Archive for the ‘Environmental Events’ Category

Taming the wilds with his untamed images

December 21, 2012

Tyron Vimukthi Fernando, a 15-year-old student of Joseph Vaas College, Wennapuwa held his first art exhibition when he was just seven years old. Now eight years later, the young artist is getting ready for his second to be held this week.

The exhibition will be titled ‘Untamed’.�A member of the junior group of the Young Zoologists’ Association of Sri Lanka which he joined in 2005, he was a keen student at their wildlife art classes. In the past seven years, he has developed his skills under the guidance of Shantha Jayaweera, the instructor at the wildlife art class.

Tyron is often found at the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens, sketching animals. Mind you, he has to travel from Wennappuwa a more than 50 km journey, but it’s all worth it for this keen young artist.

His teachers feel Tyron is an all-round artist who is capable of drawing any kind of animal and working with different media. He started off with pencil sketches then turned to ink drawings and watercolours, and now also works with the acrylic medium. He will exhibit some 60 paintings at his wildlife art exhibition on December 7 and 8 at the National Art Gallery, Colombo. The exhibition is on from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Published on SundayTimes on 02.12.2012

A brush with nature at KIN WILD 2012

June 11, 2012
The Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA) celebrates their 40th anniversary with their annual painting exhibition
By Malaka Rodrigo
A whole new digital world prompts many to take up the camera and shoot the wild. Exhibitions of wildlife photographs are quite common these days, but not so exhibitions of wildlife paintings. However keeping to their aim of promoting wildlife arts, the Young Zoologists are getting ready for their 18th annual wildlife painting exhibition KIN WILD 2012.

Some of the exhibits that will be on display

Wildlife art is one of humanity’s earliest art forms, dating back to prehistoric cave paintings such as those found in Lascaux, France. These were of a few large animals such as bison, deer or horse that were hunted by our human ancestors in Europe.

The focus of the young wildlife artists contributing to KIN WILD is different. Their aim is to spread awareness that it is a crime to kill all these beautiful creatures who are like our own relations in the wild; hence the title of the exhibition – KIN WILD.

These Young Zoologists have not restricted their work to only the charismatic animals such as leopards or elephants. They portray the value of our amazing biodiversity through their paintings of frogs, snakes, freshwater fish etc.

The Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA) marks their 40th anniversary this year. Started in 1972 as a small organization for youth to get together at the zoo by then director and veteran conservationist Lyn De Alwis, the society has grown to be a leading educator on wildlife and nature. YZA meets every Sunday at the Dehiwala Zoo premises and members are taught about a particular subject ranging from birds, mammals, reptiles, aquatic life and flora. Wildlife photography is taught separately.

YZA also conducts a wildlife art class on Sunday mornings to hone artistic skills among their young members. KIN WILD is the platform for these members to showcase their work. These young artists know the features and behaviour of the animals they draw, so their paintings are very close to nature.
Over 75 of paintings will be on display at the KIN WILD Exhibition. YZA welcomes all nature lovers to the exhibition that will be open to the public on June 7, 8 and 9 at the National Art Gallery.

Published on SundayTimes – 03.06.2012 –

Picture perfect misty Plains

January 1, 2012

Horton Plains is one of the country’s most spectacular natural landscapes. Enormous grasslands edging the unique cloud forest, the surrounding mountain ranges and wildlife unique to the area make it a dream location for every photographer. With the aim of improving amateur skills on covering the beauty of the misty plains, a special field Photographic Workshop was recently organized by the National Photographic Art Society of Sri Lanka (NPASSL) at Horton Plains.

Misty Hortan Plains : Pix courtesy NPASSL

“Horton Plains is like a woman. At one time the sun shines smiling and the next minute, the mist changes the mood completely. Taking photographs in Horton Plains sets its own challenges, but it is a rewarding experience,” said NPASSL executive director Shantha K. Gunarathne.

The mist is indeed a unique feature at Horton Plains. Photographing in the mist is different from shooting in clear weather, but it also creates opportunities for an artistic shot. Scenes are no longer necessarily clear and defined, and are often deprived of contrast and colour – yet this can make the whole scene beautifully mysterious, adding a professional edge to the photo, say the experts.

The mist can sometimes make the subject into nothing but a husk of a silhouette. Photographing the silhouetted shapes is also another photographic opportunity. Depth and light conditions add more life to the picture. Water droplets in the mist also make light scatter a lot more than it would otherwise. This greatly softens the light, but also makes light streaks visible from concentrated or directional light sources. “However, like in any form of art it is the creativity of the individual that makes a photo taken in Horton Plains a good one,” point out the experts.

Instructor Rohitha Gunawardane highlighted the macro photography opportunities at Horton Plains – wild flowers and small creatures like frogs or horned lizards unique to this area. Most digital cameras used by amateur photographers are capable of capturing close range photos, so this can be a rewarding experiences for those who do not have sophisticated zoom lenses.

Wildlife photographer Isuru de Zoysa, – who frequently visits Horton Plains sharing his experience as a resource person at the workshop warned of the need to protect your camera from the damp when photographing in misty conditions. It usually drizzles at Horton Plains and the mist also brings lots of water droplets which can harm camera equipment. “One should be prepared to protect one’s camera equipment in the field,” advises Isuru. The mist can also cause condensation and these water droplets can accumulate in the lens and camera body. Taking along a clean absorbent cloth to wipe the lens and the camera is a must.

Established by Wilson Hegoda in 1950, the National Photographic Arts Society conducts classes, workshops, seminars and field excursions. A three-year diploma course in photography is also available free of charge.

Rays of sun penetrating cloud forest
A white-eye feeding on a flower on the plains
Team photographers at Hortan plains engulfed by mist

A chance to click your best

The 38th Annual Exhibition and Competition of Photography organized by the NPASSL will be held from December 16– 18. Four categories – Amateur Monochrome, Amateur Colour, Open Monochrome and Open Colour are open to all and photographs taken on any theme can be submitted. For more details see, email or call 777 519679.

Published on SundayTimes on 04.12.2011 

Action! It’s Bollywood Vs Hollywood for WED

June 12, 2011

World Environment Day (WED) was celebrated around the world on June 5 and both Bollywood and Hollywood stars were among those who rallied their fans to take environmental friendly actions on this day – by Malaka Rodrigo

‘Save trees’, ‘Protect our Environment’ – these are some of the slogans we start hearing around the first week of June when the world celebrates World Environment Day (WED). But this time the United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) came up with a new way to convey the message.

“Hi Rahul, I bet I can get more people to join us on World Environment than you..”
“Ahh…. I don’t think so.. I’m one of the most respected actors of India after al.l”
“Ah…. So am I …and I have so much goodwill to share that I will plant a tree for each activity registered under my name.”
“Well, I will see each of your trees and will plant two.”

This was the dialogue between two Bollywood stars – Priyanka Chopra and Rahul Bose who headed an environmental campaign to urge their fans in India and around the world to take action on World Environment Day. ‘Plant a Forest’ was the theme of the challenge.

The WED challenge set up by these Bollywood stars is simple. There are many environmental activities we all can do individually or as a community- from choosing public transport to travel, turning off additional lights, recycling or even tree planting. These individual actions, when multiplied, can make an exponential difference to the planet.

To make their favourite actor win the challenge, the fans have to register their Environmental Activity under either Priyanka or Rahul on the UNEP WED Challenge website. When they log into  it first prompts them to choose their most loved idol and then register their activities.

This year’s theme is “FORESTS: Nature at your service” and going forward with this idea both Rahul and Priyanka promised to plant a forest for each registered activity to increase the tree cover and most importantly look after the trees. More action by their fans will make this forest bigger.

Hollywood stars Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven) and Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen too have taken up the challenge. Bollywood has in fact challenged Hollywood in World Environment Day activities.

“Hey Don.. Hey Giselle.. Now we get more people to join us on World Environment Day than both of you”.
This was typically a challenge by a hero in a Hindi movie, but it was for a good cause.

“Help Bollywood to beat Hollywood to plant a huge forest to make the world a healthier place” that was Rahul’s plea to his fans.

Visit to get some of the ideas on environmental actions. The final results of the challenge will be released soon, so keep an eye on the UNEP website

Published on SundayTimes youth section – MirrorMagazine on 12.06.2011

Dancing to the Rythms of Nature

June 8, 2011

Inline with World Environment Day, a traditional dancing event was held at Delhi Maart. The dance was done for the rythms of the nature..!!

Traditional dance for Nature’s Celebrations


World Environment Day 2011, Delhi

June 8, 2011

India has been the host country of the World Environment Day (WED) 2011. Inline with this, UNEP has conducted many programs in New Delhi together with the Indian Environment Ministry. The theme this year was “FORESTS: Nature at Your Service”.

Following are some of the moments captured during these events…!!

Kids were the center of WED celebrations 2011
A kid handing over a tree for a UNEP officer for planting at the WED
A tree planting campaign held at Delhi – with participation of UNEP head Achim Steiner and Indian Environment Minister
Participants at Tree planting event
Kids with UNEP’s head – Mr.Achim Steiner

Forests: Nature at Your Service

June 6, 2011
Today – June 5 is the World Environment Day. Your friends Puncha and Panchi continue their explorations at Sinharaja rainforest on this special day – By Malaka Rodrigo
The Sinharaja rainforest is always an interesting experience for the kids who are on the nature trail together with their family and Guide Uncle.“Aiya.. Aiya.. Look – there is a bird like Blu,” Panchi shouted, pointing at a beautiful blue coloured bird flying in the distance.

Puncha too remembered seeing the Blue coloured bird in the film RIO they had watched recently. “Blu is a Macaw and we don’t have them in Sri Lanka,” said Puncha scratching his head. “You are right. Blu is a Spix’s Macaw and they are found only in the Amazon Rainforest. This bird is a Blue Magpie – one of
Sri Lanka’s endemic birds living in the rainforest,” Guide Uncle said “There are many amazing creatures like Macaws that live in the tropical rainforests and they are part of these unique habitats which have lots of moisture,” Guide Uncle explained.

“Tropical Rainforests..? Does it rain all the time here..?” Panchi asked. “Tropical rainforests are forests with tall trees, a warm climate, and lots of rain. In some rainforests it rains more than one inch every day”, explained Guide Uncle. “Rainforests are found in Africa, Asia, Australia and Central and South America.”

“Do you know what is the largest rainforest in the world..?” asked Guide Uncle.“I know.. I know.. It is the Amazon rainforest” , shouted Puncha who had remembered it from a Discovery TV programme.
“Yes – Amazon is the largest rainforest. But rainforests are shrinking very fast. Although they cover less than 2% of the Earth’s surface, rainforests house more than 50% of the world’s plants and animals,” Guide Uncle said.

“Why do rainforests have such a big diversity Guide Uncle..?” questioned Panchi. “Well, rainforests are located in tropical regions where they receive a lot of sunlight throughout year. This sunlight is converted to energy by plants through the process of photosynthesis. Since there is a lot of sunlight, that means there is a lot of energy in the rainforest. This energy is stored in plant vegetation which is eaten by animals. Because there is a lot of food there are many species of plants and animals,” Guide Uncle answered. “The moisturized climate too provides many different habitats for small creatures to live in,” he added.

“So rainforests are more important than other forests? ” was Puncha’s question. “Well, not only rainforests, but all forests are important because of many reasons. Forests provide many important natural resources, such as timber, fuel, rubber, paper and medicinal plants. Forests also help sustain the quality and availability of freshwater supplies”, Guide Uncle elaborated.

“Do you know that more than three quarters of the world’s accessible freshwater comes from forested
catchments that capture water..?? Water quality declines with decreases in forest condition and cover, and natural hazards such as floods, landslides, and soil erosion have larger impacts.”

“I heard forests also help fight against Climate Change,” Puncha said. “Yes, it’s well known that forests play a key role in our battle against climate change. Trees in the forests suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in their process of making food and store the atmospheric carbon in their body. Carbon dioxide is believed to be a gas that increases Global Warming, so forests help to reduce it,” Guide Uncle explained.

“So forests are indeed nature at your service. Shall we move forward to explore more of the forest..?” said “Guide Uncle taking the kids forward to explore the forest for more amazing phenomena.

Kids, keep an eye on the Funday Times – Puncha and Panchi will explore more of forests in the next few weeks.

Published on FundayTimes on 05.06.2011

Amidst beauty and emotion

May 29, 2011

Malaka Rodrigo reports on “Paths to the Peak”, a photographic odyssey to Sri Pada by Ian Lockwood 

As the Sri Pada pilgrimage season ended on Vesak, Ian Lockwood’s exhibition of photographs – a personal overview of the sacred mountain opened at the Barefoot Gallery in Colombo.
As a 15-time Sri Pada climber, I had my doubts whether anyone could capture the mystical beauty of this sacred mountain and the special culture involved with the pilgrimage through a lens.

I’ve seen people pushed to the brink of exhaustion by the marathon climb; devotees who stand in the freezing cold at the peak waiting to catch a glimpse of ‘sun service’ in the morning and also the Sacred Mountain’s breathtaking beauty, but all these doubts were banished when I stepped into the Barefoot Gallery last week. I felt like I was climbing Sri Pada for the 16th time surrounded by very real people with real emotions. That was the closeness that Ian Lockwood’s “Paths to the Peak” – a photographic odyssey to Sri Pada had captured so amazingly.

Peak at starlight and mist
Sri Pada Maluwa at dusk and (below) Pause: Ratnapura steps
Sacred flame
Lockwood on Sri Pada

The exhibition captures the link between the Sacred Mountain and the people. Ian had climbed Sri Pada 18 times carrying all his heavy photographic equipment to record the ecology, landscape and culture on Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain, experienced along different pathways. Thus the exhibition is not restricted to scenic shots, but full of different kinds of photographs – portraits of people, the landscape, panoramic views of the peak from different angles and much more.

The portraits cover many aspects of the climb and the rituals associated with it. As everyone knows, the climb is a difficult one. The photograph titled “Pause” is a classic illustration of Ian’s ability to capture human endurance on the climb. This is a woman so exhausted on the west slope of Sri Pada which is one of the steepest sections of the Ratnapura path – a final test of endurance for pilgrims. Another frame “Sacred flame” shows a family at the summit temple, tired faces filled with devotion. In “Prayers” we see devotees worshipping all the way even before reaching the summit. In many photographs Ian has captured the softer side – younger people extending a helping hand to the seniors as they trudge on wearily.

Ian is fond of black and white photographs and the exhibition has plenty of them. “I chose to present many of the images in black and white because of the nuanced ability of black and white to depict landscapes and portraits without the clutter and confusion of colour. Colour is useful and certainly some photographers have a real talent for using it as a medium. I try to use black and white to depict a personal view of a deeper connection to the earth and people,” he says adding that he feels the use of black & white gives him the opportunity to be in command of the final product as much as possible. “Black and white has always been a “higher” medium to express deeper connections in the natural and human landscape.”

The exhibition also gives visitors a brief insight to the unique biodiversity of the mountain which has been named an UNESCO World Heritage site last year. Ian is a geography teacher and had designed an informative map illustrating different Sri Pada pathways and their geographical location.

Maps and text panels created by him indeed support the educational aspects of the exhibition. Sri Pada also has an issue with garbage and Ian had even included a subtle message through one of his photographs urging viewers to be more responsible on their visit.

Originally from Boston, Ian’s family has been living and working in South Asia for four generations. Ian is currently a teacher of Geography and Environment Systems at the Overseas School of Colombo. Prior to this he worked in Bangladesh and India and has published numerous articles and photo essays on India’s Western Ghats, exhibiting in Dhaka, New Delhi, Mumbai and New York City.

“Paths to the Peak” will be on until June 5 at the Barefoot Gallery, Colombo 3. For more of Ian’s photography and writing see

Sri Pada: Its significance

There are many paths to the sacred peak of Sri Pada, a mountain of immeasurable significance in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. Sri Pada commands a striking position in Sri Lanka’s rich physical geography and culture and is perhaps one of the best-documented mountains in South Asia.

In its early records the pyramid-shaped peak is referred to as Samanalakanda (the mountain of butterflies). The name “Sri Pada,” of course, refers to the sacred or resplendent impression of a footprint, which crowns a large granite boulder on the summit.

“Peak of Adam” was the name given to it by early Muslim traders and it was well documented by medieval travellers such as Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. In colonial times, this was simplified to Adam’s Peak, the name on most maps and with which many outside of Sri Lanka are familiar. – Ian Lockwood

Published on SundayTimes on 29.05.2011


Not guns and gunny but art and gunny

May 9, 2011

Two young artists get their message of wildlife conservation across by turning something rough into a piece of artBy Malaka Rodrigo 

Wild animals killed by poachers usually end up inside gunny bags. But talented young artists Imalka Gunasekare and Hiran Tharaka are capturing wild animals on gunny bags. Their maiden exhibition of wildlife paintings done on gunny bags will be held on May 11 and 12 at the National Art Gallery

“A gunny sack is made of burlap, traditionally used for transporting grain, potatoes, and other agricultural products,” is the definition given in the Webster Online Dictionary. But for the young artists, the rugged gunny bags have proved a novel means of getting their message across.

The two artists working on jumbo sized gunny

“Gunny bags are pretty much a rough surface unlike other canvases used in professional paintings. But this ruggedness itself adds an artistic touch to the drawing,” said Imalka, explaining what had prompted him to start using gunny bags. After a little cleaning to remove the dust; the artist gets the gunny ready for drawing. Using marker pens to draw on the gunny bags a lot of patience is required as one wrong stroke can ruin the whole effect.

The artist first fixes the gunny on a frame to stop it from moving and then divides it into squares to make the drawing that he intends to put on the gunny. After making an initial rough sketch using a pencil, he starts with permanent markers to bring out the real image in his mind through the strokes.

The depth of the drawing is achieved by skilful manipulation of the tip of the marker rubbing more ink making some areas darker and other areas lighter. Once finished, the humble gunny is transformed to a piece of art. Imalka and Hiran have also done two large drawings together.

Hiran said that he had initially experimented with drawing on gunny bags alone, but Imalka was lucky to get the guidance of his senior wildlife arts instructor at the Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA) from the start.

This form of gunny art is in fact a new technique introduced to wildlife art by Imalka’s guru Isuru De Soyza. YZA conducts an annual art exhibition “Kin Wild” and Isuru’s work on gunny bags had always captured people’s interest. Inspired by this, Isuru started experimenting.

Imalka (in foreground) and Hiran

“One needs lots of patience to complete a drawing on a gunny bag, and these young artists have both the patience and the talent,” said Isuru commending their efforts.

“We also wanted to pass a message of the need to protect biodiversity through our exhibition, so we decided to present wildlife on gunny bags and named it ‘Roo Sobha’,” the artists say. Imalka’s background as a naturalist nurtured through the Young Zoologists’ Association also prompted the friends to get-together to work for a cause.

Multi-talented Imalka is an enthusiastic naturalist, currently working as a technician of IT hardware. Imalka and Hiran’s friendship started while they were schooling in Isipathana College. Both of them are just 21, but they are already artists of promise who dare to experiment with new media.“Roo Sobha” will be on at the National Art Gallery on May 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

published on SundayTimes on 01.05.2011

Erabadu: the Disappearing Symbol of Avurudu

April 13, 2011
This is the season of Avurudu, but Erabadu – one of Avurudu’s messenger – is disappearing. This article published  on Lankadeepa on 10.04.2011 highlights the issue and recommends atleast planting of few Erabadu trees in parks around the country so that the next generation can also witness this symbol of Avurudu..!!  

Published below is an article written on the same on 2009 on Erabadu for SundayTimes…

In search of a messenger of Avurudu Only two more days to Avurudu, heralded by the song of the Koha and the blossoms of Erabadu. The Koha’s sweet melody fills the air, but where is the Erabadu – the bright red beauty that symbolizes the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, asks Malaka Rodrigo. Pic by B.A. Ulhas “There was a big Erabadu tree near our playground when we were kids. In April, the tree would be bedecked in red blossoms, reminding us of the forthcoming Avurudu. Sadly the tree was cut down few years ago,” says Susantha Kuruwita, an old boy of Mahanama College and keen nature lover, showing us the empty spot on the busy Duplication Road where this tree once stood. 

In search of Erabadu, I circulated an email among my friends asking for places where Erabadu trees grew in Colombo. One recalled an Erabadu tree being cut down near Anderson flats. Like many other Avurudu traditions, this symbol too has fallen victim to urbanization.

In the past, Erabadu was commonly used as a fence post. An Erabadu stick grows straight and thorny. It also sprouts easily making it an ideal hedge plant and this made Erabadu abundant in many home gardens in the good old days. “But where do we find fences these days? Almost all houses have parapet walls,” Susantha points out. Having a garden is also a luxury for most Colombo citizens.

In rural areas, especially in the dry zone, Erabadu still survives. Sri Lanka has two Erabadu species that are indigenous, but they are getting rarer according to botanists. The one that is commonly referred to as the messenger of New Year is known as the Indian Coral Tree (Erythrina variegate). The bright red flower (inflorescence) that resembles a tiger claw blooms from February to April, coinciding with the Avurudu season and this was why, probably, our ancestors called it a messenger of the New Year.
The other native Erabadu species is even rarer. Dr. Syril Wijesundara, Director General of the National Botanical Gardens says he has found it only in a few places. This Erabadu species, is known as Yak Erabadu, (Erythrina fusca). “Many consider Erabadu as a useless tree and if that thinking continues, both species of Erabadu will become rare in areas where people live,” warns Dr. Wijesundara.

But Erabadu is not without its uses. The tender leaves of Erabadu can be made into a curry that is famous among villagers. Mature leaves can be a useful nutrient-rich cattle fodder. The bark and leaves are used in Ayurveda as a medicinal substance. The wood is not strong enough to be used as a building material, but in India this soft wood is used to make ornaments.

There are also about six exotic Erabadu varieties that are imported to be used for gardening. These don’t grow too tall, but we need to try to plant our native Erabadu as much as possible, emphasized Dr. Wijesundara.

Erabadu is also an important food plant for birds. The flowers are adapted for pollination by birds that feed on its nectar. Erabadu flowers during the dry season play a vital role in sustaining bird species, by providing water, instant energy through sugars and also amino acids and proteins in their floral nectar according to a study done in India. Some species of Erabadu are also used as a host plant by a moth. It is also a legume plant that converts atmospheric nitrogen to mix with soil that can be absorbed by roots. Hence it is a plant that has ecological value.

Colombo still has a few Erabadu trees that have survived the axe of urbanization and Ruk Rakaganno, the tree society of Sri Lanka, also stress the need to protect them. “Sometimes people cut off trees like Erabadu, thinking these are useless. But it is very important to think twice before cutting any trees,” says a member of the society.

A disease that can damage the Erabadu, causing its bark to get black and the branches to become stunted has also been observed. A tree that has been affected still survives in the Fifth Lane neighbourhood in Colombo 3.

The authorities were alerted, but to-date there has been no response, says the Ruk Rakaganno member. It is the duty of the city authorities to look after the remaining Erabadu trees in Colombo and perhaps, the Colombo Municipal Council should take the first steps this Avurudu to plant Erabadu trees in places like Vihara Maha Devi Park, to keep this beautiful symbol of the New Year alive for the next generation.

YZA: Young protectors pass on the message of conservation

April 10, 2011

Seeing young people in the Maharagama Youth Centre is not a surprise, but on Wednesday, March 23 there were two strange visitors – A python and a cat snake. These snakes were in the safe hands of the Young Zoologists who had demonstrated the value of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity to hundreds of schoolchildren gathered at the auditorium for their Environmental Education Day.

The Young Zoologists Association (YZA) is a group of young people aged between 14 to 35 who believe that awareness is the key to conservation. They have been educating the youth about Sri Lanka’s amazing biodiversity since their inception in 1972 through various activities. Their Education and Public Relations Day is conducted annually for schoolchildren in the Western Province. Over 500 students from 21 schools participated in the event held on the 23rd.

YZA members provide a close encounter with animals for visitors to the zoo

“The Python is not a venomous snake. Some believe that it has a sort of a tool on its tail that can inject venom after constricting the prey, but that is a myth,” Mendis Wickremasinghe, a herpetologist said, explaining the python’s life history to the curious group of young students. Mendis is now an expert in the field, but in the mid ’80’s, he was just another eager teenager like these students. He joined the YZA and learned about the reptiles from his senior instructors, who were also young though armed with wealth of knowledge in identifying wildlife and taking care of them.

After several years of training, Mendis became a senior instructor of the Reptile group and continues to work to protect Sri Lanka’s biodiversity.

Environmental education is the YZA’s main aim. Established by the then Director of the Dehiwela Zoo, Lyn De Alwis, YZA has been the first school for many Sri Lankan naturalists. Members of the YZA meet every Sunday afternoon from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. and learn about different groups of animals. Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, Aquatic and Flora are the focus of their main study groups and members can join any of these according to their preference. There are field visits too organized by each group to help them study animals in their natural habitat. In addition there are also wildlife, art and photography classes.

Dr. Jayantha Wattevidana of the Open University speaking at the event shared the latest research in the wildlife field in Sri Lanka while Dr. Sudeera Ranwala of the Colombo University delivered a lecture on the forests of Sri Lanka. “We learnt a lot about these subjects. It is the first time we had seen a live cat snake. We now know how to identify a python and won’t let it be killed if anybody tries,” said a young participant.

This year’s Education Day was also dedicated to the International Year of Forests and the UN Decade of Biodiversity. Issuing a special message, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), Dr. Ahmed Djoghlaf said, “Given the magnitude of the problems we face, education and awareness-raising must be the centrepiece of any long-term strategy to halting biodiversity loss. Hence, more than any other group, children and youth – the future guardians of the world’s biological resources – need to be engaged”. Dr. Djoghlaf revealing results of a survey done with 10,000 children and young people around the world revealed ignorance on biodiversity is particularly acute among the young. “While species extinction rates are estimated to be up to 1,000 times the natural rate, only 9 percent ranked looking after animals as most important; 15 percent did not know what ‘endangered species’ meant”.

President of the YZA 2011 Management Committee Sacheendra Deepankara says, “The public relation and education day is the first event YZA organized for non-members for this year. But lots of other events are lined up to pass the message of conservation creatively while showcasing the talents of our members.”

YZA annually conducts a Wildlife Art exhibition titled Kin Wild and a wildlife photography exhibition titled Young Eye on Nature.

Join any one of these study groups

The YZA has just started its annual education programme for 2011. Those aged between 14 and 35 can join study groups on Birds, Reptiles, Aquatic Life, Mammals and Flora. Visit the Dehiwala Zoo on a Sunday around 2 p.m. and obtain membership. Queries can be made through

Published on SundayTimes on 10.04.2011

Let’s save water..!!

March 20, 2011

March 22 is World Water Day. Puncha and Panchi learn a lot about water..!!

“Panchi… Your bucket is full! Turn off this tap.. You are wasting water,” Amma shouted at Panchi who was out watering the plants in her garden using her toy bucket, but had started playing with her puppy.
Oops… I’ve forgotten Amma…” Panchi came back running with her puppy.

“We have water.. But do you know how many children around the world suffer from not having clean drinking water..?” Amma asked in an annoyed tone. “Hmm.. don’t they have taps like we have Amma?” Panchi honestly thought there were taps everywhere, like they had in their garden.

Panchi’s puppy suddenly started barking at somebody at the gate. It was the officer who comes to check their water meter and Amma opened the gate. After checking the water meter, he gave the bill. “Why do we have to pay for water Amma..?” Panchi asked.

“Well.. The water board cleans and purifies all this water and they also have to pump water to our houses, so it is costly. And many rural areas do not get tap water like we do and depend on other ways to get water from lakes, wells or tube wells.”

“About 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, but there is very little percentage of drinking water,” Amma explained. “Amma.. What is a water cycle..?” getting up after a nap, Puncha was coming out to the garden, drinking a glass of water.

“Well.. The earth has a limited amount of water. That water keeps going around and around. It is the journey water takes as it circulates from the land to the sky and back again,” Amma explained.
But Panchi was puzzled.

“It is a combination of Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation and Collection. When the sun heats up water in rivers or lakes or the ocean and turns into vapour or steam, it is called Evaporation. The water vapour leaves the river, lake or ocean and rises into the air. This also includes Transpiration where water absorbed by plants from the soil moves from the roots through the stems to the leaves and then evaporates from the leaves.”

“The next step is the Condensation, where water vapour in the air gets cold and changes back into
liquid, forming clouds.” Amma noticed that Puncha was drinking a glass of water poured from the
container in the refrigerator. “Look Puncha… Have you noticed that water collects around your glass that
contains cold water..? That water didn’t leak from the glass, but actually came from the air. Water vapour in the warm air, turns back into liquid when it touches the cold glass.”

It was a new fact for both children. “Water vapour in the air gets condensed in clouds and when so much water has condensed that the air cannot hold it anymore, the clouds get heavy and water falls back to the earth in the form of rain or snow. This is called Precipitation.”

“When water falls back to earth as precipitation., it may Collect in the oceans, lakes or rivers or it may end up on land. When it ends up on land, it will either soak into the earth or become part of the “ground water” that plants and animals use to drink or it may run over the soil and flow into the oceans, lakes or rivers where the cycle starts again.

The water in your glass may have fallen from the sky as rain just last week, but this water itself has been around pretty much in the earth circulating in this cycle even during the dinosaurs’ time”. Both Puncha and Panchi learnt a lot about water and they wanted to share this information with their friends for World Water Day which will be on March 22 – next Tuesday. Perhaps you too can share these facts with your friends and make a promise not to waste water on this year’s World Water Day…!”

Published on FundayTimes (kids section of SundayTimes) on 20.03.2011

Shooting the wild

March 5, 2011
Wildscreen Festival 2011, held here for the second time, emphasizes the importance of local environmental film makers aiming more at local audiences – by Malaka Rodrigo
I still remember my first experience of Knuckles in the early’80s where I enjoyed the endemic Horned Lizards and unique Knuckles landscapes. However I was not physically in Knuckles, but was watching a documentary. The fact that I still remember this documentary after almost three decades highlights the power of a good wildlife film.We now have the luxury of seeing the wilder side of nature through Discovery Channel, National Geographic or Animal Planet through cable TV, but shouldn’t we have more and more local wildlife films?To encourage local environmental film makers to make more such documentaries was a main aim of the Wildscreen Festival 2011 held at British Council from February 17 to 19. The Wildscreen Festival is internationally acknowledged as the most influential and prestigious event of its kind held in the UK once in two years. To popularize environmental films, the Wildscreen Festival also makes a global round. This was Wildscreen’s second appearance in Sri Lanka.

The panelists (L to R): Taya Diaz, Amanda Theunissen, Delon Weerasinghe, Anoma Rajakaruna, Dominic Weston
and Nalaka Gunawardene

The Film Festival not only screens a few films, but also aims at grooming budding film makers, on the environment. With this aim, a session of sharing knowledge with experienced Wildlife documentary makers both local and from the UK was organized. Amanda Theunissen and Dominic Weston from the UK and Delon Weerasinghe, Anoma Rajakaruna and Taya Diaz from Sri Lanka addressed the common challenges faced by wildlife and natural history film makers such as the art of effective story telling, fund raising and ensuring wide distribution for films made.

Director of TVE Asia Pacific, Nalaka Gunawadene opened the session recalling the opening sentence of Our Common Future, the 1987 Report by the World Commission on Environment and Development. “The Earth is one but the world is not”.

“A similar disparity exists in wildlife and natural history film making. We are all concerned about and covering the same planet Earth in all its diversity. But on this planet there are many different worlds of film making,” Nalaka said. The panelists recognized that wildlife and natural history making traditions in South Asia are different from those in Europe and North America where TV stations invest funds upfront in films under production, in return for exclusive rights.

“Most TV broadcasters in our part of the world have no tradition of commissioning factual films or documentaries. Government funding schemes are rare and difficult to access. To make issue-based films, we have to find individual donors, corporate sponsors or foreign sources of funding,” said Anoma Rajakaruna, who has been in the business for over two decades.

Taya Diaz, a film director who was involved in the famous BBC wildlife documentaries like the Temple Troop that showcased the monkeys in Polonnaruwa, said, local film makers should create more content aimed specifically at their own local audiences. He urged Sri Lankan naturalists, wildlife experts and environmentalists to collaborate more closely with film makers and broadcasters to make more local films aimed at local audiences.

Amanda Theunissen who who has worked with the BBC Natural History Unit and National Geographic Television, stressed that coming up with the right idea was no longer sufficient: film makers also need to master the art of writing proposals, making ‘pitches’ to attract the attention of broadcasters and/or funders, networking with film distributors and other skills needed for raising funds from public, private or philanthropic sources.

The Davids do their bit around the world

A Canadian based twosome calling themselves Davidwithout Borders who do short documentaries on success stories of biodiversity conservation and publish them on their website was also in Sri Lanka. A TV crew for environmental documentary may remind you of a group of people carrying lots of high tech equipments, but these Davids travel around the world on their own using the minimum equipment.

“Our expedition David without Borders travels in 12 countries across the world to showcase emblematic projects of hope for biodiversity protection, shared benefits and sustainable use,” said David Aime. His partner David Fabrega is the cameraman capturing these stories.

All their documentaries including those done in Sri Lanka are distributed continuously as a Web series on “We are two Davids who do this together and we wanted to make a unique name for the series” they explained.

They landed in Sri Lanka in December last year and “It took us only a few hours to be delighted by the warmth and the cultural beauty of Sri Lankan people. Our intention is to bring out the best initiative from the country we visit but when you are emotionally attached so quickly you try even harder,” David Aime said. But it was not so easy as they had selected a project initiated by Prof. Sarath Kotagama in Jaffna.

Getting permission to go to Jaffna was complicated, but the Davids ran between ministries to UN offices and the authorities and getting permission at the 11th hour, boarded a bus to Jaffna, and hurried to Prof. Kotagama, who had already started his workshop.

Visit to view these mentaries.

Published on MirrorMagazine of SundayTimes on 06.03.2011

Conservation and friendship: Young US scholars reach out

January 30, 2011

On their Sinharaja trek (c) C. Mahanayake

“I’m still blown away by how fearless the Hiniduma schoolchildren were on the trek through the Sinharaja rainforest. Kids were passing me with ease – I felt not only old and lame but American as well,” wrote Shelly, one of the young Periclean Scholars from the United States who was on a field tour with students they assist in Sri Lanka.

This group of undergraduates from North Carolina’s Elon University have been helping the remote Panangala School in Hiniduma through Rainforest Rescue International to establish an environmental club as School Rainforest Rangers and also a library.

This was not all. Last weekend, the Periclean Scholars of Elon University organized a summit to facilitate communication between distinguished scholars and globally recognized leaders on issues of environmental education and stewardship. Titled LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Advocacy Forum), this summit focused on how some of the environmental issues affect and impact the regions and peoples of Sri Lanka. Lankan environmental scholars, Prof. Sarath Kotagama, Dr. Ranil Senanayake, Dr. Hemanthi Ranasinghe, Hemantha Withanage and Nalaka Gunawardene addressed the summit.

The Periclean Scholars Class of 2011 are part of an established programme in the US that encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities in social responsibility and participatory citizenship. A Periclean Scholar is a student who is committed to making a sustainable difference in the world. At the start of each new batch in Elon University, the interested students can apply to become a Periclean Scholar. Those chosen then get together under a mentor assigned by the university and then select a country and a focus to support during their three years at university. These students who came to support Sri Lanka’s environment have been studying about Sri Lanka since they become Periclean Scholars in 2008.

“They have become mini experts about Sri Lanka and it provides an opportunity leading to understanding different cultures too,” said Dr. Crista Arangala, their mentor. The present batch consists of 35 scholars and they selected environment as their main focus. Dr. Tom Arcaro, Director of Project Pericles at Elon University too was proud of his students who had put in a lot of hard work in organizing the event. All 14 scholars said they found Sri Lanka an extremely good experience. Some of the girls took part in the summit dressed in traditional Sri Lankan saree. “The saree is comfortable and I like it,” said Natalie Lampert. Sharing some memorable moments she said she met little Malmi at Hiniduma and her love and care for the rainforest was inspiring.

“We also learnt a lot through LEAF. The most important thing is that we made lots of new friends and had loads of fun despite the hard work,” said 22-year-old Jesse Lee. The Panangala school and other programmes initiated by them will be supported by a Periclean alumni afterwards, so that the work done is sustained.

Saree-clad Katie Dirks said she can’t wait to go back to her country and share her great Sri Lankan experience with friends and family. “We hope these kinds of programmes will be continued in the future too,” said Prof. Sarath Kotagama, Professor of Ecology of the University of Colombo in his closing remarks at the LEAF conference.

“Api Yamu” as the schoolchildren in Panangala said over and over to us when they wanted us to keep going and going through the rainforest. Likewise we will keep going on protecting environment,” said Natalie asking everybody to march forward toward conservation.

The US Ambassador and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo were the chief guests at the LEAF conference. The University of Colombo, the American Center and Rainforest Rescue International also supported LEAF.

Pix by Chaminda Mahanayake

Published on SundayTimes on 30.01.2011