far from home.”

Simeone suggested the best thing to do would be to give the seal some space. Whether it’s sick, injured, or just resting, the animal will be further stressed by human harassment. “While this seal is indeed quite lost, it is possible that it just needs to rest before going back home,” she added.

She said people should not approach the seal, as it is a wild animal that can bite if it feels threatened. Though it appears exhausted and passive, seals can quickly and turn dangerous if confronted.

Chandana Sooriyabandara, the director-general of the DWC, said there were no plans to capture the seal unless its condition looked particularly bad. “We will let it be our visitor and stay freely in our waters,” he added.


Banner image of the juvenile southern elephant seal resting near the Midigama coastal area in southern Sri Lanka, courtesy of Ravindra Kumara, Department of Wildlife Conservation Sri Lanka



From jungles to the city: Lankan wilds in perfect symphony

November 26, 2019

“Wildlife photography shouldn’t be about the ego that is attached to it. It isn’t about the equipment we use, or how many more animals we see compared to others. It is about our connection with nature” – these words truly echo through the pages of ‘Symphony of Serendib’ – the coffeetable book to be launched by wildlife photographer Erich Joseph.

Erich Joseph

“Symphony of Serendib” is Erich’s first book and will be launched at his maiden photography exhibition to be held from November 29 to December 1 at the Harold Peiris Gallery of the Lionel Wendt. Erich who works in the IT field always felt the urge to explore nature and capture its unique moments in his spare time. He bought his first camera in 2007 and his first DSLR camera in 2010 when he began taking his photography seriously.

The book contains over 200 pages that feature not only a wide array of animals, but also some breathtaking scenes of different wildernesses across Sri Lanka. He has a particular passion for birds, tuskers and leopards, but these attractive animals are interspersed with species like frogs, mantises, spiders, lizards, insects and other creatures that are often overlooked. Like a master musician who has skills to build his symphony over little things, Erich captures these usually non-charismatic animals from different angles giving the viewer fresh perspectives. A common bird like the Red-vented Bulbul looks like a ballet dancer performing in the rain to his symphony. Of note are his photos of the elusive leopard in Horton Plains and many rare migratory birds – even from the city of Colombo.

The Symphony of Serendib follows a geographical trail starting from the central hills  mainly featuring Horton Plains and then moving down to Haputale, Ella to the Sinharaja rainforest. He then showcases photographs taken in Uda Walawe, and moves to Galgamuwa, Kalawewa, Wilpattu and Yala.

Writing the foreword of the book, veteran wildlife photographer Namal Kamalgoda states that the cross-section of images from the highest regions of our country down to the coast, showcasing the diversity in location and subjects is remarkable. There is also a refreshing array of landscapes, often ignored by wildlife photographers, but Erich has the eye not to miss them. “One of my favourite images is of the Ghost Crabs, like a wall of aliens. Even a shrew and a mouse have been represented in the book and there are lot more ‘small stuff’ like this to enjoy,” Kamalgoda writes.

The innocent eyes of a leopard cub

In his book, Erich shares the painstaking efforts and sometimes disappointments he had to bear in capturing these unique photographs.

There is sadness to his symphony as a number of his favourite tuskers that he photographed had been killed and their memories are restricted to photographs.

The book contains several black and white photographs particularly featuring leopards and elephants. “Black and white can bring an artistic touch, giving character to otherwise a pretty ordinary photograph,” says Erich.

The coffee table book ‘Symphony of Serendib’ is priced at 8,500 but visitors to the exhibition can purchase it for the special price of Rs.6,000.

The Symphony of Serendib exhibition is open to all.

Ghost Crabs, like a wall of aliens – Chundikulam beach

 A mossy labyrinth – Horton Plains National Park

Comb ducks in Colombo

Elephants in Kalawewa – Black & White adds an artistic blend  

Butterfly boom sees crowds of yellow visitors suddenly appear

November 17, 2019 Published on SundayTimes on 17.11.2019

A swarm of Lemon Emigrants (c) Dr.Michael van der Poorten

Sri Lanka is experiencing a butterfly boom these days with even suburbs of congested cities such as Colombo seeing an increase in the fluttering visitors.

Many of them belong to the yellow Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona) species that traditionally begin a seasonal movement at this time of year, says butterfly expert Rajika Gamage.

Mr. Gamage, who is observing butterflies in the Thanamalwila area, said about 70 per cent of what he is seeing are Lemon Emigrants and about 10 per cent the Common Leopard and Lesser Albatross species.

Many reports are also coming in of clouds of butterflies such as the Crimson Rose out at sea, several nautical miles from shore. Renowned lepidopterist Dr. Michael van der Poorten confirmed butterfly movements have been observed from the Mannar area westward out to sea and from the Trincomalee area eastward out to sea.

A Female Lemon Emigrant (c) Michael van der Poorten

Until the mid-80s when, for reasons ranging from deforestation to pollution the phenomenon disappeared, it was customary to see thousands of butterflies appearing in clouds in Sri Lankan skies from February to April.

As this is the season of pilgrimage to Sri Pada mountain, Buddhist folklore had it that the butterflies also visited the mountain to pay homage to Lord Buddha. Thus the mountain was given another name, Samanala Kanda or “butterfly mountain.

“Indeed, many butterflies of several species are seen flying towards and up the mountain and are sometimes found dead at the top,” said Dr. van der Poorten.

Lemon Emigrants make this seasonal movement, as do many other species such as the Common Albatross, Lesser Albatross, Pioneer, Common Gull, Blue Tiger and Common Banded Peacock, he said.

Lesser Albatross

In 1949, the lepidopterist, L.G.O. Woodhouse, reported 69 species in this migration but now fewer species are seen, Dr. van der Poorten said.
He explained that seasonal movements occur soon after a boom in butterfly populations, which often happens soon after rainfall breaks a drought.

“A drought can reduce populations of both butterflies and their prey. But when the right conditions arrive the butterfly population can recover fast, leading to a boom,” Dr. van der Poorten said, adding that science knew little about these migration patterns or their causes.

Rajika Gamage said butterfly migrations occur throughout the year but only come to public notice when there is a boom in numbers.

“Continuous rain could help plants to grow lots of tender leaves that could provide healthy host plants for caterpillars to feed on, resulting in a boom,” Mr. Gamage said.

Himesh Jayasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka said society members are sharing reports of butterfly sightings on Whatsapp and these will be analysed to identify migration patterns.

The most extravagant butterfly migration occurs on the American continent when thousands of Monarch butterflies make an annual migration.

These swarms, unlike those found in Sri Lanka, including those that go to Sri Pada, return home after their seasonal migration.

While these swarms – officially a swarm of butterflies is known as a kaleidoscope of butterflies – eventually return home they are then made up of new butterflies. It takes as many as four to five generations to complete the full journey all the way back up to Canada and the US as the Monarchs’ lifespan can be just two to five weeks.Each year, millions of Monarch butterflies leave their summer breeding grounds in the North Eastern United States and Canada and travel almost 5,000km to reach overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Lemon Emigrants in Matara

Dragonfly migration

November 15, 2019

Published on SundayTimes on 27.10.2019

The possibility of mass migratoin of dragonflies across Sri Lanka was first published by SundayTimes on 2011. It is believed the same phenomena reported last Sunday.

Not only birds, but dragonflies too are found to be migrating long distances. The sudden increase of dragonflies in some areas of colombo suggest their annual mass migration happened last week.

Sudden influx of dragonflies were best felt by those live in coastal belts as they usually arrive as a wave. The coastal community in near Dehiwala railway station confirms they sudden influx of dragonflies on Sunday 20th of October. “It was around 8.30 or 9 in the night that these creatures start coming. They flew directly into our houses like those winged-termites (meru in sinhala) swarming around” said Chaminda Pushpakumara a resident near Dehiwala Railway station. “We tried to put them out, but it was just futile exercise” others in the community too shared similar experiences.

Sudden increase of Dragonflies were observed in other areas as well. Hemal Pieris who lives in Kynsey road in Borella found one in his upstair bathroom. “I haven’t seen a dragonfly in many years and delighted of seeing one inside my own house. I gently coaxed it to fly away through  the
window” Mr.Peiris said.

Responding to a post on the social media put by the team of MigrantWatch who promote observation of migratory species in Sri Lanka, many responded seeing sudden influx of dragonflies from different areas. Vishwamithra Kadurugamuwa made his observation at Town hall in colombo 7. “I Was actually telling my wife that it must be a dragonfly migration” Mr.Kadurugamuwa who had heard of the phenomena said.

The posibility that a mass migration of dragonflies could be happening across Sri Lanka was first observed in 2011 by Nashath Hafi who is a member of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka that setup its MigrantWatch program with intention to study the migration phenomena. “I was waiting for the train in Moratuwa railway station in the morning watching some birds at the time I observed wave of dragonflies. Usually the dragonflies flying casually on circular route, but all these were moving southward. Thousands of dragonflies were seen moving across and it was a spectacular scene” Mr.Hafi reminded his rare sight.

Mr.Hafi continued to observe the Southbound dragonflies from Moratuwa to all the way until Kollupitiya. When finding more information, the information about a dragonfly migration. Maldivian-based biologist Dr. Charles Anderson initially revealed about this migration which he suggest be happening across India to Maldives and all the way to Africa based on observations of mass aggravation of dragonflies in different areas. . According to Dr.Anderson’s study, the path dragonfly use has a distance of around 14,000 kilometres and could be called the world’s longest insect migration.

A Globe Skimmer Dragonfly found dehiwala

Dr.Anderson based on his data calculated the Dragonflies first appear in the capital city of Maldives on mean 21st of October on average. Quite interestingly the wave of Dragonflies was observed in Sri Lanka in 2011 was on 20th October. What is more surprising is this year the mass movement of dragonflies were observed on the same day – 20th of October. Dragonfly numbers peak in November and December, before the insects then disappear once more. The insects arrive in waves, with each staying for no more than a few days.

Indian observers also reported large agrevation of Dragonflies on Indian beaches. a dragonfly swarm reported from Mumbai coast on 14th Oct and different parts according to Sujith Chandran who is from Kerala. The migratory dragonflies fly along with the coast is observed in Indian.

According to Mr.Chandran, the communities in Keral coastal areas know this phenomena happened with the onset of Monsoon winds. “The locals believe the dragonflies emerge at time of when sun enters zordiac of Libra. In local language the Zordiac sign Libra is called ‘thula’ and dragonflies are called as ‘thumbi’- so locals call named them as ‘Thula Thumbi’”, said Mr.Chandran.

When interviewed, even the local coastal community – specially the members of the fishing communities live near coast are known of the phenomena, eventhough it is still least studied phenomena that came into light recently.

The species that involve in the migration are called as the globe skimmer or globe wanderer scientifically known as Pantala flavescens. The dragonfly is up to 4.5 cm long, that can have wingspans around 7.5 cm . They are good flier who tirelessly fly for hours without making any perch. The wandering glider flies in large swarms.

Globe skimmer is considered to be the most widespread dragonfly on the planet with good population on every continent except Antartica although rare in Europe according to the literature. According to a research by scientists at Rutgers University-Newark of USA studying the genes of Globe Skimmer found that specimen found from different areas of the world have similar genetic profiles so similar. They studied Pantala flavescens from USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, India, South America and interpret this similarities as a result of long distant migration.

Earlier this week, on the coastal areas observed in Dehiwala, Wellawaththa and Bambalapitiya, swarms of dragonflies consisting of 10 – 15 individuals could be commonly observed, but by the Friday, this number had decreased drastically spotting only few individuals according to the observers. This could indicate either the dragonflies moved away from Sri Lanka to continue their journey toward Maldives or spread inland. Perhaps part of the swarm moves away, while another stays. There are more questions for science to find out and if it could firmly establish, the Dragonfly migration could be yet another spectacular wildlife encounter Sri Lanka could be blessed to witness.

Report increase of dragonflies in your area

Have you seen an increase of dragonflies in your area..? If so, it could possibly be a migratory dragonfly. The MigrantWatch team of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) based at University Colombo welcomes your to contribute to their citizen science program to study this phenomena. You can send them your observations through email to

තර්ජනයට ලක්‌ වී ඇති ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ උරගයෝ…

November 3, 2019
තර්ජනයට ලක්‌ වී ඇති ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ උරගයෝ…
Published on Vidusara science weekly on 30.10.2019  










සැම වසරක ම ඔක්‌තෝබර් 21 වැනි දා ලෝක උරගයන්ගේ දිනය ලෙස සමරනු ලබයි. උරගයන් ගෙන් පරිසර පද්ධතියට සිදු වන සේවාවත්, ඔවුන් මුහුණපාන තර්ජනයනුත්, උරගයන් සංරක්ෂණයේ වැදගත්කමත් ඉස්‌මතු කිරීම මේ දිනයේ අරමුණයි. අනෙකුත් වන ජීවීන්ට සාපේක්ෂ ව, ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ උරගයන් පිළිබඳ ව ඇති උනන්දුව පොදුවේ අඩු වන නිසා උරගයන් පිළිබඳව දැනුවත් කිරීමට මෙවැනි දිනයක්‌ යොදාගැනීම වැදගත් වේ.

සර්පයන්, කටුස්‌සන්, කිඹුලන්, හූනන්, කැස්‌බෑවන්, ඉබ්බන් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ උරගයන් කාණ්‌ඩයට අයත් නියෝජිතයෝ වෙති. ජාතික රතු දත්ත පොත 2012 අනුව ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ උරග රටාසමයන් (විශේෂ-species) 211ක්‌ සිටි අතර එයින් 125ක්‌ ම ලංකාවට ආවේණික නිසා ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ උරගයන් ගෙන් සියයට 59ක්‌ ම වෙනත් කිසි ම රටක දැකගත නො හැකි ජීවීහු වෙති. මේ අතරින් බොහොමයක්‌ උරගයන් තර්ජනයට ලක්‌ වී ඇති අතර, වනාන්තර විනාශය වැනි හේතු නිසා වාසස්‌ථාන අහිමි වීම ඔවුනට ඇති මූලික ම තර්ජනය වේ. මීට අමතර ව ලැව් ගිනි, කෘෂි රසායන, වාහනවලට යට වීම් මෙන් ම තෝරාගැනීමකින් තොර ව සිදු කෙරෙන සර්පයන් මරා දැමීම වැනි කරුණු ද උරගයන්ට ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ දී ඇති තර්ජන වේ.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ කලාතුරකින් සිදු වුවත්, සුරතල් සතුන් ලෙස උරගයන් ඇති කිරීම ලෝකයේ සමහර රටවල ජනප්‍රිය විනෝදාංශයකි. මේ සඳහා විශේෂයෙන් ම ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ අං කටුස්‌සන්, ගැටහොඹු කටුස්‌සන් වැනි උරගයන් අල්ලා හොර රහසේ නීති විරෝධී ලෙස රට යෑවීම ද උරගයන්ට ඇති අලුත් තර්ජනයකි. පසුගිය දා පැවැත්වුණු තර්ජනයට ලක්‌ වූ වන සතුන් සහ අන්තර්ජාතික වෙළෙඳාම පිළිබඳ සම්මුතිය (CITES)හි 18 වැනි සමුළුවේ දී ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ කටුස්‌සන් 10 දෙනකු අන්තර්ජාතික වෙළෙඳාම තහනම් කිරීමට යෝජනා වූයේ මේ තර්ජනය අවම කරගැනීමේ අරමුණෙන් ම ය. මේ යෝජනා සමහරක්‌ සංශෝධන සහිත ව සම්මත වූ අතර, අනෙක්‌වා එලෙස ම සම්මත වූයේ ය. අපගේ ගෙවතු ආශ්‍රිත ව පවා දැකගත හැකි කටුස්‌සන් පිළිබඳ වත් යෝජනාවක්‌ ද මේ අතර තිබුණත්, යම් තාක්ෂණික දොaෂ නිසා එය ඉවත දැමිණි.

උරගයන් අතර වඩාත් ම කතාබහට ලක්‌ වනුයේ සර්පයන් ය. ජාතික රතු දත්ත පොත 2012 අනුව ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ සර්පයන් 103ක්‌ වාර්තා වුණු අතර එයින් 49ක්‌ ම ලංකාවට ආවේණික වේ. ලංකාවේ සර්පයන් අතරින් මාරාන්තික විය හැකි විෂ සහිත සර්පයන් සිටින්නේ අතළොස්‌සක්‌ නමුත්, හඳුනාගැනීමේ අපහසුව නිසා බොහොමයක්‌ සර්පයෝ මිනිසුන් විසින් මරා දැමෙති.

තමන් අවට මිනිස්‌ වාසස්‌ථාන අසල දී හමු වන සර්පයන් බොහෝ විට මරා දැමීමට මිනිසුන් පෙලඹෙනුයේ සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීමට ඇති අපහසුතාව නිසා ය. මේ ප්‍රශ්නයට විසඳුමක්‌ ලෙස ඕනෑ ම අයෙකුට තමන්ට මුණගැසෙන සර්පයන් ඉක්‌මනින් හඳුනාගැනීමට ඉඩ සැලසීමට පේරාදෙණිය විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයයේ පර්යේෂකයන් පිරිසක්‌ ඉදිරිපත් වී ඇත. සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීමේ සේවාව ලෙස නම් කර තිබෙන මේ වෙබ් අඩවිය, පේරාදෙණිය සරසවියේ මහාචාර්ය කලන මාදුවගේගේ ප්‍රධානත්වයෙන් ක්‍රියාත්මක වේ. විෂ සහිත සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයන් හැඳිනගෙන මිනිස්‌ ජීවිත රැකගැනීමට මෙන් ම විෂ රහිත සර්පයන් ආරක්ෂා කරගැනීමට ද සාධනීය ලෙස උපකාරී විය හැකි ක්‍රියාදාමයක්‌ නිසා, මේ වසරේ ලෝක උරගයන් සුරැකීමේ දිනය පාදක කරගත් ලිපිය මේ සර්ප – මිනිස්‌ ගැටුම පිළිබඳ ව මහාචාර්ය කලන මාදුවගේ සමඟ සිදු කළ සාකච්ජාවක්‌ ඇසුරෙන් සැකසේ.

Vidusara cover story on 30.10.2019


මිනිස්‌ – සර්ප ගැටුම

සර්පයන් යනු පරිසරයේ ඉතා වැදගත් අත්‍යවශ්‍ය ජීවීන් කොටසක්‌ වන අතර ඔවුන් ගෙන් පරිසරයේ සමතුලිතතාව රැකගැනීම සඳහා වැදගත් මෙහෙයක්‌ ඉටු වේ. සර්පයන් බොහෝ ආහාර දාමවල ඉහළ පුරුක්‌ වන අතර සමහර විලොපීන්ගේ ආහාර ලෙස ද සර්පයන් පරිසරයට වැදගත් වේ. සර්පයන් මඟින් පරිසරයේ මීයන්, ගෙම්බන්, හූනන්, කුරුල්ලන්ගේ ගහන පාලනය කෙරේ. මීයන්ගේ අධික ගහන නිසා අස්‌වනුවලට වන හානිය සර්පයන් නිසා පාලනය වේ. තව ද ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් නිෂ්පාදන සඳහා සර්ප විෂ අත්‍යවශ්‍ය වේ. මීට අමතර ව, සර්ප විෂෙහි අඩංගු සංඝටක මඟින් නව ඖෂධ සොයාගැනීම් කළ හැකි ය.

දැනට ලංකාවේ හඳුනාගෙන ඇති සර්ප විශේෂ අතරින් උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන් ගණයට අයත් වන්නේ විශේෂ සුළු ප්‍රමාණයකි. ලංකාව අවට මුහුදේ වෙසෙන විශේෂ 15කට ආසන්න මුහුදු සර්පයන් සියල්ල උග්‍ර විෂ වන අතර මුහුදු සර්පයන් ගෙන් වන දෂ්ඨ කිරීම් සහ මරණ ඉතා අඩු සංඛ්‍යාවක්‌ වේ.

ගොඩබිම වෙසෙන සර්පයන් අතරින් උග්‍ර විෂ කාණ්‌ඩයෙහි ලා සැලකෙන්නේ තෙල් කරවලා / මඟමරුවා (Indian / common krait, Bungaruscaeruleus), මුදු කරවලා / දුනු කරවලා (Ceylonkriat” Bungarus ceylonicus), තිත් පොළඟා (Russell’s viper” Daboia russelii), වැලි පොළඟා (Saw scaled viper” Echis carinatus), නයා / නාගයා (Common cobra” Naja naja), කුණකටුවා / පොළොන් තෙළිස්‌සා (humpnosed pit vipers” Hypnale sp.) යන සර්පයන් පමණි. පළා පොළො`ගුන් මඳ විෂ සර්පයන් වන අතර අනෙකුත් සර්පයන් ඉතා සුළු විෂ හෝ විෂ රහිත සර්පයන් ය.

උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන්ගේ හිස දෙපස පිහිටි විෂ ග්‍රන්ථි (venom glands) මඟින් විෂ නිෂ්පාදනය වේ. සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී මේ විෂ, විෂ දළ (fangs) හරහා දෂ්ඨ කිරීමට ලක්‌ වන පුද්ගලයාගේ ශරීරයට එන්නත් කිරීම සිදු වේ. සර්ප විෂ (snakevenom) තුළ සරල සහ සංකීර්ණ විෂ රසායන සංයෝග (toxins) රාශිය අඩංගු වේ. ඉන් සමහරක්‌ මිනිසාගේ ශරීරයේ ප්‍රතිග්‍රාහක (receptors) ක්‍රියාකාරීත්වය අඩපණ කරන අතර විෂෙහි අඩංගු එන්සයිම අණු, ශරීරයේ රසායනික ප්‍රතික්‍රියා නතර කිරීමට හෝ අධි ක්‍රියාකාරීත්වයට හෝ පත් කරයි.

සර්ප දෂ්ඨන

සර්ප විෂ මිනිසාගේ රුධිර කැටිගැසීමේ පද්ධතිය (coagulation system), රුධිරවාහිනී, ස්‌නායු උපාගම සන්ධි (synapse), මාංශ පේශි පද්ධතිය, වකුගඩු ක්‍රියාකාරීත්වයට හානි පමුණුවයි. සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී එන්නත් කරනු ලැබූ විෂ, දෂ්ඨ කළ ස්‌ථානයේ සිට වසා (lymphatics) පද්ධතිය හරහා රුධිර සංසරණ පද්ධතියට සහ සියලු ම අවයව දෙසට සුළු කාලයක දී ව්‍යාප්ත වීම සිදු වේ. විෂ බලපෑම් කරන අවයව අනුව රෝගියාගේ රෝග ලක්ෂණ පහළ වීම සිදු වේ. මේ අතර අධික රුධිර වහනය, මුත්‍ර සමඟ රුධිරය පිට වීම, ඇස්‌පිල්ලම් කඩා හැළීම, ශ්වසනය අඩපණ වීම, මාංශ පේශිවල අධික වේදනාව, මුත්‍රා පිට නො වීම වැනි මාරාන්තික රෝග ලක්ෂණ ලෙස ප්‍රධාන කොට සැලකේ.

වසරකට ලෝකයේ සර්ප දෂ්ඨන මිලියන 1.8 – 2.7 අතර සංඛ්‍යාවක්‌ සිදු වන අතර එයින් පුද්ගලයන් 81,000 – 138,000කට ජීවිතය අහිමි වේ. ලෝකයේ සර්ප දෂ්ඨන වැඩි ම සංඛාවක්‌ සිදු වන්නේ දකුණු ආසියාවේ වන අතර ශ්‍රී ලංකාව ලෝකයේ සර්ප දෂ්ඨන වැඩියෙන් ම සිදු වන රටක්‌ වශයෙන් සැලකේ. සර්ප දෂ්ඨන වැඩියෙන් ම සිදු වන රටවල් සහ මරණ සලකා බලා ලෝක සෞඛ්‍ය සංවිධානය (World HealthOrganization), සර්ප දෂ්ඨ කිරීම්, නො සලකා හළ, ඝර්ම කලාපීය අනතුරක්‌ (NeglectedTropical Disease) ලෙස නම් කර ඇත.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාව තුළ වසරකට සර්ප දෂ්ඨන 80,000ක්‌ පමණ සිදු වන අතර ඉන් සියයට 50ක්‌ පමණ රෝගීන් ප්‍රතිකාර සඳහා රෝහල්ගත කෙරේ. ඒ අතරින් වසරකට 400ක්‌ පමණ පිරිසකට ජීවිතය අහිමි වේ.

ඝර්ම කලාපීය කෘෂිකාර්මික රට වීම නිසා ලංකාව උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන්ගේ ව්‍යාප්තියට ඉතා සුදුසු දේශගුණයක්‌ සපයයි. විශේෂයෙන් ම ලංකාවේ වියළි කලාපය තුළ උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන්ගේ ගහනය ඉතා අධික ය.

සර්ප දෂ්ඨ කිරීමක්‌ යනු රෝගියාගේ ජීවිතයට හානි විය හැකි ඉතා ඉක්‌මනින් ප්‍රතිකාර කළ යුතු බරපතළ රෝගී තත්ත්වයකි (medical emer-gency). විෂ ශරීරගත වීම ඉක්‌මන් වීම මඟින් කෙටි කාලයක්‌ තුළ රෝග ලක්ෂණ පහළ වීම සිදු වේ. එනිසා සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී හැකි ඉක්‌මනින් රෝගියා රෝහලට රැගෙන ඒම අතිශයින් වැදගත් වේ.

සර්ප ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත

සර්ප ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත (snake antivenom), සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී දෙනු ලබන ප්‍රධානතම ප්‍රතිකාරයයි. ලංකාවේ භාවිත වන සර්ප ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත ලංකාවේ සිටින උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන් හතර දෙනෙකුගේ විෂට එරෙහි ව නිපදවා ඇත. මේ එන්නත ඉන්දියාවේ නිෂ්පාදනය කෙරෙන අතර ඒ සඳහා ඉන්දියාවේ ව්‍යාප්ත ව ඇති සර්පයන්ගේ විෂ යොදාගැනේ. මේ එන්නත ලංකාවේ තෙල් කරවලා, තිත් පොළඟා, වැලි පොළඟා සහ නාගයාගේ දෂ්ඨ කිරීම් සඳහා එන්නත් කෙරේ.

සියලු සර්ප විශේෂ උග්‍ර විෂ නො වන අතර උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන් දෂ්ඨ කළ සියලු රෝගීන්ට විෂ ශරීරගත වීම සිදු නො වේ. එනිසා සර්ප දෂ්ඨ කිරීමට ලක්‌ වූ සියලු රෝගීන්ට ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත ලබා නො දේ. සර්ප විෂ නිසා රෝගියාගේ හටගන්නා රෝග ලක්ෂණ සහ පර්යේෂණාගාර රුධිර පරීක්ෂා (investigations) ප්‍රතිඵල අනුව වෛද්‍යවරු ප්‍රතිවිෂ ලබා දීම නිර්ණය කරති. රෝග ලක්ෂණ පහළ වූ රෝගියකුට ප්‍රතිවිෂ ලබා දීම ප්‍රමාද කිරීම මඟින් රෝගියාගේ අවයව ගණනාවකට දැඩි හානි සිදු වන අතර ප්‍රමාද වී ලබා දෙන ප්‍රතිවිෂවල ප්‍රතිඵල රහිත විය හැකි ය. එනිසා ඉක්‌මනින් රෝග ලක්ෂණ හඳුනාගැනීම සහ ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් කිරීම ඉතා වැදගත් වේ.

දැනට ලංකාවේ භාවිත වන ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත ඉන්දියාවේ නිපදවන බැවින් එය භාවිත කළ හැකි වන්නේ ලංකාවට සහ ඉන්දියාවට පොදු ව්‍යාප්තියක්‌ ඇති සර්පයන් හතර දෙනාට පමණි. එබැවින් ලංකාවේ ව්‍යාප්තියක්‌ ඇති අනෙකුත් විෂ සහිත සර්ප දෂ්ඨන සඳහා නිශ්චිත ප්‍රතිකාර ක්‍රමයක්‌ මෙරට නැත. විශේෂයෙන් ම ලංකාවේ වැඩි ම සර්ප දෂ්ඨන සිදු වන උග්‍ර විෂ කුණකටුවන්ගේ විෂට කිසිදු ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නතක්‌ නොමැත. මෙනිසා වසරකට සැලකිය යුතු රෝගීහු සංඛ්‍යාවක්‌ කුණකටුවන්ගේ විෂ නිසා වකුගඩු ආබාධ සහ රුධිර කැටිගැසීම් පද්ධතියේ බලපෑම් නිසා මරණයට පත් වෙති.

සර්ප ප්‍රතිවිෂ නිෂ්පාදනය සඳහා උග්‍ර විෂ සහිත සර්පයන් ගෙන් ලබාගන්නා විෂ යොදාගැනේ. මේ විෂ කුඩා මාත්‍රා ලෙස අශ්වයන්ට එන්නත් කිරීම සිදු වේ. මෙමඟින් අශ්වයන්ගේ රුධිරය තුළ එන්නත කළ විෂට එරෙහි ව ක්‍රියාත්මක වන ප්‍රතිදේහ (antibodies) සංඝටක නිපදවේ. ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් නිෂ්පාදනයේ දී මේ ප්‍රතිදේහ සංඝටක අශ්ව රුධිරයෙන් වෙන් කරගෙන ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් ලෙසට රෝහල්වල භාවිත කෙරේ.

සර්ප ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත්වල අශ්ව ප්‍රොaටීන අඩංගු බැවින් සහ නිෂ්පාදනයේ දී සිදු වන සමහර අඩුපාඩු නිසා ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් කිරීමෙන් රෝගීන්ට අසාත්මිකතා ( allergies) ඇති විය හැකි ය. ඖෂධ නිසා සිදු වන අසාත්මිකතා අතර ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් මඟින් සිදු වන අසාත්මිකතා සංඛ්‍යාව ඉතා අධික වේ. ඉන් සමහරක්‌ අසාත්මිකතාවන් ඉතා බරපතළ (anaphylaxis) වන අතර එමඟින් ජීවිතයට හානි විය හැකි ය. එනිසා සර්ප ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් එන්නත් කළ යුතු වන්නේ එය අවශ්‍ය ම රෝගීන්ට පමණි.

දැනට ලංකාවේ භාවිත වන ඉන්දියාවේ නිෂ්පාදිත එන්නත නිසා ඉතා විශාල සංඛ්‍යාවකට මේ අසාත්මිකතාවන් හටගනී. මෙයින් සමහරක්‌ අසාත්මිකතාවන් ශරීරයට දැඩි හානි පමුණුවන බරපතළ අසාත්මිකතාවන් වේ. තව ද ලංකාවේ කුණකටුවන්ගේ සහ මුදු කරවලාගේ දෂ්ඨ කිරීම් සඳහා මේ එන්නත ලබා දිය නො හැකි ය. මෙනිසා අසාත්මිකතාවන් ඉතා අඩු, ලංකාවේ සර්ප විෂ නිවැරැදි ව ම නිෂේදනය කළ හැකි (ලංකාවේ සර්ප විෂ යොදා නිෂ්පාදනය කළ), කුණකටුවන්ගේ විෂ නිෂේධනය කළ හැකි එන්නතක අවශ්‍යතාව ඉතා වැදගත් වේ. එසේ නො වේ නම් ප්‍රතිවිෂ එන්නත් නිසා හටගන්නා අසාත්මිකතාවන් නිසා ජීවිත හානි විය හැකි ය. කුණකටුවන්ගේ විෂ සඳහා එන්නතක්‌ තිබීම මඟින් කුණකටුවන්ගේ දෂ්ඨ කිරීම් නිසා සිදු වන සියලු මරණ වළක්‌වාගත හැකි ය.

කෘෂිකාර්මික රටක්‌ වීම, උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන්ගේ අධික ඝනත්වය, සර්පයන් සමග නිතර ගැටීම සහ ප්‍රතිකාර ක්‍රමවල අඩුපාඩු නිසා ලංකාවේ සර්ප දෂ්ඨ කිරීම් නිසා සිදු වන මරණ වළක්‌වාගැනීම අසීරු කටයුත්තක්‌ වී ඇත.

ප්‍රතිවිෂෙහි ගුණාත්මක බව සහ රෝහලේ දී ලැබෙන ප්‍රතිකාරවලට අමතර ව රෝගීන්ගේ දායකත්වය මේ මරණ අඩු කිරීම සඳහා අතිශයින් වැදගත් වේ. දෂ්ඨ කළ සර්පයා රෝහලට රැගෙන ඒම අවශ්‍ය නො වන අතර එමඟින් ලැබෙන ප්‍රතිකාරවල කිසිදු ප්‍රමාදයක්‌ සිදු නො වේ. රෝගියාගේ රෝග ලක්ෂණ මඟින් දෂ්ඨ කළ සර්පයා නිර්ණය කිරීම වෛද්‍යවරුන්ට හැකියාව ඇත.

සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීම සඳහා නව වෙබ් අඩවියක්‌

දුටු තැන සර්පයන් මරා දැමීම ලංකාවේ බොහෝ දෙනකුගේ පුරුද්දක්‌ වී ඇත. බොහෝ විෂ රහිත සර්පයන්, උග්‍ර විෂ සර්පයන් සේ සලකා බියට පත් ව මරා දැමීම සිදු වේ. මූලික ගණනයන්ට අනුව දිනකට ලංකාවේ 10,000කට අධික සර්පයන් සංඛ්‍යාවක්‌ මරා දැමෙන බව අනුමාන කළ හැකි ය. විෂ සර්පයන් වෙන් කර හඳුනාගැනීමේ ඇති නො හැකියාව මෙයට ප්‍රධාන ව ම හේතු වී ඇත. සමහර විෂ රහිත සර්පයන් ලංකාවට ආවේණික දුර්ලභ සර්පයන් වන අතර මිනිසාගේ ක්‍රියාකාරකම් නිසා මේ දුර්ලභ විශේෂ වඳ වීමේ තර්ජනයට ලක්‌ ව ඇත.

සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීමේ ඇති නො හැකියාව මඟහැරවීම සඳහා නව වෙබ් අඩවියක්‌ පේරාදෙණිය විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයයේ පර්යේෂකයන් පිරිසක්‌ හඳුන්වා දී ඇත. මෙමඟින් ඕනෑ ම කෙනකුට තමන් දුටු සර්පයාගේ ඡායාරූපයක්‌ සහ අදාළ තොරතුරු කීපය වෙබ් අඩවිය හරහා යොමු කළ හැකි ය. සර්පයාගේ හඳුනාගැනීම සහ විෂෙහි ප්‍රබලතාව පිළිබඳ තොරතුරු කෙටි කාලයකින් නැවත අදාළ පුද්ගලයාට දැනුම් දීම මේ වෙබ් අඩවිය හරහා සිදු වේ. මීට අමතර ව ලංකාවේ සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීම ගැන සියලු දැනුම මේ වෙබ් අඩවිය තුළ  ඇතුළත් වේ.

සර්පයන් සමඟ ගැටෙන විශාල සංඛ්‍යාවක්‌ මේ වෙබ් අඩවිය හරහා දිනපතා තමාට හමු වන සර්පයන් නිවැරැදි ව හඳුනාගැනීම සිදු කෙරේ. මේ අතර, රෝහල්වල වෛද්‍යවරුන්, අනෙකුත් සේවකයන්, පරිසර හිතකාමීන් විශේෂ වේ.

ලංකාවේ සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීම, සර්ප විෂ, රෝග ලක්ෂණ හටගැනීම, ප්‍රථමාධාර ක්‍රම, ප්‍රතිකර්ම ක්‍රම, සර්ප දෂ්ඨන වැළැක්‌වීම සහ සර්පයන් සංරක්ෂණය ගැන නිවැරැදි දැනුම බොහෝ ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් හට අඩුපාඩුවක්‌ ව පවතී. මේ දැනුම සහිත පොතපත ඉතා අල්ප ය. නවතම දැනුම තවමත් පොත්වලට ලියවී නැත. බොහෝ කරුණු දැනට පවතින්නේ පර්යේෂණ පත්‍රිකා ලෙස වීම මේ සඳහා හේතු වී ඇත. මේ අඩුපාඩුව මඟහැරවීම සඳහා නවතම දේශන මාලාවක්‌ නිෂ්පාදනය කර ඇත. මේ දේශන මාලාව යූටියුබ් (Youtube) හරහා Snakebites (The whole story ලෙසට ටයිප් කිරීමෙන් නැරඹිය හැකි ය. රූප සහිත දේශන නවයකින් සමන්විත මේ වැඩසටහන මඟින් ලංකාවේ සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීම, සර්ප විෂ ආශ්‍රිත රෝග ලක්ෂණ, සර්ප ප්‍රතිවිෂ, ප්‍රථමාධාර, සර්ප දෂ්ඨන වැළැක්‌වීම සහ ලංකාවේ සර්පයන් සංරක්ෂණය ගැන නවතම තොරතුරු ලබාගත හැකි ය. ඉහත සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීමේ වෙබ් අඩවිය සහ දේශන මාලාව පේරාදෙණිය විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයයේ, වෛද්‍ය පීඨයේ මහාචාර්ය කලන මාදුවගේ මහතා විසින් හඳුන්වා දී පවත්වාගෙන යනු ලබන අතර වෛද්‍ය භාග්‍යා නිකපිටිය, සජිත් තිලකරත්න, ආසිරි සෙනවිරත්න සහ වෛද්‍ය ශිෂ්‍ය පරාක්‍රම කරුණාතිලක මේ සඳහා සක්‍රිය සහයෝගය ලබා දී ඇත.

වසරකට ලංකාවේ 400කට අධික පිරිසක්‌ සර්ප දෂ්ඨ කිරීම් නිසා මිය යන නමුත් මේ සියල්ල වළක්‌වාගත හැකි අනතුරු වේ. මේ සඳහා වෛද්‍යවරුන්, පර්යේෂකයන්, සෞඛ්‍ය බලධාරීන් මෙන් ම රටේ සියලු පුරවැසියන් තම යුතුකම් නිසි ලෙස ඉටු කළ යුතු වේ. මේ සඳහා ඉහත සියලු පාර්ශ්වයන්ට අවශ්‍ය දැනුම සහ වුවමනාව තිබිය යුතු ය. ලංකාවේ සර්ප දෂ්ඨන ගැන දැනුම, අවබෝධය සහ නිවැරැදි ආකල්ප වර්ධනය මෙහි පළමු පියවර වේ. මේ ලිපියේ ඇතුළත් මූලික දැනුම සහ සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීමේ වෙබ් අඩවිය ( සහ (Snake-bites ( The whole story) දේශන මාලාව මේ සඳහා තැබූ වැදගත් පියවරක්‌ වේ. සර්ප දෂ්ඨන ගැන දැනුම සහ ආකල්ප වර්ධනය මිනිස්‌ – සර්ප ගැටුමේ අවසානය ඉක්‌මන් වන අතිශයින් වැදගත් තීරණාත්මක පියවරක්‌ වනු ඇත.

සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී දිය යුතු ප්‍රථමාධාර

1. මූලික ජීවිතාරක්ෂක ප්‍රථමාධාරය කෘත්‍රිම ශ්වසනය ලබා දීම හෝ අර්ධ සම්බාහනය විය හැකි ය.

2. රෝගියාගේ බිය නැති කිරීම (මෙමඟින් රුධිර සංසරණ පද්ධතියේ වේගය සහ පීඩනය අඩු වී විෂ ශරීරගත වීම ප්‍රමාද වේ).

3. රෝගියා ශාරීරික වශයෙන් විවේකී ව තැබීම.

4. දෂ්ඨ කළ ස්‌ථානය සබන් යොදා හෝ නො යොදා ගලා යන ජලයෙන් සේදීම සහ පිටතින් සැරහුමක්‌ යෙදීම.

5. දෂ්ඨ කිරීමට ලක්‌ වූ බාහුව හැකි තරම් නො සොල්වා තැබීම.

6. වේදනාව සඳහා අවශ්‍ය නම් පැරසිටමෝල් ලබා දීම.

7. පැළඳ සිටින වළලු, මුදු සහ ඔරලෝසු ආදිය ඉවත් කිරීම.

8. හැකි ඉක්‌මනින් රෝගියා විඩාවට පත් නො කර ළඟ ම ඇති රෝහලට රැගෙන ඒම.


 සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී කළ යුතු දේ

සමහර රෝගීහු සර්ප දෂ්ඨ කිරීම බරපතළ නො වන සේ සලකා ප්‍රතිකාර ගැනීම ප්‍රමාද කරති. තවත් සමහර රෝගීහු අනුමත කළ නො හැකි, රෝග ලක්ෂණ සහ විෂ ශරීරගත වීම ඉක්‌මන් කෙරන ප්‍රථමාධාර ක්‍රම සඳහා යොමු වෙති. මෙනිසා සර්ප දෂ්ඨ කිරීමක දී කළ යුතු සහ නො කළ යුතු ප්‍රථමාධාර ක්‍රම ගැන සියලු ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් දැන සිටීම වැදගත් වේ. එයට හේතුව ශ්‍රී ලාංකික සියලු දෙනාට ම කෙදිනක හෝ සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක්‌ සිදු වීමේ විශාල සම්භාවිතාවක්‌ පැවතීමයි. විශේෂයන් ම වියළි කලාපයේ ජීවත් වන, කෘෂිකාර්මික ජනතාව තුළ විෂ සහිත සර්පයන් හඳුනාගැනීම, ප්‍රතිකාර ක්‍රම සහ නිවැරැදි ප්‍රතිකාර ක්‍රම ගැන හොඳ දැනුමක්‌ තිබීම අත්‍යවශ්‍ය වේ. මේ ජීවිතාරක්ෂක දැනුම කෙනකුගේ ජීවිතය බේරා ගැනීමට කෙදිනක හෝ උපකාර වේ. එනිසා මේ දැනුම පාසල් පෙළපොත විෂය නිර්දේශයන්ට ඇතුළත් කිරීම කාලෝචිත වේ.

සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී නො කළ යුතු දේ ගැන වැඩි සැලකිල්ලක්‌ දැක්‌විය යුතු ය. මන්ද, වැරැදි ප්‍රථමාධාර නිසා විෂ ශරීරගත වීම ඉක්‌මන් වී රෝගියා මිය යා හැකි බැවිනි.

 සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී නො කළ යුතු දේ

1. රෝගියා බියට පත් කිරීම සහ කලබලයට පත් කිරීම.

2. රෝගියා ඇවිදවීම සහ වෙහෙසට පත් කිරීම.

3. දෂ්ඨ කළ ස්‌ථානයට ඉහළින් තදින් වෙළුම් පටියකින් ගැටගැසීම.

4. දෂ්ඨ කළ ස්‌ථානය කැපීම, විෂ ඉරීම සහ අනෙකුත් ඖෂධ ගැල්වීම.

5. වෛද්‍ය උපදෙස්‌ නොමැති ව වෙනත් ඖෂධ ලබා දීම.

6. මත්පැන් පානය කරවීම.

7. තැඹිලි වතුර සහ වෙනත් පලතුරු යුෂ පානය කරවීම.

8. දෂ්ඨ කළ ස්‌ථානයේ කොන්ඩිස්‌ ගැල්වීම.

9. ශ්වසන පද්ධතියට විවිධ ඖෂධ දමා නස්‌න කිරීම.

නිවැරැදි ප්‍රථමාධාර දීමේ අරමුණ වන්නේ ප්‍රථමාධාර මඟින් කිසිදු හානියක්‌ සිදු නො කිරීම, විෂ ශරීරගත වීම ප්‍රමාද කිරීම, රෝග ලක්ෂණ හටගැනීම ප්‍රමාද කිරීම සහ රෝහලකට රැගෙන යන තෙක්‌ රෝගියාගේ ජීවිතය රැකගැනීමයි. ඒ නිසා අවබෝධයෙන් තොර ව ප්‍රථමාධාර ලබා නො දීම සර්ප දෂ්ඨනයක දී ඉතා වැදගත් වේ.

මාලක රොඩ්‍රිගෝ


Expect thousands of ‘dual citizens’ at election time

November 3, 2019 published on 20.10.2019 on SundayTimes

While the dual citizenship of presidential election candidates has been a hotly-debated topic in the political arena, it is expected that thousands of other “dual citizens” will be in Sri Lanka by election day in November.

Exhausted Indian Pitta found fallen on 28.10.2018. Pix by Sarath N. Senanayake

Some of them are eligible for European passports while others come from Asian countries.

None, however, will come through immigration channels, and they do not care at all about the political drama in Sri Lanka.

These dual citizens are migratory birds that come here annually from northern countries at this time.

About 2,500 of the 10,000 world bird species engage in long-distance migration as a response to changing weather and the availability of food, spending their life in different countries.

Nearly half – 245 species – of the 508 bird species recorded in Sri Lanka are migratory and generally begin arriving in late August, staying on here until about March-April next year before returning to their country of origin to breed.

“As the main steps of the migratory routine are predictable and move in a rhythm, bird migration can be considered to be like a ballet dance – in fact, bird migration could be called the greatest dance in the world,” ornithology expert Dr. Sampath Seneviratne told the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society this week.

A helping hand for the Indian Pitta

“Birds that breed in European countries such as Russia, and in Asian countries such as China, Mongolia, Afghanistan and India, migrate to Sri Lanka.

“We need more research on migratory patterns as there is a lot to unravel,” said Dr. Seneviratne, President of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) and a senior lecturer at the University of Colombo.

Historically, migrating birds are believed to have arrived in Sri Lanka along three main routes to Sri Lanka, using designated pathways. This view was based on observations carried out in colonial times.

“It is time to have more advanced research to link the dots with the use of new technologies,” said Dr. Seneviratne.

The traditional method of researching migration is carried out with the use of rings fixed on birds’ legs.

If a bird with a ring fixed by ornithologists in one country is found in another country it acts as proof of presence of the bird at two locations.
Science has led to improvements in tracking. The new trend is “geo-tagging”, in which scientists place a satellite tag on a bird. The tag emits signals that pinpoint the bird’s location.

Dr. Seneviratne said satellite tracking by India has led to findings that contradict traditional knowledge of the main routes used by birds migrating to Sri Lanka.

“Geo-tagging is expensive, so we can’t do it in Sri Lanka at this point,” he added.

A national bird-ringing program carried out by FOGSL and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) under Professor Sarath Kotagama has revealed interesting patterns such as the same birds migrating annually to the same site – sometimes to the same plots – in a pattern used by their ancestors.

“Some people believe the ringing process puts birds in danger. But this is a myth and it is perfectly safe, and I’m bit disappointed when I hear such allegations,” the FOGSL President said.

“We need science, and without understanding birds, their behaviour and their migratory patterns it is not possible to conserve them.”

About an hour later the bird had revived












Experts assess Sri Lankan species for Global Red List

November 3, 2019 published on SundayTimes on 29.09.2019

Sri Lanka’s reptile experts gathered last week to assess the latest threat levels facing the country’s lizards and snakes.

The group of experts that participated at the recent workshop

During a six-day workshop at the Simpson’s Forest Hotel, they used some of the modern techniques to assess the threat levels these species have been exposed to, says Dr. Anslem de Silva, one of the organisers of the workshop, which also drew several foreign experts.

Sri Lanka is one of the global biodiversity hotspots (along with India’s Western Ghats), particularly for its high endemism of having creatures and plants that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

But many of these species are threatened with extinction due to different reasons and the first step to protect them lies on understanding the threat levels to prioritise conservation actions.

The experts used the criteria accepted by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to assess the threat levels and list them in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The list devised in 1964 is also known as the ‘Red List’.

The IUCN Red List classifies species into nine categories based on assessments such as the rate of decline, the population size and the area of distribution. On the IUCN Red List, the term “threatened” embraces the categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable. When no living trace can be found of a species, it is categorised as “extinct”.

While the global Red List explains the threat level on a global scale, most countries have their own Red Lists based on threat levels assessed nationally. Sri Lanka published its last National Red List on 2012, but the criteria used in assessing the threat levels were slightly different.

Technically, a standard assessment is required to go into the global red list.

Dr. Simon Stuart, the former Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC)

Dr. Anslem de Silva

However, during the workshop, the standard method was adopted to assess the threat levels Sri Lanka’s lizards and snakes faced, said Dr. de Silva, who was recently honored as ‘Father of modern herpetology’.

He organised the workshop with the assistance of Dr. Kanishka Ukuwela and Sameera Karunarathne. The assessment was driven by the Zoo Outreach Organisation and some of the world’s well-known scientists proficient in IUCN Red Listing. They included Dr. Sanjay Molur, Dr. Neil Ashley Cox, Marcelo Fabio Tognelli, Philip Michael Bowles and Claudine Gibson. The latter had specifically visited Sri Lanka for the assessment.

Almost all the Sri Lanka experts working on reptiles were present at this workshop. Speaking to the Sunday Times, herpetologist Mendis Wickremasinghe said this kind of assessment was important as there was an extinction crisis Sri Lanka’s reptiles faced. The checklist of reptiles consists of 155 species in 1993 but by 2012, it grew upto 211, with half of them endemic to Sri Lanka. It keeps on ticking. However, due to habitat loss and other key reasons, Sri Lanka’s reptiles are becoming rarer.

The final report being co-authored by all the resource persons will be an important document in conserving Sri Lanka’s reptiles, Dr. de Silva said.
The Sunday Times also learns that a similar red listing assessment had been completed for Sri Lanka’s freshwater fish. The freshwater fish study was conducted a few months ago by the IUCN country office.

IUCN Sri Lanka’s Senior programme officer (biodiversity) Sampath Goonatilake said the assessment would appear on the global red list web portal in December. “It is really important to update the threat levels of species as this is the global inventory for conservation actions,” he said.

Meanwhile, experts are also getting ready to conduct a similar assessment for Sri Lanka’s amphibians to update their status on the Global Red List of Threatened Species. This was revealed at a speech by Dr. Simon Stuart, the former Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC).

The speech was organised by Dilmah Conservation that is assisting the assessment process. The Sunday Times learns that the Amphibian Workshop will be held towards end of this year.

“The world’s species extinction crisis is getting worse. There are 1.8 million described species live on Earth and about 100,000 of them are assessed for the Red List. Of them, about 27,000 are threatened – this is closer to one third of the species – so the picture is not seemingly good,” Dr.Stuart said, pointing out that 941 species were already ‘extinct’ or ‘extinct in the wild’ — surviving only in captivity. “While we need to do more, if we stop conservation, this extinction crisis would be 7-8 times worse, the expert warned.

There were some conservation problems that we could not easily fix, but not all were negative, he said, giving examples where some species started to bounce back from the edge of extinction. Giant Pandas, Californian condors, Indian rhinos and Humb-back whales are few of such examples.

Sri Lanka produced a number of country-specific national red lists, with the last red list being published in 2012. The next one is scheduled to be published after five years.

Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Secretariat Chief Padma Abeykoon said they would be able to publish the flora section of the Red List assessing national threat levels of plants, herbs and trees. She said that due to a number of issues, the fauna section would not be able to completed this year.

Beautiful colouration: Ornate flying snake and green pit viper. Pic by Ruchira Somaweera

Study will help protect anteater targeted by smugglers

November 3, 2019 published on SUndayTimes on 03.11.2019

Dr. Priyan Perera

A new study has taken the first step in Sri Lanka to shed light on an elusive, solitary mammal that is the world’s most trafficked mammal.

Last year, a live pangolin was rescued from a freezer in Chinese restaurant in Colombo, and the year before that, attempts to smuggle 130kg of pangolin scales that could have come from some 150 animals were found in Kalpitiya.

Pangolins are in high demand in East Asia and there are fears that, particularly with the large Chinese workforce in Sri Lanka, local pangolins are being increasingly targeted for flesh and scales rather than for low-level consumption as bushmeat by local communities.

The pangolin is one of the least studied mammals: there is very little data about their distribution, population or threats. Until now, our information mainly came from a 40-year-old report by W. Phillips.

To fill this void, an islandwide survey by researchers of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura resulted in a paper published last week that shows where these animals live and what threats they face.

Researcher Dr. Priyan Perera said the survey commenced in 2013 with a team conducting interviews with officers of Department of Wildlife Conservation villagers and even a few possible poachers.

The research team also reviewed records of rescued or dead pangolins stored in field offices of the wildlife department records of confiscations by the Department of Customs.

The pangolin is one of the least studied mammals

There are eight pangolin species in the world. The Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), is the species found in Sri Lanka, where it is known as “kebellawa” or “eya” in Sinhala and “alangu” in Tamil.

Pangolins are known as “scaly anteaters” because of the keratinised plate-like protective scales covering much of their bodies, and their highly specialised diet, which predominantly consists of ants and termites.

They coil into a ball when threatened and their scaly body armour usually protects them from the teeth and claws of jungle predators – but not from humans.

Pangolin scales are used in traditional Chinese “medicines” and this demand has created an illegal wildlife trade around the world.

Because of this, of the four Asiatic species, two are “critically endangered” and the other two are “endangered” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“The over-exploitation of Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) and Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) populations in Asia has led to an increase in the hunting of Indian pangolins in India and Pakistan,” Dr. Perera said. Smugglers now threaten Sri Lanka’s pangolin population, he warned.   There have been reported cases of pangolin meat offered for sale in restaurants, especially for Asian workers employed in megadevelopment projects in the country.

“Sri Lanka needs to be vigilant and stop the illegal international trade in pangolin parts before it is too late,” Dr. Perera said.

The study shows the highest number of wildlife crimes related to pangolins was recorded from the Anuradhapura District (13.54 per cent), followed by Polonnaruwa (12.50 per cent), Hambantota (10.42 per cent), Moneragala (9.38 per cent) and Kalutara (8.33 per cent).

The main exploitation threats facing Indian pangolins are hunting for subsistence (47.4 per cent), hunting for bushmeat (27.8 per cent), incidental capture in traps intended for pests (11.3 per cent), hunting for scales (6.2 per cent) and trading of live animals for meat (6.2 per cent).

The study shows pangolins can be found in all parts of the country, up to an elevation of 1850m, mainly in the north-west (Kurunegala and Puttalam districts), the Anuradhapura district and the south-west lowlands and south-east (Hambantota and Monaragala districts).

Pangolins are nocturnal animals and they sleep during the day in burrows, hollows or dens. They are solitary mammals, seldom seen in groups.

They usually give birth to one offspring, on rare occasions, two. The female carries its newborn on its tail. They are caring mothers that coil their bodies around their babies if a threat arises.

Researchers stress this study has important implications in national and global conservation planning of the species.

Call to protect native beauties: alarm over declining Orchid populations

October 13, 2019 published on 13.10.2019

The Anuradhapura orchid – Vanda Tessellata — is Sri Lanka’s most heavily traded indigenous orchid species but over the past two decades its population has been on the decline, an expert has raised alarm.

A rare color variety of Anuradhapura Orchid (c) Samantha Gunasekera

Vanda Tessellata is an indigenous orchid species found in the dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. As it has many colour variations, it is attractive and more prone to collection. Most of Sri Lanka’s orchids are spread in the wet and montane zones, but the Anuradhapura orchid grows in Sri Lanka’s dry zone and intermediate zone.“This orchid type is popular and their different colourations make them attractive. So, there is considerably a large demand for the flowers in the local and the export market. But the Vanda Tessellata population has heavily declined in the past 20 years due to the high demand and the lack of adequate conservation measures,” says the expert, Samantha Gunasekera, who was once the head of Sri Lanka Customs’ Biodiversity Protection Unit.

Like other orchids, the Anuradhapura orchid is also protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance and included in the Vulnerable (VU) category on the National Red List. However, the law enforcement regarding the species is very poor, laments Mr. Gunasekera.

He revealed that although Customs had busted only attempts so far to smuggle the Vanda Tessellata plant out of the country, with one of the detections being made by the Forest Conservation Department. He said seven illegal local sale sites had been raided and two local suppliers of Vanda Tessellata had been identified through their surveys.

Mr. Gunasekera revealed these facts at an event organised by the Orchid Circle of Ceylon at the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) auditorium last month to celebrate its 85th anniversary. Established in 1934, the Orchid Circle of Ceylon (OCC) is the oldest organisation of its kind in Sri Lanka and the second in the world after the American Orchid Society. The Circle has a prestigious past with the founder President of the Orchid Circle of Ceylon being none other than Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister, D.S. Senanayake.

“Sri Lanka has lots of orchid lovers, so we revived the Orchid Circle of Ceylon to encourage more people to take the hobby right way. We are happy about the response we received for our society’s 85th Anniversary,” OCC secretary Dr. Uditha Herath said. The event was also associated with an orchid show that displayed some rare orchids.

The event’s Chief Guest, Prof. Surawit Wannakrairoj from Thailand, delivering a lecture on the fertilizer use in orchid cultivation, pointed out that in Sri Lanka the fertilizer usage was high. Orchid expert Ajantha Palihawadana delivered a speech on conservation of wild orchids.

Orchid Circle of Ceylon organized an orchid show last month

Sri Lanka is home to some 192 orchid species belonging to 78 categories and more than half of them are threatened according to the National Red List of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka 2012. Habitat loss remains the biggest issue for Orchid species with pollution, invasive species also contributing to their decline.

The direct exploitation where some of these orchids are fetched out from their habitat has been a bigger issue for a number of orchids, said Dr. Suranjan Fernando in the the 2012 National Red List publication. Those orchids commonly collected for their beautiful flowers include Phaius Wallichii (Star Orchid), Dendrobium Maccarthiae (Vesak Orchid), Rhynchostylis Retusa (Fox Tail), and Vanda Tessellata.

Habenaria Crinifera (Naarilatha), Ipsea Speciosa (Nagamaru Ala), Anoectochilus Spp (Wanaraja), Zeuxine spp (Iruraja) are removed from the wild for medicinal purposes and for various rituals associated with mythological beliefs, according to Dr.Fernando.

Many showy orchids like Vesak orchid (Dendrobium maccarthiae) are collected for their flowers (c) Bushana Kalhara


Young researchers explain sights and sounds of Lankan bats

October 13, 2019 published on SundayTimes on 13.10.2019

As fans celebrated well-loved cartoon character Batman’s 80th birthday worldwide, two young Sri Lankan researchers say bats are master pathfinders and get at their prey by using echolocation which involves emitting sound and then analysing the reflected sonar signal captured through special sensors.

The Sunday Times met the two researchers at the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation’s Asia Pacific chapter (ATBC-AP) conference which was concluded recently in Thulhiriya.

“Different bat species emit signals with different frequencies in echolocation and these can be used to identify them in the field,” said Tharaka Kusuminda whose trailblazing research has led him to decipher the patterns of the Painted Bat’s call.

He said it was the first time that the Painted Bat’s eco-sounding had been deciphered and the second occasion that such a method had been used in the world. “Previously we needed to have visual evidence or need to catch the bat to find out conclusively whether a species is presence in one location. But we can now record the bat sounds in any area in Sri Lanka and can find out the presence of the Painted Bat in those locations by analysing bat sounds” said Mr. Kusuminda.

Gayan Mithra Edirisinghe

Explaining that this technique was increasingly being used to monitor distribution of bats around the world, Mr. Kusuminda said his team had also deciphered the patterns of echolocation of other Sri Lankan bats and was continuing to do so for other species.

Sri Lanka is home to 31 species of bats. Most bats being insectivorous feed on insects. There are also four species of fruit bats. A majority of bats – especially the insectivorous bats, use ecolocation techniques to navigate, said Mr. Kusuminda.

The painted bat (Kerivoula picta) — with an orange head and orange markings on its wings — is probably the most beautiful bat species in Sri Lanka. Painted bats prefer to make dried banana leaves their hideouts and come out in the evening. They seem to be having a good distribution in Sri Lanka. The lack of confirmed records had been a major drawback in establishing their distribution, but the new technique would be helpful to map their distribution, Mr. Kusuminda said.

It is only a few years ago that the 31st bat species in Sri Lanka was discovered by bat researcher Gayan Mithra Edirisinghe. It was a chance encounter.

The Painted Bat sometimes found in home gardens as well

“While studying bats in Maduru Oya area, we came across a roadkill. A bat had hit a speeding vehicle and had been crushed by its wheels. As its characters were different from other known bats, we carried out further studies. The research showed that it had features similar to an East Asian bat species called Phoniscus jagorii. So the new species was named as Phoniscus cf. jagorii. The ‘cf’ — meaning ‘closer to’ — was added to the name, since science needs more studies to distinguish them as a separate species.

The species has even been assessed for an inclusion in the upcoming Red List of threatened fauna. Mr. Edirisinghe said he was confident that this particular bat was a new species. But he said more research was required to establish this.

In an average home garden, a number of bat species can be observed. “Of the 31 bat species, only four feeds on fruits while the others are insectivorous. The insectivorous bats particularly feed on harmful insects. They consume a large number of mosquitoes in one night; so they are actually our friends’ Mr. Ediriweera said.


The Painted Bat – the most beautiful bat in Sri Lanka

Tharaka Kusuminda studying a bat speciman

Lanka’s biodiversity a global heritage: Asia-Pacific scientists urge Govt. to intensify conservation efforts

October 8, 2019 published on SundayTimes on 22.09.2019 

Tropical biologists and conservation scientists representing 29 countries have appealed to the Sri Lankan government to redouble its efforts to protect the country’s unique biodiversity which they describe as a global heritage.

Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke

The tropical biologists and scientists were in Sri Lanka to attend the four-day global forum of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation Asia-Pacific (ATBC-AP).

Sri Lanka is home to more than 8,600 plant and animal species, of which more than 1,600 are endemic to the island.

In their appeal, the experts call for the setting up of ecological corridors to link fragmented biodiversity-rich habitats, especially in Sri Lanka’s wet zone, the incorporation of the valuation of ecosystem services into Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and increased efforts to conserve the biodiversity in the Mannar region.

About 350 participants from 29 countries attended Conference held at the MAS Athena complex in Thulhiriya from September 10 to 13. Their appeal and recommendations were included in a end-of-summit communiqué which they called the Thulhiriya Declaration.

Established in 1963, the ATBC is one of the largest international scientific and professional organisations engaged in promoting research, education, capacity building and communication regarding the world’s tropical ecosystems. ATBC’s Asia Pacific Chapter was established in 2007 and the Thulhiriya conference was their 12th annual gathering.

The conference was inaugurated by President Maithripala Sirisena by planting an Atamba (Wild Mango) tree at the MAS Athena premises.
Addressing the gathering, the President said the tropical countries like Sri Lanka faced an imminent threat to biodiversity in the face of climate change, accelerated development efforts and population growth. He said it was important that scientists find ways address the problems by striking a balance.

The event’s co-chair, Dr. Sampath Seneviratne, justifying the decision to invite a political leader to inaugurate a conference on science, said: “We can discuss science within our own academic circles, but we need to take this knowledge beyond these walls toward policy level to make a real impact on conservation. That is one of the main reasons of getting the president of the country to inaugurate the ATBC-AP conference.”

To sustain the momentum of the conference, the organisers established the Sri Lanka Ecological Association (SLEA), a professional body, with the aim of providing advisory services to the Sri Lankan Government, the private sector and other stakeholders.

Adding some diplomatic lifelines to the science forum were French ambassador Eric Lavertu and Indian High Commission diplomat Sanjana Arya.

ATBC global President Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz

During the three-day conference, about 30 symposia were conducted through five parallel sessions where as many as 200 papers were presented.

Seven eminent local and international scientists delivered keynote addresses.

Before the conference was convened, several workshops covering technical subjects were conducted followed by research-oriented field tours.

ATBC-AP chairperson Dr. Enoka Kudawidanage said the conference offered opportunities for scientists and practitioners to gain new insights and knowledge while acquiring skills to contribute towards capacity building within the Asia-Pacific region.

“As there were foreign scientists with number of them eminent experts in their fields, the event had been particularly an opportunity for participants to get networking, collaboration and learning” said Dr. Kudawidanage, who was also elected as the Secretary of the ATBC-AP chapter for the coming year.

Professor Nimal Gunatilleke, the co-chair of the Scientific Committee of the conference, said Sri Lanka and India’s Western Ghatts were collectively considered as one of the global biodiversity hotspots, and therefore, the collaborative opportunities the event created were enormous.

India was represented by a contingent of about 60 scientists.

ATBC-AP chairperson Dr. Enoka Kudawidanage

The tropical region is the area near the equator and between the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. The tropics comprise 40 percent of the Earth’s surface area; but have diverse habitats ranging from rainforests to deserts and from savannahs to mangroves. With most biodiversity hotspots spread in the area, the tropical zone is home to 80 percent of the earth’s species. But with India and China making up a part of the tropical regions, it is expected that the two countries would harbour half of the human population by 2030 causing huge pressure on natural ecosystems.

The conference became a forum for local researchers to meet experts from the Asia and Pacific region. Dr. Kanishka Ukuwela, who conducted a research on skinks in Sri Lanka, met an Indian scientist who is researching on skinks of India. “In this age of communication, we could collaborate through different means of technology – but it is not like sharing the research interests talking on a live chat face to face,” said Dr. Ukuwela after having a friendly skinky chat with his Indian counterparts.

ATBC global President Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz of the University of Nottingham told the Sunday Times that ATBC-AP were happy to be here in Sri Lanka, pointing out that there was a good diversity of delegates from different institutes and disciplines.

“Sri Lanka has a big role in tropical ecology and produced some of the eminent researchers such as Prof. Savithri Gunathilleke,” he said.

In 2016, Prof. Savithri Gunathilleke was honored as an ATBC Honorary Fellow – an award given to researchers who have provided life-long distinguished service to science and tropical biology.