Archive for the ‘'Explore Biodiversity with Puncha & Panchie'’ Category

Forests Keep Drylands Working

July 3, 2011

The World Day to Combat Desertification is observed every year on 17 June all over the world. The aim of this day is to highlight increasing dangers of desertification, land degradation and drought. The 2011 theme of this special day focuses specifically on the forests in the drylands areas of the world, guided by the motto: ‘Forests keep drylands working’. 

Do you remember both Puncha and Panchi visited Sinharaja rainforest few weeks back..? They continue their journey with the guide uncle and came to an edge of forest where trees are cut.

“Uncle, why there are no trees in this area..?” asked ever curious Panchi.

“Well, this is the edge of the forests, and it seems some bad people have cut all the trees in this area”. Knowing Panchi would ask a second question, uncle also told that the trees are used as timber to make furniture etc.

“We also have lots of tables, chairs at our home made out of timber. Even our window frames and doors are made of Timber. So trees are very useful – shouldn’t more trees be but, so we can have lots of furniture. ”

“No, Nangi – it is not good. If there are no trees, our country too will be a Desert.” Puncha couldn’t believe his sister’s ignorance.

“Dessert – good ne.. I like to eat desserts after a meal.. Ha… ha..” Panchi wanted to irritate her big brother purposely this time.

Knowing the siblings are going to start a fight; guide uncle intervened.

“That is true – if we cut lots of trees, the land will be affected. You know trees helps to bring rain and also helps to minimize soil erosion. If trees are cut, it sure will lower the quality of that land” guide uncle explained.

“Desert with single ‘s’ usually means a waterless area of land with little or no vegetation typically covered with sand” Guide uncle resolved the quarrel.
“Sahara is world’s largest hot desert” Puncha proudly wanted to show his knowledge.

“yes, Sahara in Africa is world’s largest desert” guide uncle too confirmed. Arabian Desert in Middle East, Gobi Desert in Asia, Kalahari Desert in Africa are some other big hot deserts”

“Deserts are also known as Sea of Sands and very little animals and plants can live in these areas. Animals that live in the desert are usually small and have adaptations to cope with the lack of water, the extreme temperatures, and the shortage of food. To avoid daytime heat, many desert animals become nocturnal; they burrow beneath the surface or hide in the shade during the day, emerging at night to eat. Many desert animals do not have to drink at all; they get all the water they need from their food.”

“Do we have deserts in Sri Lanka..?” Panchi now seriously wanted to know.

“No, we are lucky that there are no deserts in our country yet. But if we continue cutting trees and not protect environment, some of our lands too will slowly turn into desert after a long time” uncle warned.

“Further degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and drylands due to various factors: due to climatic variations and human activities” This process is known as Desertification” guide uncle has lots of things to explain.

“We have lots of drylands where they don’t get rain throughout the year as much as in Sinharaja. So trees and forests in these areas too should be protected to avoid this Desertification – isn’t it uncle..?” Puncha asked.

Uncle nodded happily as both siblings understood the need to protect forests.

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

International Day for Biological Diversity – Let’s explore Biodiversity

May 22, 2011

Today – May 22, is the International Day of Biological Diversity. Your friends Puncha and Panchi visit the Sinharaja Rainforest on this special day with their Guide Uncle. Puncha knew rainforests are home to many creatures, and expected to see many large animals such as elephant and deer. But other than a few birds, they didn’t seen many in the first few minutes.

Large Hump-nosed Lizard seen in Sinharaja

“Guide Uncle.. Why aren’t there many animals in this rainforest..? Our school teacher said Sinharaja is full of different animals,” Puncha asked the Guide Uncle accompanying them on the Sinharaja trail.

“Yeah.. Aiya, can you remember our trip to Yala last year..? We saw lots more animals, in Yala than here in Sinharaja”, Panchi too agreed with Aiya – something that rarely happens.

“Well, well…” The Guide Uncle wanted to prove the rainforest too was home to many unique animals. He called Puncha to help him to lift a rock near a little stream. “Eekke.. What is this..?” Puncha quickly jumped back dropping the rock. Luckily Guide Uncle who was now smiling managed to catch the slipping rock.

“It is a little frog..!!” Panchi recognized the little creature that jumped towards Puncha. “Yes, this tiny frog can be seen only in these kind of forests,” Guide Uncle explained. “Look.. look.. Somebody just ran behind this tree,” Panchi didn’t allow Uncle to finish.

Looking at the tree carefully, Guide Uncle showed them the large lizard. “Nangi, you scared him,” Puncha complained. “He has a hump on its nose and is different to the katussa (lizard) seen in our
garden,” Puncha said, comparing the two. “Yes, this lizard is different to the common katussa we find in our gardens. Both are lizards, but they are different from one another – so we call them different species.

For example, we have 111 different frogs in Sri Lanka.”“That is Biodiversity,” Puncha remembered something he learnt at school. “Well, that is the Species Diversity or Diversity among creatures. Another thing that is diverse (or different) in the natural world, is the difference in Ecosystems. Ecosystems are like nature families. In each ecosystem, plants and animals depend on the weather, the type of earth, the amount of water and on other living things around them. They need each other to survive”.

“Sinharaja rainforest is one ecosystem, while Yala is another – right Uncle..?” Puncha asked. “Yes, that is right. Though both are forests, Sinharaja is a rainforest while Yala is a dry evergreen forest,” Guide Uncle explained. “In rainforests, you find the richest animal diversity,” Guide Uncle further explained.

“But we haven’t seen even elephants or leopards here Uncle – there were plenty in Yala,” Panchi had a query. “Well, different animals live in different ecosystems. Leopards and Elephants are important too, but the most important are the endemic animals and plants that are found only in our country. Rainforests are full of such endemic plants and animals.

For example 92 of the frogs found in Sri Lanka are Endemic and many of them are living in rainforests”.
“Oh… and most of these valued biodiversity are small creatures that we need to go in search of ,” Puncha too was now getting the point.

“Kids, do you know about genes..?” Guide Uncle asked suddenly. “Genes are the element that decide how our body looks like” Panchi was quick to answer laughingly pointing out the difference between Panchi’s pointed nose and Guide Uncle’s flattened nose.

“Yes – Inside every cell of each living thing – plant or animal – are sets of instructions called genes. The genes provide the instructions on what is the plant or animal, what it looks like, how it is to survive, and how it will interact with its surrounding environment. These genes are different even among animals of the same family, so we called it the Genetic Diversity,”“So SPECIES DIVERSITY, ECOSYTEM DIVERSITY and GENETIC DIVERSITY, are collectively defined as BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY,” Guide Uncle finally gave the answer to the question “What is Biodiversity?”

“In short we call it BIODIVERSITY,” both Puncha and Panchi shouted happily, walking forward in the Sinharaja forest looking for more unique creatures..!!

Published on SundayTimes on 22.05.2011 | written by Malaka Rodrigo

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

Symbolic Animals of Cricketing Nations

March 5, 2011

Both Puncha and Panchi are finishing their homework early these days and sit glued to their TV to watch cricket matches. They’ve enjoyed seeing the tournament’s mascot Stumpy and also are curious about the symbolic animals of the cricket teams…

Both Puncha and Panchi are a little saddened as Sri Lanka lost their game against Pakistan. At the last
stages, their interest in the match faded away. “The Lions are down, but they will meet the Kangaroos in the next match,” said their favourite commentator Tony Greig. Panchi knew that Tony had referred to the
Sri Lankans as Lions, but couldn’t remember who the Kangaroos are.

“They are dressed in yellow.. Became world cup champions several times..” Puncha teased his sister.“Hmm.. They are … are.. I KNOW.. I KNOW.. Kangaroos are AUSTRALIANS..!!” Panchi shouted. Both Puncha and Seeya nodded. “But Seeya why are Australians called Kangaroos..?” is Panchi’s question.“It is because there are lots of Kangaroos in Australia,” said Puncha.

“Yes, Kangaroos can be found only in Australia, hence they uniquely symbolize Australia,” explained Seeya. “There are some other countries too that have animals as their symbols. Can you remember..?” asked Seeya.

Hmm.. I know.. I know… Puncha shouted. “Tony calls New Zealanders, Kiwis.” “Kiwi.. – is it an
animal similar to the Kangaroo Seeya..?” asked Panchi “Well, it is infact a bird.. To be exact, one of the flightless birds that live only in New Zealand. It is their national bird too,” explained Seeya. “The Kiwi has its nose at the tip of its beak and has a good sense of smell,” Puncha told his little
sister, what he had seen on the Discovery Channel recently. He ran to his room and brought a book to show his sister what Kiwis look like.

“I’ve seen somebody dressed as a tiger. Is he an Indian, Seeya?” Puncha was not sure.
“Well, Bengal Tigers live in India too, but Bangladesh use the tiger symbol in their cricket. However the tiger is the national animal of both these countries,” revealed Seeya.

“But we do not have lions now in Sri Lanka Seeya, even though we are called Lions..?” Puncha too has a question. “Yes, there are no lions now in our forests, but it is believed that there were lions in
Sri Lanka a long time back. Besides the legends say the Sinhalese are having origins from lions.”

“Seeya.. Seeya.. There is another animal these days. You have all forgotten my friend Stumpy..!!” yelled Panchi. “Yes, Stumpy is the little chubby jumbo mascot of this Cricket World Cup 2011. But unlike the lions, we are lucky to still have Stumpy’s wild relatives in our forests.

“Stumpy is so cute, Seeya,” Panchi loves her friend. “Yes the baby elephants all are lovely to watch.
But they are also having big problems in their living areas.”“We all should protect Stumpy’s relatives.

The Stumpy Story!

The ICC Cricket World Cup mascot ‘Stumpy’, a light-blue elephant, is set to win millions of hearts with his intelligence and ageless appeal. Of all the mascots of sports events, over the last two decades, stumpy clearly is one of the most adorable.

Stumpy was unveiled at a function in Colombo on 2 April 2010 and ever since become the official symbol of the Cricket World Cup 2011. The official name of the mascot was released on Monday, 2 August 2010 after an online competition conducted by the International Cricket Council.

The Stumpy is designed and masterminded by Christoph Kaul. A light blue elephant, its colour has also been chosen keeping the men in blue in mind, yet again driving home the point that while the ICC Cricket World Cup is being hosted by three sub-continental nations, India continue to be the cynosure of all attention according to ESPN Sports. It is important to state here, though, that stumpy was initially visualized as green in colour. But soon enough stumpy turned blue, in an attempt to take a place among the men in blue.

The designer of the Mascot says, the Stumpy has evolved in five stages. He is intelligent, efficient and lovable, a combination that took considerable time to mastermind. Even his trunk is different from a traditional elephant’s trunk and is modeled on the Indian elephant God, Ganesh. Since Stumpy is an Asian Elephant this also reminds us about the adorable elephants in our jungles.

Published on FundayTimes – the Kids Section of SundayTimes on 06.03.2011

Wetlands support us all

February 27, 2011
Kumana was recently named as Sri Lanka’s 5th Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Curious Puncha and Panchi explore the wetlands this week..!!
“Wetlands are wastelands.. Wetlands are wastelands..”
a rhythmic phrase found on a piece of paper made Panchi interested. However, her brother – Puncha found this murmuring irritating.
“Stop nangi.. That is wrong.
It should be read as Wetlands are NOT Wastelands,” Puncha corrected.
But she wanted to irritate her brother more.
“Wetlands are wastelands..
Wetlands are wastelands.”
“NO, WETLANDS ARE NOT WASTELANDS!” Puncha got really annoyed and shouted this time.
Hearing their dispute, Seeya
“Well.. Wetlands are infact not wastelands. Look Panchi, you’ve missed something,” Seeya pointed out the missing part of the sentence on the piece of paper to Panchi.
“But Seeya, aren’t wetlands just useless lands full of mud..?” Panchi remembered one of her visits to the Attidiya Wetland nearby, where her shoes were ruined by mud.

“Well.. Wetlands are areas of land that are covered with water for all or part of the year. They look useless, but wetlands provide lots of silent services,” Seeya started to explain the value of the wetlands.

“Wetlands can be thought of as giant sponges. They absorb water from many different sources during wet periods, and release it slowly into the surrounding areas during dry periods. In this way, wetlands can help to reduce flooding, ease the impact of drought and recharge groundwater supplies.”

“Do you know wetlands are also called ‘nature’s kidneys’ because they clean water?” Seeya asked the attentive kids.

“One way that wetlands clean water is by filtering out excess nutrients. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen can enter the water system from
agriculture and industrial development which can seriously pollute water, harming the life that depends on it including us.”

“Little.. little creatures, plants and friendly bacteria that live in the wetlands can trap, breakdown or absorb these nutrients,” Seeya explained. “Wetlands also trap soil that runs off with rain water. This is important because it helps to purify the water, as well as lessen the impact of soil erosion. Water held in wetlands seep slowly back into the groundwater deposits after getting purified and filtered. This process makes sure of a supply of clean water which we get from wells.”

“So wetlands are for water as well as water is for wetlands. They are also helpful to face effects of droughts and floods due to Climate Change in future.”
“There are lots of birds in the wetlands too Seeya,” Puncha
remembered the birds they had seen at Attidiya and how much they had enjoyed the nature. “Yes, not only birds – wetlands are home to lots of animals and plants – Wetlands are indeed hotspots of biodiversity.”

“Seeya – what is a Ramsar Wetland..?” Puncha
remembered something he had heard at school at the
World Wetlands Day which was
celebrated on February 2.
“Realizing the value of the wetlands, countries got together at a city called Ramsar in Iran, in 1971 to sign an agreement. These countries agreed to
protect wetlands.The Ramsar Convention this year celebrates 40 years of caring for wetlands.”
“The Ramsar Convention also names a global network of wetlands for sustaining people and our
environment. Do you know we have five Ramsar Wetlands in our
country..?” – asked Seeya.

“Yes.. yes.. Kumana is a Ramsar wetland,” Panchi remembered what her parents were talking about a few days back. “Yes, the Kumana coastal areas are Sri Lanka’s latest Ramsar site. Bundala, Madu Ganga, Anawilundawa and Vankalai are our other Ramsar wetlands.”

“Hmm… Aiya it is true. WETLANDS ARE NOT WASTELANDS,” Panchi corrected herself. “Yes; Sharing, as well as the wise use of wetlands here and now is very important,” Seeya stressed.

Published on FundayTimes issue with SundayTimes on 27.02.2011

Biodiversity with Kids: El-Niño and La-Niña

January 29, 2011

This decade starting with 2011 has been named as the Decade of Biodiversity by the United Nations. Your friends – Puncha and Panchi are back exploring Biodiversity, Climate Change and Science..!! By Malaka Rodrigo

It was News Time on TV. Both Puncha and Panchi were surprised by seeing the footage of an elephant on top of a tree, killed by floods. “Look at the poor elephant on the tree Aiya.. How did his body go up that high..?” Panchi was puzzled.

“The floods had taken his body that high,” Puncha reminded his sister about the recent bad rains.
“But why so much rains at this time..?” Panchi wanted to know.. “La Niña,” Puncha proudly shouted what he had seen on TV earlier. “La… WHAT…??” Little Panchi didn’t know what it was. “La Niña, – this is something that happened in the Pacific Ocean which brought heavy rains to Sri Lanka.”

“But Aiya the Pacific Ocean is far away from Sri Lanka isn’t it?” said Panchi and ran to the inflated globe on their study table. “See – it is so far from Sri Lanka.”“Hmm.. Can’t be… Is it..? But… (oops)” Puncha too got stuck realizing the Pacific Ocean was indeed far away from Sri Lanka.

Luckily, Seeya was around… Seeya is the wiseman both kids trust when they have a question. They ran to Seeya with the globe… Folding the newspaper he was reading, Seeya started to explain. “La Niña is a phenomena where the sea surface temperature of the Eastern Central Pacific Ocean near the equator drops by about 3 to 5 degrees Celsius. When the ocean is cooler than normal, it disturbs the normal wind pattern which brings rains to different parts of the world including Sri Lanka”.

“The region of Earth receiving the sun’s direct rays is the tropics, which are close to the equator. Here, air is heated and rises, leaving low pressure areas behind. To fill these low presure areas, cooler air starts flowing in from other areas. This creates wind patterns.”

“Wind patterns…??” Panchi was confused. “Can you remember what happens when Amma burns leaf
litter in the garden..? Have you noticed that sometimes ash and particles of burnt leaves also rise with the fire..? This happens because the air heated by the fire goes up. To fill this void, air from surrounding areas flows in – this forms a wind.”
“These winds that sweep across the oceans, bring lots of water vapour. When this water vapour condenses, it comes down as rain. Changes in sea temperature on one side means there are more variations between these pressure areas, so the atmosphere has more energy than normal which can bring heavier rains to some parts and cause droughts in other instances”.

It was a lengthy explanation Seeya gave about La Niña. “Hmm.. What is then El Niño, Seeya?” Puncha also remembered something he heard earlier. “Well, El Niño is the complete opposite of La Niña. La Niña is due to cooler currents, while El Niño is caused by a warm oceanic current in the Pacific Ocean near the equator”, explained Seeya.

“So do El Niño and La Niña occur due to climate change caused by global warming..??” Puncha wanted to know. Seeya scratched his head… “Hmm.. These kind of events have happened in the earth in the past too, but scientists believe that due to global warming, the power of these rains have increased and they occur more often than in the past.”

“The planet is warming because we do activities that emit more gases like carbon dioxide that trap the Sun’s heat …”“We too can help by switching off unnecessary lights etc,” Panchi said repeating what she was advised by Seeya in the past. “Hey – Nangi.. Look who is talking.. You left the TV switched on and nobody is watching it..” Puncha said jokingly.

“It wasn’t I who switched it on.. It was you.. So you have to switch it off..” Panchi declared. “Hey kids.. There is no use fighting about whose job it is… Let’s switch it off and any other electrical items when we are not using them, in order to do our part to fight against Global Warming”, said Seeya while taking the remote control to switch the TV off.

Tell your friends

Do you know how to properly pronounce La Niña..? La Niña is a Spanish word, so pronunciation is different. It is difficult to write here, but it should be pronounced as \lä-nē-nya\. The name La Niña originates from Spanish, meaning “girl child”, analogous to El Niño meaning “boy child”.

Published on FundayTimes on 30.01.2011

The Year to Save Forests, Bats and Biodiversity

January 15, 2011

Kids, we have just stepped into the New Year 2011. Do you remember that the past year 2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity..?

Naming a year for an important cause is a way used by the United Nations to pay more attention to that cause. But from recent years, there is more focus on Environment and taking the trend forward, UN has taken steps to dedicate 2011 for many environmental causes.

If you are curious to know more about these and be active partners in protecting the environment, keep on reading..!! Your favourite friends, Puncha & Panchie too will meet you in 2011 to explore more on biodiversity. So keep an eye on Funday Times and take a vow to do your part in 2011 to save our Forests, Bats and Biodiversity..!!

Wishing a happy new year to all the kids…!!

International Year of Forests 

Forests are very important habitats of the earth with an estimated 80% of land based animals and plants living in them. United Nations named 2011 as the International Year of Forests with the aim of raising awareness, strengthening sustainable forest management and protecting them for future

It is estimated that about 60% of the earth’s land area was once covered by forests. But due to the need of lands for agriculture, town houses, mining and logging, these forests are cut down. Now the global forest cover is only about 30%, but deforestation still continues. In Sri Lanka the present closed canopy forest cover has reduced to 22% of the land area.

During the Forest Year, try to visit at least a forest such as Sinharaja or Knuckles with your parents and experience the diversity in

Focal point: United Nation’s Forum on Forests.

Decade of Biodiversity

Year 2010 has been the Year of Biodiversity, but recognizing the importance of paying more attention, the next decade starting from 2011 is also nominated as the Decade of Biodiversity by United Nations.

Biological Diversity is the difference between all the living things in the world. But due to many reasons, animals and plants are pushed toward extinction. World leaders are planning many things in order to protect earth’s valued biodiversity.

Focal point: UN Secretary General’s office

The Year of Bats

The Year of Bats The bat is one of the planet’s most misunderstood and mistreated mammals, so United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) together with the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) has launched a two-year campaign to raise awareness on bats starting from 2011.

There are more than 1,100 bat species around the world. Insectivorous bats eat insects that can harm crops, so it is a friend of the farmers. When these bats decline in number, demands for dangerous pesticides grow, as does the cost of growing crops like rice.

Fruit and nectar-eating bats are equally important in maintaining whole ecosystems of plant life. In fact, their seed dispersal and pollination services are crucial to the regeneration of rain forests which are the lungs and rain makers of our planet.

Some bats must be visiting your garden too. Observe these creatures of the night carefully from a distance when you see them next time.

Focal point: UNEP and CMS

International Year of Chemistry

International Year of Chemistry 2011 is also the International Year of Chemistry. The goals of IYC2011 are to increase the public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, to encourage interest in chemistry among young people, and to generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry.

Chemistry meets the global challenges of clean air, safe water, healthy food, eco-friendly products, renewable energy etc. So even though the Year of Chemistry is not a direct environment theme, this will also touch the environment.

Focal Point: UNESCO Published on Junior Section – FundayTimes issued with SundayTimes


New lemurs at Dehiwela Zoo

October 3, 2010

The pair of Ring-tailed lemurs in the zoo are so cuddlesome that you’d definitely remember them. They have a spacious, shady cage with a few trees inside. They love to jump around the cage. Did you know this pair of lemurs got some new friends, a few weeks ago..?

Last month, the Dehiwala Zoo received a second pair of Ring-tailed lemurs from United Kingdom’s Rare Species Conservation Centre. Infact these lemurs are friends of the pair of lemurs who came to the Dehiwala Zoo earlier this year. This pair of lemurs had fallen sick at the time they were to be shipped, so had to wait until their veterinary surgeons gave them the ok. They finally arrived in Sri Lanka in September.

Now the group of friends are together and play happily in their cage. They sometimes play hide and seek or chase one another. The zoo keepers have provided a nice hammock for them to spend the night.

Though these lemurs came from the UK, their wild relatives are native to Madagascar. Remember King Julian in the film Madagascar – these lemurs belong to the same family. Lemurs are primates.

Ring-tailed lemurs are the most common lemur species in the world. If you visit the Dehiwala Zoo, don’t
forget to see these lemurs.

published on FundayTimes on 03.10.2010 –

IYB for Kids: Friends in the ocean

August 25, 2010

This is the part 7 of ‘Explore Biodiversity with Kids’ series dedicated to the International Year of Biodiversity. Puncha & Panchi – the curious siblings explore biodiversity around them..

“Look Aiya.. there is somebody similar to Crush, the turtle in the cartoon,” Panchie shouted, seeing a board with a picture of a turtle. Crush was a cartoon character in the film ‘Finding Nemo’, Panchie enjoyed very much.

Puncha too remembered the cartoon. “But are there turtles in these beaches Thaththa..?” Puncha wanted to know. “Do you want to see turtles..?” asked Prof. Uncle who was driving the car. “Yes.. Yes… Please uncle, PLEASE”, brother and sister shouted together. Prof. Uncle stopped the vehicle near a large board with “TURTLE HATCHERY” on it. Puncha and Panchie hurriedly got down.

“This is a turtle hatchery where little turtles are kept for a few days,” explained Thaththa to the kids, showing them a large tank with little turtles swimming around. They had small shells and were afloat, constantly paddling to catch their breath.

“The sea turtle is a reptile and has to come to the surface to breathe air,” said Prof. Uncle. “But they can also stay under water a long time holding its breath”.

A sea turtle hatchling
An adult sea turtle
Turtles arrive at an Arribada nesting site

Panchie had taken a baby turtle in her hand and took a closer look at it. “It is good to release these baby turtles to the sea, but they have to wait a few days in these tanks,” Prof. Uncle said.

“Where is their mother..?” Panchie wondered. “The mother turtle does not stay with its babies Panchie. It comes to a beach at night, digs a hole and lays dozens of eggs. Then the mother covers the eggs using sand and goes back to the sea”, Thaththa explained.

“After a few days the eggs are hatched and the little turtles usually hurry towards the sea. But unfortunately some bad people dig the turtle nest and steal the eggs”. Puncha and Panchie were sad when they heard this and vowed they would never eat turtle eggs.

“Some turtle varieties like the Olive-ridley turtles visit certain beaches during a certain period to lay eggs in thousands. Some of them migrate across long distances to reach the egg laying grounds known as arribadas”.

“Some bad people also kill the adult turtles. Because of these cruel acts, the turtle has become a threatened creature,” explained Prof. Uncle. The poster on the wall near the turtle tanks explained that there are five turtle species visiting Sri Lanka to lay eggs. They are the Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle,
Hawks-bill Turtle, Leather-back Turtle and Loggerhead Turtle.

The poster said that most of these turtles are ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’. “This means that if we do not protect turtles and their habitats, they will all soon vanish from the seas. Do you want that to happen kids..?” asked Prof. Uncle. “No.. No.. WE MUST PROTECT OUR TURTLES,” said both Puncha and Panchie at once. Published on FundayTimes on 22.08.2010

Explore biodiversity with Kids – Oceans of Life

June 30, 2010

This is the part 6 of ‘Explore Biodiversity with Kids’ series dedicated to the International Year of Biodiversity. Puncha & Panchi – the curious siblings explore biodiversity around them..

It was a Sunday evening. Their parents had taken Puncha and Panchie to the beach. They were enjoying building a sand castle on the beach, when Panchie spotted a strange hole in the sand.

“Aiya.. Aiya.. Have you seen that hole..? Look!” Panchie shouted to her busy brother. She had also

spotted some movements and started running toward it.

“There is also something in it Aiya,” Panchie yelled to hasten her brother. Even though there was nobody to see, the stranger had left some tiny footprints all over the sand. After a careful search, Puncha
managed to spot the stranger who made the footprints.

It was a tiny crab that was very similar to the colour of the sand. Puncha was curious, so he had a closer look. “Hey Panchie – the crab has ten feet,” he whispered.

Puzzled by what the kids were looking at, father too came up to them. “Yes, all the crabs are called decapods because they have 10 feet. The first two have developed as claws and are called Cheliped,” explained father. “Crabs are also invertebrates that do not have a backbone, but have a protective shield around the body called the exo-skeleton”.

“Look… there is a different crab,” Puncha pointed at another odd looking crab that had retracted the body into its shell. Father picked it up in his hand. “This is a Hermit crab, Puncha”, father identified the little fellow still hiding in the shell.

“Hermit crabs do not have a hard shell. So it finds an empty sea shell and transforms it into a mobile home carrying it on its back. When they feel in danger, Hermit crabs retract its whole body into the shell”, father explained the mysterious behaviour of the Hermit. “When grown, the Hermit crab discards its old shell and finds a new home – another spacious sea shell!”

Goose Barnacles Goat’s Foot (Bim Thamburu)

Mussels on a log

Fascinated by the crabs found on the coast, the family kept on walking along the beach.

They came across a large log that had washed ashore last night. It was covered by Mussels attached tightly. There were hundreds of them. “Are they still alive Thaththa..?” Panchie questioned.

“Yes, they are still alive. Can you see the fleshy body part of this mollusc that lives in the sea..?” father asked, pointing to the mouth of the shells. These are also called Bivalves because they have a shell consisting of two asymmetrically rounded halves called valves.

They are mirror images of each other, joined at one edge by a flexible ligament called the hinge”, father said. With the help of Puncha and Panchie, father threw the log back into the sea, so that the mussels too could enjoy the sea.

Grass in the sand

They had also observed a vine like grass that spread around the sandy beach. Before questions came from the kids, father volunteered to explain what it was. “These are called Goat’s Foot or ‘Bim Thamburu’. Look at the shape of the leaves – it really looks similar to a Goat’s Foot,” father explained to the kids.

Hermit crab
A crab hole and footprints.

“Unlike other plants, these can grow under the effects of salt water. Goat’s Foot plants also help to keep the sand on the beach tight, so that other plants can start growing. Without these, it will take a longer time for vegetation to come out in the beaches”, father explained the importance of the plant.

The walk on the beach made both the kids thirsty, so they were thrilled to see an ice cream seller who came to the beach. Already there were a few kids, enjoying ice cream – but they had already thrown the polythene wrappers of the ice cream onto the beach.

“That’s bad,” commented father. “This polythene will be washed into the sea and it will not be good for the health of the oceans. Sometimes these might be eaten by the creatures of the oceans and they will also get sick. So never pollute the beaches or throw anything bad into the ocean,” father advised the kids.

Both Puncha and Panchie kept their wrappers safely, until they found a garbage bin to dump them.

The crab, mussels and Goat’s Foot plants are all parts of the coastal ecosystem, but there are more creatures that live in the oceans… Stay in touch with your friends – Puncha and Panchie for more news about them… published on FundayTimes – the Kids’ supplement issued with SundayTimes on 27.06.2010

Biodiversity in the National New Year

April 25, 2010

Puncha and Panchie had visited their village to see Achchie and Seeya for Avurudu. They got a chance to see nature’s Avurudu messengers…

The visit to the village to see Seeya and Achchie is the favourite Avurudu trip for both Puncha and Panchie. After getting the blessings from the elders, the siblings ran to the garden to use the Avurudu onchillawa (swing) tied to a large kadju tree.

Male Asian Koel

Panchie sat on the swing and asked Aiya to give a push. While enjoying the swing, she heard a bird singing a lovely song.

“Khuu.. Khuu… ” Panchie
wondered what bird sang so beautifully.

“Aiyo Panchie, don’t you know even that..? It is a koha – the cuckoo bird which sings to welcome Avurudu. Can’t you remember a pair of them visiting our garden too..?”

“Hmm is it..??” Panchie was still doubtful. Puncha ran to their car to bring his binocular. It had taken a few
minutes for him to spot the bird singing behind a kadju branch.

“There it is..!!” Puncha managed to show the singing koha to Nangi. It was a glossy black bird. “Hmm.. But why are they singing only during the Avurudu season Aiya..?” Panchie asked. Even Puncha was not sure.. Whether the koha is a migratory bird that visits Sri Lanka only during a certain period of time from a different country had puzzled Puncha too.

But luckily Seeya came to his rescue…
“The Koha is a native bird in
Sri Lanka, but this is one of its
breeding seasons. The male koha (Asian Koel) sings to its mate during this Avurudu period to express his care,” explained Seeya.

“But where is his partner..?” Pancha tried to spot the female Koel.
Adjusting the specs, Seeya looked over the kadju tree. “There is the female Koel.” Seeya showed the bird to his grandchildren. The female had spots all over her body which looked different to the male.
“Show me their nest.. Show me.. Seeya,” Panchie was curious.

“Ha..ha.. Panchie, the koha doesn’t build a nest. Instead they lay eggs in the nest of a crow. While the male koha distracts the parent crows, mother koha secretly lays an egg in the crow’s nest. Crow parents feed this stranger, thinking it is their young until it grows big,” Seeya explained. “This is called Brood Parasitism”…

“Hmm.. Brood … what..?” Panchie found it difficult to pronounce.
“Look, the female koha is eating
something,” Puncha was the first, to spot something reddish in Koha’s beak.
“Ahh… ha.. Koha is eating a cashew fruit,” looking through the bino, Puncha said. The fruit looked so tasty.

“Do you also want a fruit ?” asked Seeya while plucking a low-hanging cashew apple. Avurudu period also is the Kadju puhulan season.

Panchi wanted the first bite. “Be careful, it is so juicy and can spoil your clothes,” Seeya warned.
“The seed of all the other fruits are inside, but why is Kadju different..?” The strange look of the Kadju
puhulam puzzled Puncha.

Kadju puhulam

“Infact the kidney-shaped nut is the real seed of the Kadju puhulam. The cashew apple is just a false fruit which is a modified fruit stalk,” showing a tender fruit, Seeya said.

He had taken out a small pen knife and cut the cashew apple into a few pieces. Achchie brought a plate of salt and they start eating the pieces of cashew apple, applying salt.

“Hmm… it is really tasty Seeya,” Panchie wanted another piece. “Do you know it has lots of Vitamin C in it – as much as five times more than in an orange..? When we were young kids, there were lots of Kadju trees”. Seeya told them that eating Kadju was one of their favourite pastimes during the Avurudu season.

“Seeya.. Seeya..

I want to see an Erabadu flower,” Panchie also remembered another messenger of Avurudu.
“Come.. This way…” Seeya had taken both Aiya and Nangi towards the edge of the garden. “Here, this is Erabadu,” said Seeya showing a large tree with a thorny skin. The tree had bright red flowers similar to Tiger’s Claw.

“Erabadu is the real messenger of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year as the flower blooms in this period of time,” Seeya said. “Though it looks a useless tree, Erabadu flowers have nectar that birds like to feed on. Its tender leaves are also made as a curry in the villages.”

“Seeya, why can’t these nature symbols of Avurudu be seen in our area now..?” Panchie was sad she couldn’t get Erabadu or Kadju puhulam in her area.

“Hmm… yeah, Panchie – most of these trees were cut. But Kadju and Erabadu are Nature’s New Year
messengers together with the Asian Koel, so you need to keep in mind that these should be protected…” Taking the hands of Puncha and Panchie, Seeya started walking back to the house.

Published on 25.04.2010 on FundayTimes under 2010 Year of Biodiversity series

Biodiversity for Kids -> National Icons

February 7, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Na (Iron wood): Mesua ferrea

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

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

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

Wali Kukula (Sri Lankan Jungle fowl): Galus lafayettii

Wali Kukula (Sri Lankan Jungle fowl): Galus lafayettii

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

Nil Manel (Water Lily): Nympheae stellata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Reginald, Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena