Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

A butterfly guide this season to inspire time with nature

December 13, 2015

Butterfly watching – also called butterflying – involves the observation and study of butterflies. With the main aim of popularising interest among the public, the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka (BCSSL) will be launching the photographic guide ‘Field Guide to Butterflies of Sri Lanka’ that has more than 600 photos and illustrations of all of the 247 butterflies of Sri Lanka including the 26 endemics.

The guide is authored by a trio of young butterfly enthusiasts Himesh Jayasinghe, Sarath Sanjeewa Rajapakse and Chamitha de Alwis. Writing the foreword, butterfly expert Dr. Michael van der Poorten says he is impressed with the authors’ scientific field skills.

He introduces the young trio as butterfly researchers who understand the importance of careful observation, recording accurate field notes and making the proper identification. The guide is also a compilation of 15 years of field research by authors.

Through the photographs, the authors help even an amateur to distinguish butterflies from many different angles. The photos also show behaviour and living habitat of each species in most instances. “Some butterflies feed on fruits, some others on odd foods like bird droppings. Some butterflies perch at the bottom of leaves – We carefully handpicked the best photos that helps anybody to identify butterflies,” said Jayasinghe.

In 2013 the authors together with other butterfly enthusiasts formed the Butterfly Conservation Society, the first such organization in Sri Lanka aimed at studying butterflies and moths. They used different media to reach out to butterfly enthusiasts in the country and conducted several field studies on butterflies with previously unknown information about butterflies, their distribution, their larvae, host plants and feeding. The second edition of the pocket guide will be richer in content and not be a reprint of the first edition published in 2013 say the authors.

The publisher– the Butterfly Conservation Society is still a young organisation but its membership is growing steadily. Most importantly, the members are very active in the field. They meet every last Saturday of the month at the University of Colombo to share their knowledge and listen to a lecture on butterflies. Field visits are organised regularly. The only qualification to join the society is an interest in butterflies!

The Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Sri Lanka – second edition will be launched on Saturday, December 19 at 4 p.m. at the Meteorological Department Auditorium, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7.

The guide will be available at a special price of Rs.1500 at the launch. The Butterfly Conservation Society can be reached on 0718181225 or for queries on the book and membership.

published on SundayTimes on

Butterfly Pocket Guide - await pupation Butterfly Pocket Guide Cover front Butterfly Pocket Guide 2 Butterfly Pocket Guide 4

Repertoire: Animals in action and more

October 29, 2015
A pictorial gateway to Sri Lanka’s nature to be launched 

The word Repertoire is defined as “a stock of plays or dances that a performer knows or is prepared to perform”. Be it a male Jungle fowl flapping its wings to mark its territory, a mongoose jumping just a split second before the lethal fangs of a cobra attack it or bats navigating through dark caves with pinpoint accuracy – Sri Lanka’s wilderness is full of such displays.

The Repertoire – wildlife photography exhibition and coffee-table book to be launched this week showcases many such performances.

Repertoire is the collection of photographs taken by wildlife veteran, Mendis Wickramasinghe. “The majority of the photos of Repertoire focus on activities or behaviours of animals.

The rest captures portraits and photos with artistic values,” he says.

A well-known herpetologist, L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe is a familiar name to nature lovers as he is credited with the discovery of 21 new species (geckos, skinks, snakes and amphibians), also re-discovering several species of amphibians believed to have been extinct. His passion for photography is relatively recent. “My initial photography was limited to scientific purposes. But looking at others’ wildlife photographs, I’ve started getting fresh ideas about photography,” he says.

Endemic layards parakeet fighting an intruding Mynah

Endemic layards parakeet fighting an intruding Mynah

Most of the photos in Repertoire involve days of planning, he says pointing at a photo of an endemic Layard’s Parakeet and a Common Mynah. Both birds nested in tree holes of the same tree trunk, but the Mynah didn’t allow the Layard’s Parakeet to settle. “I observed this fighting behaviour for one and half weeks and spent two days waiting in the rain to take the right moment of their mid-air fight,” he said.

Capturing shots of shy animals needs more planning. Setting up his camera and clicking remotely is a special technique that he employs. “The photo of an Albino Squirrel is one such remotely taken photo. I observed its movements and spent hours to find its regular route. Then the camera was camouflaged and set-up on its path and clicked from a distance,” he revealed.

Formerly of the Young Zoologists’ Association, Mr. Wickramasinghe is the founder and president of the Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka and has served on several international bodies, including Species Survival Commission groups of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN/SSC).

The Repertoire book launch will be on Friday, October 30 at the Harold Peiris Gallery of Lionel Wendt and the photographic exhibition will be on October 31 and November 1, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Entrance is free.

The Repertoire coffee table book (172 pages) is priced at Rs. 6,500 and will be available at the exhibition.

Published on SundayTimes on 25.10.2015 –

Colorful bugs

Russell's viper

Junglefowl territorial call

Mendis wickremasinghe

Repertoire - COVER PHOTO and THE BACK


New book on Freshwater Fish

February 1, 2015
A new book on Freshwater Fish of Sri Lanka has been launched few days ago. The book contains more than 300 photographs of all the 92 different Freshwater fish that record in Sri Lanka except for Martinstine’s Goby. 27 Estuarine fish and 23 exotic species. This book is a major publication on country’s Freshwater fish after the book published by Mr.Rohan Pethiyagoda some 20 years ago. The book is an effort of Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG) who conducted an island-wide fish survey from 2007. WCSG team had visited every type locality (the place each fish species was first found) to verify their presence at present. Many of the fish could not be found from their type localities, but there are some fish that were recorded from new locations. The book will also contain a map and a note written with conservation of the fish in mind. A new book on Freshwater Fish of Sri Lanka has been launched few days ago. The book contains more than 300 photographs of all the 92 different Freshwater fish that record in Sri Lanka except for Martinstine’s Goby. 27 Estuarine fish and 23 exotic species. This book is a major publication on country’s Freshwater fish after the book published by Mr.Rohan Pethiyagoda some 20 years ago. The book is an effort of Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG) who conducted an island-wide fish survey from 2007. WCSG team had visited every type locality (the place each fish species was first found) to verify their presence at present. Many of the fish could not be found from their type localities, but there are some fish that were recorded from new locations. The book will also contain a map and a note written with conservation of the fish in mind.
During their survey, WCSG team sometimes had to dive using scuba gears and on many occasions had to comb the Crocodile infested waters. Photographing the fish was either not an easy task, where they sometimes had to carry the equipment on footpaths in the wild. They also needed to carry mineral water bottles, as the natural water has some sedimentations. But the outcome is a book that has photographs of fish found naturally – there are no aquarium fish in the book according to WCSG. The book contains images taken for the first time for some species such as Blind eel.
A 3 day exhibition associate with the book too will be held starting from 30th.Jan and ending on 1st of February. The Exhibition is open for all and WCSG welcomes all for the exhibition. Queries for the book can be submit to WCSG via email
19 Aplocheilus werneri F Hiyaare IMG_0261 IMG_3112 IMG_8451
Fish copy

Mammoth book on our mammals

December 9, 2013

A little known fact is that Sri Lanka is home to 125 Mammalian species. Much has been written about elephants, leopards and even on primates individually, but after W.W.A. Philips’ review of Sri Lanka’s mammals in the 1930s, there was no comprehensive review undertaken. Filling this void, is the new book “Mammals of Sri Lanka” launched on Friday.

The Otter: One of Gamini Ratnavira’s exquisite illustrations

With all of 1012 pages, the book authored by Asoka Yapa, with illustrations by the world renowned Sri Lankan wildlife artist – Gamini Ratnavira is a mammoth effort. The book also contains many photos of mammals taken in the field by veteran photographers such as Vimukti Weeratunga, Nadika Hapuarachchie and Dr. Janaka Gallangoda. Experts in the field too have contributed photographs of lesser known mammals and the book also contains a few ‘first time’ photos of some of the rarest mammals.

Yapa and Ratnavira’s book has several unique features. For the first time it carries colour illustrations of almost all of Sri Lanka’s mammal species. Indeed, there are illustrations even of new species that are proposed as endemic additions to the island’s fauna. A possible new loris, a new chevrotain, and a new beaked whale are among the animals pictured. For the first time there are distribution maps for the land mammals. Illustrations of scat and spoor are provided for many species after all, those are often the only signs left by a wild animal. Dive sequences are given for the larger whales to aid identification.

Asoka Yapa is a Zoologist by training and a communication specialist by profession. Talking to the Sunday Times, Mr. Yapa revealed that the text of the book was the painstaking effort of 30 months. There were lots of scientific publications to review and on some days he worked continuously until 4 a.m. and started work after just a few hours’ sleep. The list of bibliographic reference of over 500 testifies to the painstaking effort the author had to take to get the scattered scientific information on Mammals of Sri Lanka to one publication. “I wanted to keep the language simple and make the publication inspire new research interest on mammals of Sri Lanka,” said Asoka.

Each taxonomic order of mammals in Sri Lanka is introduced in their evolutionary, taxonomic, and ecological contexts. Family descriptions follow, after which are species by species accounts that cover morphology, behaviour, ecology, diet, reproduction, distribution within Sri Lanka, and conservation status and concerns. Where there are significant differences among subspecies within the island, these are described and illustrated.

The book is in full colour and is printed and bound in Sri Lanka with ecologically produced papers and ink. Published by the Field Ornithology Group (FOGSL) of the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, it was launched on December 6 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo 7.

The book is priced at Rs. 7500 . ‘The Mammals of Sri Lanka’ will be available at leading bookstores around the island. Further information can be obtained by contacting Anoma Perera or Indrika KaggodaAarachchi of FOGSL on 011 2501332 or 011 2592609.

Published on SundayTimes on 08.12.2013

The Mammals of Sri Lanka - Cover

Extra Large Pic-05 A species of Bat - a Flying Mammal Extra Large Pic-14 Extra Large Pic-13

In pursuit of the wild and elusive

November 24, 2013

Photographs of charismatic animals like leopards and elephants are the most popular; but Sri Lankan jungles are home to a wide array of creatures that need patience to spot. Following their trails for many years, four veteran wildlife photographers – Gehan Rajapakse, Namal Kamalgoda, Palitha Antony and Sarinda Unamboowe have a new book and exhibition ‘Elusive – A Journey through the Wild’.

The book will contain probably the best collection of images of some of Sri Lanka’s rarest subjects which include the Indian Courser, Jungle Cat, Grey-headed Lapwing and the Black-naped Oriole to name a few. The pursuit of the elusive meant that their travels have taken them further and further away from the beaten track posing many challenges in terms of the time, effort, information and access needed to take these pictures. Gehan, Namal, Palitha and Sarinda are all in different professions, so their efforts are indeed laudable.

“Elusive” is the third book by these four friends after they formed Zero3 Images in 2003. Their first book was “Encounters -A Journey through the Wild”‘ published in 2004. Their second book came out in 2007- “Enchanted: A Journey through the Wild”. “Elusive” will contain the best shots these veterans had taken during the past six years, they say. Their previous books were well received by the wildlife loving public, and the third book too has been compiled in similar format.

The four of them came into wildlife photography in the early 1990s. Namal Kamalgoda recalls that circumstances have since changed with digital technology but advises that amateur photographers should first master the skill of wildlife photography before investing in expensive equipment.

With their priority being the conservation of the environment, a portion of the income from their first two books was donated for conservation work in Kumana, Wilpattu and Bundala. The photographers also want their images to raise awareness on Sri Lanka’s wildlife for the public to appreciate the country’s wealth of natural beauty. They believe this will bring together a louder voice to carry the message of conservation.  This is not only a book for glancing through the images, but a publication that has to be enjoyed leisurely by reading the text.

Published on SundayTimes on 24.11.2013 

Launch of book and exhibitionGehan Rajapakse, Namal Kamalgoda, Palitha Antony and Sarinda Unamboowe will launch their latest photographic book ‘Elusive: Journey through the Wild” with an exhibition at the Harold Pieris Gallery, Lionel Wendt next week. The exhibition will be on November 30 and  December 1 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will have over 140 images from the book, none of which have been photo shopped.


elusive 2

elusive 9



Realising a mission and passion together

January 19, 2013

Two wildlife enthusiasts �Dr. Janaka Gallangoda and Nadika Hapuarachchi present ‘Life: A Journey into the Wilds of Sri Lanka’, a coffee table book and exhibition�

By Malaka Rodrigo

When wildlife lovers campaigned in 2005 against a hydropower plant at Bomuru Ella in Nuwara Eliya, among them were a medical officer attached to the Nuwara Eliya hospital and an IT specialist working in Colombo. Though in unrelated fields, their common passion for environment conservation and photography made them good friends and they went on many field expeditions together sometimes combing leech infested forests past midnight in the freezing cold.

January 17 will be a special day for both Nadika Hapuarachchi and Dr. Janaka Gallangoda as they launch their coffee-table book “Life: A Journey into the Wilds of Sri Lanka” which will be followed by a three-day photographic exhibition.

The hard cover coffee-table book has some 159 wildlife photographs captured with their technical skill and artistic sensitivity.�

The cover photo of the books says it all- a lone Purple Heron on a skeletal tree against the backdrop of a tranquil rainbow. Revealing the story behind the photo, Nadika said the photograph was captured at Kumana Villu a few years ago on a rainy evening. “It was pouring out there- the jeep tracks leading to Kumana were flooded. The rain threatened to ruin our photo opportunities, but when it ceased, there was a beautiful rainbow across the Kumana Villu. The lonely Purple Heron was just picture perfect against this backdrop and this single photo was worth the difficulties of the whole trip.”

Dr. Janaka’s favourite subject is birds though the book also highlights his other wildlife pictures. Having studied at Rahula College Matara and then graduated from Karapitiya Medical Faculty where he pursued his passion for nature in his leisure time, he was instrumental in forming the Nuwara Eliya Nature Protection Society (NEPS) while serving at the Nuwara Eliya Hospital. Together with like-minded activists, he went into the forests in Nuwara Eliya to save animals from the clutches of poachers. NEPS also held an annual photographic exhibition that helped him sharpen his photographic skills.�

Old Royalist Nadika is now the manager at E-Soft Computer Studies, Piliyandala branch and an active member of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG). He too has been involved in many campaigns to expose wildlife rackets.

Nadika Hapuarachchi

‘Life: A Journey into the Wilds of Sri Lanka’ tries to convey an important conservation message by taking the public through a photographic journey highlighting the natural beauty of the landscapes and the extraordinary wealth of life forms found in Sri Lanka.�

The reader encounters the elusive leopard who is trying to cope with a noisy crowd of tourists at the Yala National Park, the juvenile Scops owl healed by humans and the splendour of daybreak at Horton Plains. Wildlife big or small has equal prominence – the photographs capture giant elephants to small flies mating.�

At the end of the book, the authors discuss certain conservation issues in detail- the problems due to unplanned tourism, snares, road kills, land-slides, forest fires, elephants captured from the wild etc. This makes it a book of different format as these issues are also the ones the duo are fighting in real life.
The book is dedicated to two doctors- Dr. Sanjweeva�Ranwella and Dr. Amith Munidradasa who both died young. “Dr. Ranwella and Dr. Munindradasa left a legacy of love towards nature and people that only a few can follow, so we wanted to dedicate our joint effort to them,” said Nadika.

A Juvenile Hawk Eagle eating a snake

The book will be launched on January 17 and the exhibition at the Harold Peiris Gallery will be open from the Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.� The book is priced at Rs.3,900 with a pre-publication price of Rs.3,400 until the 20th. More photographs from the book can be viewed at Online orders too can be placed�through the website.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.01.13

ICUN 2013 desk calendar features ‘Marine Wonders’

January 5, 2013

As the year ends, the hunt for good 2013 calendars has begun. Wildlife is now becoming increasingly popular theme for calendars, but marine biodiversity is rarely a theme considering difficulties in getting good underwater photos. However, the new IUCN desk calendar for 2013 selected the theme Marine Wonders considering the importance of raising awareness on Marine Biodiversity.

Sri Lanka, as an island nation with a coastline of 1,585 kilometres,is home to a rich and diverse marine life. But little is known about the vast array of species that inhabit our waters or about the marine habitats that these species inhabit. Through this calendar, IUCN Sri Lanka particularly aims to create a better understanding and awareness on the importance and threats facing a selection of Sri Lanka’s marine species.

12 stunning pictures of Sri Lanka’s seascapes and marine biodiversity, photographed by some of the country’s top nature photographers have come together in this handy desk calendar for 2013. Dolphins, Whales, Shipwrecks, marine fish and corals will be featured monthly on your desk. The calendar will also be an ideal gift for the festive season.

The desk calendar priced at Rs 500/-, is available for sale at the IUCN Sri Lanka Country Office, 53, Horton Place, Colombo 7 and at the Casa Serena Gallery, 122, Havelock Road, Colombo 5.More details on how to get copies can be had from 11 2682418 or through email

Published on the SundayTimes on 30.12.12

A ‘natureful’ New Year

January 4, 2011
EFL’s 2011 calendar gives a timely message on protecting Sri Lanka’s heritage and biodiversity..
This is the time of year when everyone is on the hunt for a good calendar that they will be happy to have around for the next 12 months. Its pages will be turned monthly allowing 12 new images to catch owner’s eyes. So a calendar is indeed a creative way to reach the public and the Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) has used their 2011 calendar to pass a timely message of the need to protect Sri Lanka’s natural heritage and biodiversity.The EFL calendar contains beautiful images – Kudrimalai in Wilpattu, Sinharaja, Horton Plains, Kumana, starfish in Kalpitiya and underwater images of the ocean off Colombo among them. “A photograph is worth a thousand words” seems justified when turning the pages of this calendar. Each page highlights an environmental issue while educating the general public on it.

The first page of January features the breathtaking scenery of Kudrimalai Point, Wilpattu photographed from its beach. The text introduces this famed spot. “Situated in Wilpattu, this historic spot is now under threat from ad hoc development, including roads that are splitting the park apart and with human settlements encroaching on its fringes”. It is indeed an effective way to communicate the message of the need to protect Wilpattu which has been plagued for nearly three decades by security issues, and now with the dawn of peace, is facing its greatest threat.

“We had handpicked this Kudrimalai picture for our calendar,” said Venuri de Silva, Head of Communications and Fundraising Manager of Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL). The team had seen this photo through the Facebook Group set up to save Wilpattu and photographer Ifham Raji willingly contributed it for the calendar.

EFL used a photograph of Kudrimalai Point for their 2010 calendar too. Last year it was a view taken from the sea by Vimukthi Weeratunga showing the beautiful coastal forest together with the red sands of Kudrimalai. “As per the news we’ve got, this scene is no more as the coastal areas near Kudrimalai too has been axed for the so-called Wilpattu road expansion,” said Venuri. So threats indicated in the text are not to be taken lightly.

The other photographs too are exceptional images. Starfish on the beach in Kalpitiya were captured in an image by Deshan Tennekoon on the little island of Vellai off Battalagunduwa. These starfish are still not rare, but the message is a reminder that they could be threatened. “Development, if carried out ignoring established environmental safeguards, will destroy delicate ecosystems and with it, Kalpitiya’s major tourist potential within years.”

This is the third consecutive year that EFL has printed a calendar to highlight Sri Lanka’s unique biodiversity. Funds raised through the sale of the calendar will support EFL’s conservation battle through lawsuits they are currently mounting. For more inquiries call on 011- 7396702 or email your orders to

publishd on SundayTimes on 02.01.2011

Prof.Kotagama launches latest bird guide

April 4, 2010

Eminent ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama will launch his latest guide to the birds of Sri Lanka with illustrations by world renowned wildlife artist Gamini Ratnaweera.

The new book “An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka” is a comprehensive handbook describing all the birds one can observe in this country. It has 382 pages with ‘all-inclusive’ details. The guide goes beyond identification tips of the birds and includes 26 snippets of information such as the habitat the bird lives in, its behaviour, breeding, threatened status etc. Each bird’s distribution is clearly marked on a coloured map including the global distribution of those migrating to Sri Lanka.

With 382 pages, 52 colour plates and 492 species description, the book is truly a condensed summary of all the birds found in Sri Lanka.

“An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka” will be launched on April 5 at the New Biology Lecture Theatre, University of Colombo at 5 p.m with a lecture on Birds of Sri Lanka by the author. The book is priced Rs.2000 but will also be available at a concessionary rate at the event. Admission is free.

Prof. Kotagama’s previous guide books are all out of print. His English guide published in 1994 sold out 5000 copies and his first comprehensive Sinhala field guide ‘Sirilaka Kurullo’ sold 20,000 copies helping to popularise birdwatching among a new and diverse set of Lankans.

Besides this increased bird interest in the country, in the 16 years that have passed since Kotagama & Fernando’s work, much has changed in Sri Lankan ornithology. New research has shown that the number of endemic species is in fact much higher than previously thought, and the increasing affordability of digital photography has served to make new sightings more easily verifiable. This new knowledge is, up to end 2009, reflected in this new book.

Celebrated bird artist Gamini Ratnavira has focused recently almost exclusively on the birds of the New World (he lives and works in California), but the series of plates he produced for this book are intended to depict especially those characteristics a birdwatcher would need to identify a bird and differentiate it from similar species. The guide also gives the Sinhala and Tamil names for all birds.

The author is planning to have a more condensed version of the guide that will be easier to use in the field. The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) also plans to publish Sinhala and Tamil translations of the guidebook as their contribution to making available bird information to everyone in the country.

Posted on the online version of SundayTimes on 03.04.2010

Opening up a whole new landscape

March 23, 2010
Book facts: Sri Lanka’s Other Half: A Guide to the Central, Eastern & Nothern Provinces; by Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry
“Far from the war-ravaged zones, mass graves and internment camps presented by the international media, this book reveals the other side of the story, introducing a place that contains some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, ancient jungle ruins, pristine rainforests, wildlife parks with the largest elephant gathering of the world and huge mangrove lagoons bursting with exotic flora and fauna” says the introduction to “Sri Lanka’s Other Half”.

Launched recently at a simple ceremony held at Nuga Gama, Cinnamon Grand Hotel, this book by photojournalist Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry is an exhilarating guide for the adventurous traveller to the North, East and Central Sri Lanka, covering areas that have been shut off to tourism due to the civil war for over 26 years.

Ruins in Jaffna  

If a book can make a big difference in the minds of the tourists luring them to this beautiful island; “Sri Lanka’s Other Half” can definitely be placed in the front of the campaign. “This book makes you want to drop everything and go immediately before it all changes” says Steve Dave – BBC best selling author of ‘Unforgettable Places to see Before You Die’.

But I prefer to call the guide kahambiliya. Like you start itching when you touch the kahambiliya plant, after reading the “Other Half” you start itching to go to these places and explore them. The language in the guide is so captivating you feel like you are travelling along with the writers while reading it.

It is not only the tips on how you should travel around, the book also explores the life of the people and tells interesting stories that will keep coming to mind whenever you visit that area. The guide can be used by up-market tourists as well as back-packers for the writers with their team of young explorers had even done the bus journeys so as to have the real feel of exploring these areas.

The writers were, in fact, among the first travellers to the North soon after the war. Juliet Coombe was eight months pregnant at the time she made her road journey to Jaffna carrying her two-year-old son Samad. A well-known BBC Lonely Planet photographer Juliet is married to a Sri Lankan and lives in Galle Fort.

“The aim of the book is to highlight that travel is for everyone whether you are young or elderly, a mum, pregnant, an independent traveller or a crazy adventurer,” says Juliet. Juliet and Daisy discovered that North, East and Central Sri Lanka certainly have something for everyone.

I’m among thousands of fellow Sri Lankans who want to travel Jaffna, but have no idea where to begin. The guide gave me enough tips from preparation to accommodation to where to find the famous Jaffna ice cream parlours, giving me the confidence to visit the unknown area.

Like its language, the photographs in the book all have their own character. The ‘Other Half’ is full of photographs and interesting stories. The war is over and tourism is already experiencing a revival. “Sri Lanka’s Other Half” carries a welcome message to all those who wants to visit this beautiful island.

On the trail of the little known lizards

September 19, 2009

‘Chick…chick… chick….”

The cry of a gecko is enough to panic many Sri Lankans for it is widely believed that one should never start or continue an auspicious activity if you hear a gecko when beginning the task. Similarly, if a gecko falls on your body, according to where it falls, there can be different consequences.Lizards-of-Sri-Lanka

This belief is so widely embedded among our traditions that almost all almanacs in Sri Lanka, including the most popular Epa panchanga litha, which began publication in 1855 and continues to the present day, contains one section entitled ‘hunan enga vetimae palapala’ (predictions based on body area on which a gecko falls).

Yes, we encounter them in everyday life, but we know so little about these little creatures. For instance, that there are 42 geckos found to date and as much as 31 species among them are endemic to Sri Lanka. There is no way to identify the strange looking geckos you meet in rural areas.

Herpetologist Ruchira Somaweera is hoping to change this with his new book “Lizards of Sri Lanka – A Colour Guide with Field Keys” compiled together with his wife Nilusha Somaweera. ‘Lizards of Sri Lanka’ is an easy to use book with a set of illustrated keys that help to identify a species at a glance – the kind of field guide any wildlife enthusiast loves to carry with him. The book also provides up-to-date checklists and information on lizards, including their distribution patterns and behaviour. The illustrated key is the first for the region.

Talking to the Sunday Times, Ruchira recalled his early days as a reptile enthusiast. “I have been crazily passionate about reptiles since my early childhood. One of the main difficulties I faced at that time was the lack of a user-friendly guide book which would easily tell me what I’d got when I caught a strange skink or a gecko.” There was no field guide available for lizards at that time and also the books that were available (most produced over 50 years ago) were not so good since you had to go through pages of text to identify lizards, he said.Nilu

At present Ruchira is doing his PhD in Australia, on the impact of an invasive cane toads on the endemic freshwater crocodiles at the largest man-made lake in Australia.  This poisonous toad was introduced to Australia to control beetles in the sugar cane industry but is now killing everything that eats it, including crocodiles. Ruchira’s days are spent hunting for crocs (with cameras and GPS), mapping habitat characteristics and dissecting dead crocs.

Nilu, his wife and co-author of ‘Lizards of Sri Lanka’ is conducting laboratory feeding trials with lizards and snakes to understand which animals at which level are affected by the same toads. She’s also assisting an array of other projects with regard to cane toad research.

Sharing a love of reptiles, Ruchira and Nilu have been on the trail together since they were batch mates at the University of Peradeniya. Ruchira’s first book was about Snakes in Sri LankaRuchira (Srilankawe sarpayin)., Surprisingly this book had a good demand in Germany (though it was in Sinhala) and ended up in the hands of few leading publishers who were interested in doing an English translation. Instead Ruchira wanted to do something new – on lizards. It took almost one and half years to complete the book, and he thanks Nilu for sharing the burden.

“The Somaweeras have now set a high standard for field guides for an important component of herpetofauna, and one hopes this example will be emulated regionally and globally,” said Indraneil Das, a leading herpetologist.

Worried about the rate of habitat loss which threatens the lizards of Sri Lanka, Ruchira and Nilu’s hope is that there will be more and more reptile enthusiasts, appreciating our amazing reptile fauna. The book has over 600 colour illustrations of over 100 lizard species spread over 304 pages. It is available online in leading book portal Chimaira and will soon be available in local bookshops. Ruchira can be reached via email on

This is published on SundayTimes 20.09.2009