Archive for the ‘National Parks’ Category

Yala elephant gulps tourist’s bag with money and travel docs

December 26, 2016

December 2012: Gemunu looking for food

Gemunu, Yala National park’s iconic tusker has a bad habit of stealing food from visitors. What initially started off as begging for food, with time Gemunu became more aggressive– standing in the path of safari jeeps until it was given some food or sticking his trunk inside the jeeps and stealing food.

However, things went wrong this week for Gemunu when it put its trunk into a jeep in which a German couple was riding in and picked up a bag, thinking there would be a bagful of food. But instead the couple watched in horror and disbelief as Gemunu downed the bag containing cash and the travel documents.

It is reported that the tourists reported the incident to Wildlife officers so that they could obtain a letter as proof to claim insurance and get their travel documents renewed.

As Gemunu gets bolder wildlife experts worry that a fate far worse than gulping a bagful of of money and documents awaits the elephant. In addition to Gemunu there are other elephants being fed in Yala and other forest reserves of Sri Lanka. Sithulpawwa – a famous Buddhist temple located in Yala is also frequented by a tusker in search of food.

While feeding wild animals started with good intentions, people should understand it would ultimately have a negative impact on wild life – even resulting in possible fatalities, points out Prof.David Newsome of Murdoch University of Australia who studied nature-based tourism and its impact on wildlife in many different parts of the world. “Every case of feeding wild animals is different, so each needs to be carefully analysed to provide a lasting solution,” Prof. Newsome said.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Prof. Newsome gave the example of  Fraser Island in Australia where tourists closely interact with the dingo – a wild dog found in Australia. Things changed drastically when a boy was killed by dingos. Wildlife officers had to kill a number of dingos in Fraser Island following this incident.

An army soldier shoot to air to make Gemunu let go a jeep in 2013 stirred controversy in 2013.

An army soldier shoot to air to make Gemunu let go a jeep in 2013 stirred controversy in 2013.

Prof. Newsome who was in Sri Lanka recently commented on the Yala incident when he delivered the key-note address at the 21st International Forestry Symposium organised by the University of Sri Jayawardanepura annually.

“I’m not going to visit Yala as a tourist again,” prof. Newsome said. “Every wilderness has its limits in tolerating visitors and Yala being Sri Lanka’s most popular National Park needs an action plan immediately. Quality of the visitor experience is more important and just don’t forget ‘word-of-mouth’ is quicker in this era of social media – so in future tourists may avoid Yala” prof.Newsome,” said reiterating what local experts have been saying for sometime.

“Take a step back, review the situation properly, take informed decisions leading to sustainability of Yala to make sure its status as both a haven for animals as well as a tourist destination,” the expert on ecotourism advised.

This video shows Gemunu’s bold behavior in search of food and signs that a worse disaster is in the making – 2013.

Close encounter: Gemunu looking for food inside a jeep in 2013 - A thrilling, but scary view from inside Pic by Riaz Carder

Close encounter: Gemunu looking for food inside a jeep in 2013 – A thrilling, but scary view from inside Pic by Riaz Carder 

Published on SundayTimes on 25.12.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161225/news/aussie-expert-calls-for-action-plan-for-yala-following-gemunus-money-gobbling-incident-221783.html 

 

Thousands of years old ‘near fossilized’ animal remains found in Yala

October 7, 2016

Bone fragments believed to be animals that died thousands of years ago were discovered from a rock pool in Yala this week.

They are parts of skeletons of elephants, tortoises, wild buffaloes, spotted deer, wild boar and other animals, say students of the Kelaniya University Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology who are studying the fossils.

The level of fossilisation indicates the animal bones are 1,000 to 5,000 years old, palaeobiodiversity expert Kelum Manamendra-arachchie said.

“Some of these bones could be older,” he added. With time, the organic materials inside bones are replaced by mineral substances and experts can estimate their age by observing the extent of this fossilisation process.

Fossilisation only happens in rare cases. Animal carcasses are usually eaten or bacteria can rots them away before fossilisation can occur.

Fossils are found when animals die in location where their carcasses – or parts of it – are protected from scavengers and the elements, such as when they are found on the seabed or a river bed and become buried in sand, soil or mud. Rock pools with beds of clayey mud are ideal, Mr. Manamendra-arachchie pointed out.

The bones were found during efforts to find water sources for thirsty animals. Due to the drought, many of the Yala National Park’s waterholes have run dry. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) sent a crew with a backhoe to deepen a rock pool known as Wel-mal-kema in Yala Block I.

These rockpools are the lifeline of wild animals during droughts as many of them have water when other water sources run dry. It is believed animals became trapped in the mud of this rock pool when they came there for drinking water thousands of years ago.

Through analysis of the bones, Mr. Manamendra-arachchie is able to surmise that wild buffaloes were plentiful thousands of years ago in Yala. The national park has a population of wild buffaloes but these are mixed with domesticated buffaloes. Mr. Manamendra-arachchie says the base of the hobes are thicker in wild buffaloes and there were many such skulls among the excavated bones.

This Wel-mal-kema is 30 feet long and believed to be 30 ft deep. Only half of it has been excavated and it is possible that there could be much older fossils.

Yala has a number of such rock pools, so there could be many mysteries waiting to be unearthed. The Director-General of the DWC and the Minister for Wildlife has requested the Institute of Archaeology to continue with this study in Yala.

Mr. Manamendra-arachchie said he analysed a similar, but smaller rock pool in 2005 in Thanamalwila from which he collected four truckloads of bones that, he believes clearly accounted for more than 100 elephants, 150 wild buffaloes, 200 spotted deer, 150 wild boar and 50 sambhur deer. Most of them had almost become fossilised. 

Published on SundayTimes on 02.10.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161002/news/animal-fossils-thousands-of-years-old-found-in-yala-211131.html

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Students investigating the bones

Carpeted road stretch in Yala spells death to animals

October 27, 2015

MalakaMapSince the re-opening of Yala National Park on October 7, four Spotted Deer have been killed by speeding vehicles on the recently carpeted Kirinde – Yala road.

An adult male antler that died of head injuries was among the four that were killed.

The road from Kirinde up to the Park’s ticketing office was carpeted a few months ago. Earlier, motorists could not speed on this stretch due to the bad condition of the road.

The road borders the Nimalawa Sanctuary and animals cross it mainly at dusk, the time of day when a majority of the accidents occur.

Sampath Galappaththie –Yala Safari Jeep Association coordinator says not only deer, but many smaller animals have fallen victim to speeding vehicles.

Even Bee-eaters who hop onto the road to sun bathe have met their end on this stretch, Mr.Galappaththie said adding that the deadliest stretch was about three kilometres from the ticketing office.

Following the death of a leopard by a speeding vehicle inside the Yala National Park, speed humps were set up. Our question is whether officials are waiting for a leopard to be killed on this stretch too for remedial steps to be taken.

A couple of years ago a leopard was killed on the Buttala-Kataragama road and it is only a matter of time for such an accident to occur on this stretch too.

Meanwhile Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Director General H.D. Ratnayake said the road is located outside the protected area and hence its maintenance was the responsibility of the Road Development Authority (RDA). However he said DWC would work with RDA to find a solution.

However, when the Sunday Times contacted RDA they were unaware of the problem. They said that if such a problem existed, solutions like building speed humps could be looked in to.

Published on SundayTimes on 18.10.2015 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151018/news/carpeted-road-stretch-in-yala-spells-death-to-animals-168100.html

Environmentalists derail garbage train to Aruwakkalu

October 7, 2015
Experts fear EIA report may go to the dustbin, point out major damage to habitat and heritage. 

Garbage disposal has been a major headache for Colombo which generates as much as 1,200 metric tonnes of rubbish every day. The dumping sites, some of them in the midst of residential areas, are also bursting at the seams.

No solution yet for Colombo’s garbage problem: The Meethotamulla garbage dump

 As the crisis aggravated, a new project to collect the garbage, transport it by train and dump it in a Sanitary Landfill in Puttalam emerged as a solution. But environmentalists are now raising serious concerns over the project.

The plan seeks to convert the present garbage dump at Meethotamulla in Kolonnawa into a collection center complete with rail tracks and loading facilities.

The compacted waste will be packed in 20-foot containers and sent by train to the landfill site at Aruwakkalu, just North of Puttalam, about 170 kilometres away from Colombo.

The 30-hectare Aruwakkalu site, leased out to Holcim Cement Company, has many abandoned quarries, from where limestone was extracted by the Cement Corporation some 20 years ago.

The site will be designed to absorb up to 4,700,000 cubic metres of garbage for 10 years in 2 phases.

But to the dismay of environmentalists, the site is within the one mile buffer zone of the Wilpattu National Park – a fact that has been highlighted in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

The document points out that the site is frequented by several wild animals, including elephants and warns that once the garbage comes, it can attract more elephants to the area, aggravating the human-elephant conflict, especially in the fishing village near the site.

The EIA report recommends several steps to prevent elephants and other animals from coming to the area. They include erecting an electric fence and closing up the landfill on a daily basis after the garbage has been deposited.

The forest adjacent to the landfill site is also home for a critically endangered legume crop, a wild relative of ‘Bu-kollu’ (Rhynchosia velutina) which has so far been spotted only in two places in Sri Lanka.

The environmentalists also express concerns over the impact of the project on the Kala Oya/Lunu Oya Estuary which supports the largest, richest, and the most pristine mangrove patch in Sri Lanka and is also just 200 m northeast of the site.

Hemantha Withanage of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) says the project is a crime and not worth the cost. He says the solution lies not in dumping garbage at landfill sites but addressing the root cause.

“Go for a zero-waste model promoting recycling. It will be a sustainable solution. Sometimes drastic measures such as banning polythene and plastic might have to be taken – but it will help in the long run,” he said.  Mr. Withanage said the people must also act with responsibility to minimise garbage.

The US$ 107 million landfill site project was approved by the previous government after a cabinet paper was submitted by the then President Mahinda Rajapakse in his capacity as Minister of Urban Development.

Environmentalists fear that just as the previous regime showed scant respect for EIAs and tweaked the findings to do development at ‘any cost’; the present Government also could distort the EIA.

Many experts recognise that the solid waste problem requires an urgent solution but it does not mean creating another environmental crisis.
Due to the limestone base and dynamiting, the base of the solid waste pit could be impermeable.

The leachate will contaminate the pristine habitats of the Kala Oya. Some experts suggest that to minimise the negative impacts, the solid waste should be dumped in the abandoned Holcim pits which are more towards the interior of Aruwakkalu.But the company is not in favour of this suggestion, environmentalists say.

This is why the present site has been selected for the project even though its negative impacts are apparent. It is also feared that uncontrolled dynamiting could damage the bottom lining of the landfill site, paving the way for leakages.

When contacted, a Holcim spokesperson said the quarry was being blasted with permission from the Geological and Mines Bureau and the company was following standard protocols. They said the landfill was a government project and it had nothing to do with it.

However, the project needs approval not only from the Central Environment Authority (CEA) but also from the North Western Provincial Council and the Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) as the site is located within the buffer zone of a national park.

When contacted, CEA Chairman Lal Dharmaratne said the EIA had been submitted to the technical committee and was being evaluated. The EIA is posted on the CEA’s website http://www.cea.lk for the public to send protests and comments before October 13.

Wedi Pitiya: 25 million year heritage site cannot go under garbage 

Palaeobiologists who explore prehistoric biodiversity have joined environmentalists to oppose the Aruwakkalu project as it is likely to harm South Asia’s prime Miocene fossil site.The quarry that Holcim excavates contains fossils belonging to the Miocene era some 25 million years ago. During this era, this area had been a sea bed and the cement raw material that is being dug is in fact calcified fossilised shells or bony remains of many sea creatures which died millions of years ago.

The site known as ‘Wedi Pitiya’ is particularly unique as it is in its vicinity that P.E.P. Deraniyagala documented nearly 40 species of prehistoric invertebrates and marine vertebrates such as Dugongs, dolphins, whales and sea turtles from their bony remains belonging to the Miocene era.

This indicates that ‘Wedi Pitiya’ could in fact be a deeper zone of the sea. The Red Bed which lies above the Miocene Bed also contains stone tools, potsherds, beads and bony remains of prehistoric human habitation dating back to more than 250,000 years.

Considering its place in the history of Sri Lanka and its evolutionary importance to biodiversity in view of possible future finds, the Palaeobiodiversity Conservation Programme under the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Forest Department (to whom the land belongs) and the Department of Archaeology has identified a 300m x 500m area at ‘wedi pitiya’ along with 3 other sites in Aruwakkalu to be gazzetted as a protected area.

This tiny area will be the only remaining Miocene area in Sri Lanka after the Holcim Company has finished mining Aruwakkalu, but sadly a section of ‘Wedi Pitiya’ has been included in the proposed landfill site.

“Aruwakkalu is a gold mine for palaeobiodiversity studies. The excavation for limestone made visible a large cross section of a wall showing the fossil layers and this could easily attract foreign students studying paleobiodiversity to Sri Lanka,” says Kelum Manamendra-arachchie, who is Sri Lanka’s palaeobiodiversity expert.

“The Aruwakkalu site is the only visible Miocene site in Sri Lanka. Its prehistoric artefacts, the traditional fishing village of ‘Gange Wadiya’ and the legend of Kuveni can be utilised to promote ‘geo tourism’. So it is pity that our heritage is going to be covered by garbage,” Mr. Manamendraarachchie said.

 

“The site is the worst, but concept is good” – Waste Management expert 

The 30-hectare land chosen for the sanitary landfill is the worst possible area in Aruwakkalu, says Solid Waste Management expert Sumith Pilapitiya.

Primarily, the site is too close to Kala Oya, an important water source in the area. Secondly, it is located within the Wilpattu Buffer zone, an ecologically sensitive area.

The site is also close to ‘Gange Wadiya’, the only human settlement in the area and, therefore, the traditional livelihood of the villagers will be disturbed, he explains.

However, unlike many other environmentalists, Dr. Pilapitiya believes that in the absence of a solution to Colombo’ solid waste problem so far, a sanitary landfill at Aruwakkalu could be a good idea only if an alternative suitable site is selected in the same area.

The search for landfill sites within a 50 km radius from Colombo to dump wastes has been going on since 1990 with little or no success amid protests from residents living near the possible sites.

Experts describe this dilemma as typical of the NIMBY syndrome- all want a solution to Colombo’s waste problem, but at the same time they say, “Not in my backyard (NIMBY)”.

This compels the authorities to go for temporary solutions which in turn lead to environmental pollution, the magnitude of which is much bigger than the originally proposed solution. The crisis over the Meethotamulla dump is a classic example.

Aruwakkalu in Puttalam is not a populated area and it has already suffered environmental damage as a result of limestone quarrying by cement companies. Since a suitable landfill site cannot be found closer to Colombo without drawing public protests, this could be a viable option, if the project is properly implemented, Dr. Pilapitiya explains.

To address the concerns raised by some environmentalists, he proposes to select a site further south, more towards new Holcim quarries. “There is about a 15 km stretch of land between the currently selected site and Holcim excavating sites; so there is space for an alternative site,” he says.

Asked about how safe it is to transport solid waste in train wagons, Dr. Pilapitiya says there are specially designed rail rolling stock and containers that will not even let the smell out. He says the authorities should go in for such rolling stock and the cost of buying them could be added to the project.

Considering all these options, Dr. Pilapitiya proposes to make it a National Level project to solve not only Colombo’s solid waste problem but also those of other major cities.

The waste management expert also proposes to sort garbage and compost the perishable waste to minimise pollution and the load to be sent to the sanitary landfill. In this way, the dangerous leachate generated at the landfill site could also be minimised.

People are afraid of sanitary landfills, but if designed and managed properly, a sanitary landfill is good as it will confine pollution within the site, Dr. Pilapitiya says.

Commenting on other solutions proposed for the solid waste crisis, the expert renowned for his waste management work in Sri Lanka and abroad, says some propose incineration that involves the burning of waste material at high temperature as a solution, but garbage in Sri Lanka is largely organic and high in moisture content, and therefore this method is not economically viable.

Another option is plasma gasification – a process in which carbon-based waste is converted into fuel – gas that can be utilised to generate electricity. This has been successfully implemented at small and medium levels to deal with solid waste within a local council area. But Dr. Pilapitiya points to the project’s high human and capital costs and asks whether the authorities could afford it.

“When over 2/3rd of the Pilisaru funded compost plants in the country cannot be operated without odour and flies, I would not advocate sophisticated technology,” he says.

However, if the service provider is from the private sector and has the funds and capacity to sustain a hi-tech project, such an alternative could be explored.

Decision makers should study the waste disposal mechanisms that are being successfully operated in other South Asian countries – this is because the garbage is more or less similar in composition — and take a decision on a proper technology, he advises.

“Under these circumstances, my preference would be for composting the organic portion of the waste and landfilling the residual waste in an engineered, sanitary landfill. If the engineered, sanitary landfill is properly constructed, even if operations slip a little, the pollution can be largely contained,” says Dr. Pilapitiya.

Published on SundayTimes 04.10.2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151004/news/environmentalists-derail-garbage-train-to-aruwakkalu-166659.html

Perhaps this leopard did not die in vain

September 6, 2015

When the Sunday Times broke the story about the leopard killed in a hit-and-run accident inside Yala National Park last Friday the issue went viral on social media, reaching a peak when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stood up for action.
In a post on his official Facebook page the Prime Minister said his government was looking into how it could implement strict enforcement of speed limits and further restrictions on the rate of visitors “to each of our national parks and reserves, in order to create an environment that is safe and secure for all its inhabitants”.

Environmentalists welcomed the statement, hoping that at last there would be action to control the safari madness at the country’s most popular national park, which attracted gets nearly half a million tourists last year. The issue of over-visitation is linked to bad planning of the tourism industry, some experts point out. A number of new hotels has been built in the area, resulting more visitors to Yala. So the tourism industry itself needs to come forward to plan sustainable use of the park, not allowing the industry itself to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

There are other national parks in the country, some of them scenic beauties but very much under-developed and recording very low visitation. These should be developed and promoted as an attempt to divert visitors to other biodiversity in the country.
This is not the first time an animal has been killed in Yala. In 2011, a young leopard was knocked inside the national park while in 2012, another jungle cat was killed.

Environmentalists are happy that the country’s prime minister has now announced that, “As an animal lover myself, this matter is very close to my heart”, and they hope the words are sincere. -M.R.

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Please make it one portfolio, say activists

Gamini Jayawickrema Perera was given the Wildlife portfolio when the new ministry was announced on Friday and it is assumed that President Maithripala Sirisena will continue as the Minister of Environment. This has disappointed environmentalists who hoped that all agencies relating to the environment be placed under one ministry to allow for better coordination.

At a press conference convened by the Environmental Collective on Wednesday, environmentalists pointed out the importance of having all the related Environment agencies under one roof. The main concern is that the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Forest Department (FD) are assigned to two different ministries.

The Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department, Central Environment Authority, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, Marine Environmental Protection Authority, Gem and Jewellery Authority and the Wildlife Trust are the other state departments and agencies that environmentalists desire to be brought under one ministry.

While saying that the guardianship of wild animals of Sri Lanka is considered to be primarily under the DWC but there are wild animals in the forests belonging to Forest Department, Pubudu Weeraratne of the Species Conservation Centre gave an example with humour to explain the ineffectiveness before of lack of coordination between agencies.

“There are instances where electric fences with the aim to solve human-elephant conflict are being built to demarcate protected areas belonging to DWC but on the other side it becomes a forest under the Forest Department – and there are elephants on both sides of the fence,” Mr. Weeraratne said.

“A minister from an urban electorate such as Colombo would be better as the Minister of Wildlife,” said activist Nayanayaka Ranwella, pointing out that provincial politicians were bound to favour their supporters, who are often behind wildlife crimes.
He said environmentalists were truly happy that President Maithripala Sirisena had himself come forward to keep the portfolio, indicating that for the first time the environment is an important subject.

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Published on SundayTimes on 06.09.2015  http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150906/news/perhaps-this-leopard-did-not-die-in-vain-163182.html 

Yala was no sanctuary for this leopard

August 30, 2015
More animals die so that we can ride in comfort 

In more sad news from Yala, the body of a female leopard was found on Friday inside Yala National Park itself, on the verge of the Jamburagala road. The body had no apparent scars but the postmortem revealed the leopard died due to a broken neck (spinal code). There was evidence that some elephants had passed through the area in which the leopard was lying but it was unlikely that the death could have been due to an attack by elephants as adult leopards never confront elephants.

It is probable that the leopard died after being hit by a speeding vehicle, Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) Director General H.D. Ratnayake said. No culprit has been nabbed yet but there will be an investigation about the death of this leopard, he said.

The female leopard killed by Hit and Run vehicle inside Yala National Park

Female leopard killed by Hit and Run vehicle inside Yala (c) Janakafb Janu

Yala is the busiest national park in Sri Lanka with its key attraction being the leopards. The safari jeep drivers and other visitors always want to see a leopard so any leopard sighting is swiftly communicated through mobile phones to other jeeps that then flock to the area for a glimpse of the prized big cat.

The park is closed every day at 6 p.m., so jeeps that go deep into the jungle without a sense of the time, speed their way toward the exit at closing time, and this could lead to accidents like this. This is not the first leopard killed by speeding vehicles inside Yala National Park. In 2011, a leopard was killed by a speeding vehicle and since then, several animals too has been reported killed by speeding vehicles.

Mobile phones are a big factor in these Mad Max-type situations in Yala as they are used to pass on the message of leopard sightings. Heeding requests from conservationists, the DWC, in collaboration with mobile phone operators, in experimenting with cutting off service inside the park, Mr. Ratnayake revealed.

The network was switched off on alternate weeks this month. The leopard death occurred during a time when phones were active, according to local sources, indicating that a total blackout could improve the situation to some extent. It is, however, the responsibility of visitors not to allow the jeep to speed up for the sighting of a leopard. Jeep drivers speed in order to give tourists a better sighting, which will mean a bigger tip, so ask them not to speed up, conservationists say.

Local sources say that as many as five leopards have died this year in Yala due to various causes. A leopard was killed a few months ago in the buffer zone in Dambewa after being caught in a wire trap. The remains of another leopard was found near Rathmalwewa in Yala about a month ago.

Earlier this week a tourist bus hit a herd of deer on the Kirinda-Yala road, reinforcing concerns that the road has become a death-trap for wildlife as its newly-carpeted surface allows motorists to speed. No carcasses or wounded deer could be seen on the road after Wednesday’s accident but blood on the road indicated that several animals could be badly injured.

It was dark at the time of the accident and the wounded animals sought refuge in the jungle. Conservationists worry that even if these deer do not die as a direct result of their injuries the wounds could become infected and make the animals less mobile,making them easy prey for predators.

Last drop of water - trying to quench thirst of dying deer hit on Kirinda - Palatupana - Yala road on 21st of Aug

Last drop of water – trying to quench thirst of dying deer hit on Kirinda – Palatupana – Yala road on 21st of Aug (c) Sampath Galappaththi

On August 21, a deer was hit and killed by a motorist who sped off without waiting to be identified, leaving the animal suffering by the side of the road. It was the ninth deer known to have been killed in the past three months since that stretch was resurfaced to provide a comfortable ride for park visitors, local resident Sampath Galappaththi said.

The fact that large animals like deer are being killed on the road indicates smaller animals and birds are being killed in larger numbers, unnoticed.

Mr. Galappaththi revealed that carcasses of nightjars, a nocturnal bird, have become a common sight on the road.
Mr. Ratnayake said he was aware of the problem. He said that as the road comes under the Road Development Authority, the DWC would hold talks with the authority to find a solution. In the meantime, he urged motorists to be careful when driving on roads bordering on or passing through through wilderness areas.

Drought break for wildlife
The Yala National Park will be closed for one month from September 7. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) announced this week that Yala, the country’s mostly visited national park, is closing during the height of the drought to ease the pressure on the animals from visitors. The break also gives an opportunity to repair infrastructure in the park. The tradition of closing the park at this time started in colonial days when the park was a game reserve providing hunting opportunities. 

Plans to setup National Parks at North

May 14, 2015

Conservationists plan for setup new National Parks. Also stresses the importance of genuine and thorough protection for these areas and not simply labelling them “national parks”. 

The government has stretched out a hand of protection of the threatened wildlife across the north, from the ragged ponies of Delft to birds that breed only on a single islet in the Adam’s Bridge chain leading to India. Four new national parks will be set up across the north, the government announced this week. They will cover environmentally sensitive areas in Chundikulam, Madhu, Delft island and the Adam’s Bridge sand islands that belong to Sri Lanka.

Resident breeder not migratory: Nesting Brown Noddy on Adam’s Bridge island. Pic by Vimukthi Weeratunga

Conservationists welcomed the move to protect the north’s unique eco-systems, overlooked for decades due to war and then came under pressure with post-war development plans. The decision was announced by Sports and Tourism Deputy Minister Wasantha Senanayake, who carries responsibility for the Department of Wildlife Conservation while President Maithripala Sirisena is Minister for the Environment.

Delft Island is the only place inhabited by wild ponies believed to have been brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, who used Delft as a breeding centre. There are thought to be around 500 ponies today. The wilderness around the famous Madhu church and the Chundikulam bird sanctuary too will be gazetted national parks.The most unique area to be upgraded to national park status is Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone islands between Mannar and India’s Rameswaram island.

It is believed India and Sri Lanka were linked in ancient times and these are the remains of that land mass. There are eight islands on the Sri Lankan side and the furthest of them are very small and go under water at high tide. The third island from Mannar is special as it is used by thousands of seabirds for breeding, said biologist Vimukthi Weeratunga, who carried out a reconnaissance survey with fellow researchers Dr. Sampath Seneviratne and Professor Devaka Weerakoon of the University of Colombo.The team hopes to initiate a long-term study on the breeding ecology and relative abundance of birds of the sand islands. The island in question is less than five hectares but the research team found seven species of terns breeding there, building nests on the sand. Of these, six are listed as endangered species in Sri Lanka since this island is the only known breeding site in Sri Lanka for them, according to their research team.

The researchers also found a brown noddy nest with eggs on this island, which for the first time shows that this bird, thought to be migratory, is a resident breeder. Dr. Seneviratne, who has observed many seabird colonies in other parts of the world, says the density of birds in this island is high. He warned, however, that during the breeding season, fisherman reportedly often raid the island to collect the eggs. This is very disruptive, he said, commending the Navy for trying to give maximum protection to the island.

Prof. Weerakoon also cautioned that if more people start visiting these islands the breeding colonies would be disturbed and birds would abandon the island.
Declaring these Adam’s Bridge islands a national park should be done carefully as it would increase tourism, he said. The focus should be to conserve such remote locations without disturbances.

Conservationists stressed the importance of genuine and thorough protection for these areas and not simply labelling them “national parks”.

ADAMS-BRIDGE

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150510/news/wild-north-gets-govts-helping-hand-at-last-148433.html

Operation starfish to save reef

October 7, 2013
Volunteers dive at Pigeon Island to protect the corals from a carnivorous predator – Malaka Rodrigo 

Armed with improvised spears, the team clad in scuba gear, were submerged in the clear waters off Pigeon Island. Seeing an area where corals were destroyed, they descended like sharks that had spotted their prey. Taking aim, they speared the starfish that was the cause of the destruction.

The thorny interloper: Starfish that have been removed from the coral reef 

Pigeon Island is one of Sri Lanka’s two Marine National Parks and it is prohibited to hunt any creature in this sanctuary. But Wildlife Officers too supported this mission as the ‘Crown of Thorn Starfish’ are extremely destructive to the corals, feeding on the microorganism polyps that build them. According to marine biologists, the number of COT in the Pigeon Island reef began increasing last year exceeding the threshold of their natural occurrence, hence the need for action to control the damage.

“We came to know about the outbreak at Pigeon Island and as conservation oriented underwater explorers, we wanted to organise a programme to remove the COTs on Pigeon Island Coral Reef,” Upekshi Perera, President of the Sub Aqua Club said.

It was no easy task as some of these creatures are hidden inside the corals. The starfish also has protective thorns that are venomous. The recommended method of removing the COTs is by injecting Sodium bi-sulphate using syringes with long needles, but the team had to come up with other methods.

Travice Ondatje of Nilaweli Beach Hotel who is also a member of Sub Aqua Club was the mastermind behind creating the team’s main weapon – the ‘broomstick spear’. “It was simply a broomstick with a five millimetre steel rod (used for concrete) tied to one end,” Travice said. The team had taken time to learn how to manoeuvre the improvised spear.

The team comprised 12 divers from the Sub Aqua Club and three from the Ypsylon Dive Centre that also provided some of the dive equipment. Forming three teams, they had done two dives – each taking one and half hours. Teams moved in semi circles inspecting the corals on the southern part of the reef. One diver held ‘plastic laundry bins’ to collect the starfish speared by the other members.

The team fills up buckets of Crown of Thorn starfish

At the end of the day, the team had removed 181 Crown of Thorn Starfishes – double the number we thought we could achieve, said Dharshana Jayawardane, dive officer of Sub Aqua Club. The density of the COT on top of stag horn corals was more, he added.

Dr. Malik Fernando, an expert on Sri Lanka’s marine life and founder member of the Sub Aqua Club said there are COT outbreaks once in a while and intervention is required to manage them. Coral ecologist Arjan Rajasuriya praised the work done by the Sub Aqua Club members highlighting the need for such an exercise annually. Government agencies should organise a programme to facilitate volunteers as diving is a costly exercise, he said.

The worst outbreaks were in the 1970s and early 80s. Not only the East coast, but many other areas too have been infested and thousands of COTs had been removed under the guidance of Dr. de Bruin, a Research Officer attached to the Department of Fisheries, Mr. Rajasuriya said.

Mr. Rajasuriya said that there can be various reasons for a COT outbreak. More nutrients in the water and removal of fish that prey on COT and also the warming oceans could provide optimal conditions for COT larvae to thrive.

Upekshi further added that Pigeon Island is a tourist attraction and unless we take care of such habitats, there will be nothing to showcase in time to come. She was grateful for the support that Nilaweli Beach Hotel and Ypsylon Dive Centre gave them. The Sub Aqua Club is planning to do this as an annual event, she said, happy that they had done their bit for Pigeon Island.

Coral monitoring programme needed

According to IUCN Red Data, Corals are one of the most threatened species in the world. Corals are useful for many reasons even in breaking the power of unexpected sea surges such as a Tsunami.  Some years ago NARA had a coral- monitoring programme and NARA chairman Dr. Sayuru Samarasundara said the agency plans to re-commence it next year.

Know the enemy

The crown-of-thorns (Acanthasterplanci) receives its name from venomous thorn-like spines that cover its upper surface like the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus. An adult starfish can grow up to 35 cm (14 in). They usually have 21 arms but this number can change from population to population, points out Arjan Rajasuriya.

Their spines are stiff and very sharp. The adult crown-of-thorns is a carnivorous predator that usually preys on reef coral polyps. It climbs onto a section of living coral using its large number of tube feet and flexible body and fits closely to the surface of the coral, even the complex surfaces of branching corals. It then extrudes its stomach out through its mouth over the surface to virtually its own diameter. 

The stomach surface secretes digestive enzymes that allows the starfish to absorb nutrients from the liquefied coral tissue. This leaves a white scar on the coral skeleton which is rapidly infested with filamentous algae. 

An individual starfish can consume up to six square metres (65 sqft) of living coral reef per year according to Wikipedia.

published on SundayTimes on 06.10.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131006/plus/operation-starfish-to-save-reef-64660.html

Yala – closes for drought break from today

September 1, 2013

The Yala National Park will be closed for one month from today (01st of September) onward.

Yala EntranceClosing of the Yala National Park at the height of the drought has been the usual practice, however it was not followed during the last few years. In 2007 when the park was closed for the drought, the LTTE attacked the park and it didn’t reopen till the war was over in 2009. Since then Yala has never closed , till now.
The custom of closing Yala for the drought started at the period Yala operated as a game reserve where hunting was allowed. During the drought, animals approach the remaining water holes; so hunting was deemed as inhumane to initiate this tradition. Even finding water for popular bungalows in Yala has become difficult during the drought, so the closing tradition has continued also with the aim of providing some relief to the park’s animals.
Environmentalists have welcomed this move following claims of over visitation. Manori Gunawardena; a biologist who frequents the park calls  all stakeholders to think afresh on how to tackle the issues faced by the park for the betterment not only for the animals, but also for the tourism industry.
While Yala generates the highest income for a national park with  higher earnings generated by foreign tourists, over visitation and indiscipline inside the park has lead to a poorer park experience for true wildlife lovers. Manori proposes to have a habitat management plan that will specifically target dispersing the visitors rather than concentrating them in particular areas and introduce a regulated road network that divides the park into sections where only one area at a time can be visited, giving all visitors an equal opportunity of observing animals in each section.
visit https://window2nature.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/shouldnt-yala-animals-get-drought-break/  for more about Yala drought breaks..!!
Published on 01.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/latest/37092-yala-closed-for-drought-break-from-today.html 

Gemunu & the Soldier: Comments on Yala shooting

August 21, 2013

“This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action is questionable – Roshan Wevita

Since the news spread that Yala’s tusker Gemunu is shot; lots of concerned wildlife enthusiasts have been commented on the issue through Social Media Channels. “Sri Lankan Wildlife” Facebook group has been a center of discussion, but these comments will soon be buried among other latest posts. So thought of archiving some of the interesting posts on my blog. But please note that these are my personal selection  extracted around 11.00 pm on 20th.Aug (done in a bit of hurry), so I could be missing some other interesting messages…  Please be free to “Leave a comment” on this blog post, so your thoughts too will be heard…!!

Mentioned above is the best comment illustrating on what happened in Yala. Pls note that those comments marked with a ‘*’ contains more text, but shortened for giving more prominence for the main message.

Sri-Lankan-Wildlife-page-on-FB

Roshan Wevita This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action are questionable *

Chandima Gunadasa Poor Gamunu.. this must be the most terrifying moment in his life. They say elephants never forget … I only hope he does !!!

Madhubhashini Jayawardena So it was Gamunu who paid the price! not the people. So Sad!!

Namal Kamalgoda This was inevitable

Hamid R Haniffa Everyone knew that this was coming, but from the Army? Hell no! *

Dilshad Jemzeed Can someone tel us the purpose of having an Army camp inside Yala after May 2009?

Chullante’ Jayasuriya Exactly! What is the reason for the Army’s presence in the park????

Chandini Rajaratnam to kill or not to kill is not the point. they cannot shoot inside the park

Naren Gunasekera The Army’s presence in the park is the same as why they have expanded their bases elsewhere, why the navy holds land in the east, why they build resorts in Yala and Trinco. It is a land grab, pure and simple by the powers that be.

Manori Gunawardena Crux of the matter is tourism industry it’s regulatory agencies and wildlife authorities have to Reign in the mess they have created. That shot was fired because sometime in the past some one after a quick buck fed an elephant.

Kulendra Janaka Here’s the punchline though; according to the minister “U harima ahinsaka aliyek” (It is a very harmless/gentle elephant). *

Kusum Kumar Fernando This is wonder of Asia! !!!!!!!

Hamid R Haniffa This is not Gamunu fault. But the fault of the DWC

Caryll Tozer And now, we have a scared but annoyed Gemunu, an even more dangerous situation

Chandini Rajaratnam elephants never forget

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera We need to use the opportunity to get people to listen, and take positive action.

Pravin Mendis There are only a very few trackers who can handle a situation like this now….most are so and so’s henchmen…

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera In Arizona they have special forces trackers on the border inside national parks, but they all are also wildlife officers. So if Sri Lanka wants to.keep.army personel inside parks at least request that they go through some type of training as to how to interact with wildlife.

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera This the.problem in Sri Lanka due to fear or pride no one learns from mistakes *

Manori Gunawardena Interesting take…..ultimately who should be held accountable for the “Gemunu incident”? Merely passing the buck to the Department of Wildlife is insufficient. This has to be tackled at Economic Development level vis a vis the Tourism Industry and its regulators.

In my experience the past couple of years the industry has been less than forthcoming in engaging in sustainable solutions to manage a visitor issue which at the end of the day benefits their industry, printing a few posters and leaflets as CSR and other token gestures will only serve to gloss over the underlying issue, that yala is over visited and there are too many rooms servicing the park with more under way.

Dilshad Jemzeed

This is all about being OPPORTUNISTIC! We as nature lovers waited for the right moment to get the permanent campers out from Yala and this is right time to get the army camp out from Yala. Lets everyone strive together in achieving this goal….

Naren Gunasekera What about the irresponsible jeep drivers?

Kpl Perera Shooting to air just to fear the animal is not a crime!! If any unfortunate thing happened if Gemunu was not chased away, what would have been your comments?

Manori Gunawardena The sign at the entrance to the National Park says enter at your OWN RISK……

Imran Jabeer So what do you suppose “Rambo” here would have done if Gemunu turned and charged him instead of fleeing in horror; I’m sure he would’ve unloaded his magazine on him

Manori Gunawardena Share widely people, this mayhem in the parks has to stop the tourism industry that touts wildlife tourism created this mess and the authorities stood idle and let it happen.

Renton de Alwis I agree Manori… we need to better manage the visits by tourists (both foreign and local) to our parks. Yala, Minnariya (The gathering is a shameful free for all of vehicles too) and other …. Too many vehicles intruding on the lives of these treasures. Tourism should make it its business to join in on establishing lines of control for it may mean killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Hisham Shums I think the problem here is not tourism but strict enforcement of the park rules and control of the number of jeeps that are in the park at one time. Yes, tourists may have fed Gemunu. The question is, why was it allowed?

The main issue is that safari jeeps are allowed to go into the parks without a guide from the Dept of Wildlife. Even when a guide is present, you don’t see them enforcing the rules because they know that the jeep owners / drivers have a lot of political influence. So what needs to be addressed is:

1. How do we educate, control and monitor the jeep drivers?
2. How do we educate our politicians and make it clear that this nonsense has to stop? When politicians interfere unnecessarily just to ensure they win the next election, things like this are bound to happen.

Blaming tourists and / or tour companies that promote wildlife in Sri Lanka is not going to help the cause.

The tourists need to be made aware of the rules and regulations and the park office has to monitor and ensure that the rules and regulations are followed. This is the bottom line.

Manori Gunawardena Actually tour companies are the first point of contact in educating tourists on park etiquette, but how many for example brief guests on arrival or pre safari on park rules as they do in many reputed tourism facilities internationally.

1. For small facilities like yours Hisham Shums , pick train a few drivers to work with. 2 provide a briefing on park rules to your guests on arrival at your accommodation a pre safari brief .

While authorities have been lethargic enforcing rules the operators and accommodation providers have a huge role to play in how the park is serviced. These types of initiatives can be expedited.

Set a good example….

Manori Gunawardena Hisham Shums your a minority, will inbox some good guys. The primary function of the DWC is conservation now with increased visitation they have to evolve a parallel cardre to serve as guides enforce rules.

DWC does not have a tourism services mandate the economic development authorities have to create one and the resources.

Dyan Amodha Kannangara Imran Jabeer I was thinking the same thing, idiot would have most certainly unloaded the magazine. That f#$#%^&# jeep driver should never have stopped and at least should have driven off when Gemunu picked his vehicle. We Sri Lankans are so short sighted we bite the hand that feeds us.

Hamid R Haniffa This is not Gamunu fault. But the fault of the DWC

If the DWC can adapt similar guidelines as which to what is being followed at world’s end, then there is hope. And the DWC got to take more control of the Parks. And not count on others(ect.. Army, RDA). The up keeping of the park should be done by DWC, with trackers given supreme control once entered in to national parks.

Roshan Wevita This Armed soldier must have been worried about Gemunu putting his trunk inside the jeep.. However he had no business there yet; More than him the tracker should have been concerned about the safety of visitors cos it’s his job, not a soldier’s.

This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action are questionable *

Dilshad Jemzeed This is a golden opportunity to move the army camp out from Yala. As we waited for the right moment and got the permanent campers out, lets persuade the authorities to remove the Army camp from Yala NP……

Peshele Randeni What we should look at is to impose the existing laws and not introduce more.

Kpl Perera DWLC should impose new rules & regulations or laws banning entry of private vehicles to National Parks. DWLC should provide transport facilities by their own mode of transport or contracted services. Specialy designed buses could be utilised for this. By this scheme you can minimise no of vehicles entering parks & also visitors can enjoy safe, convenient, comfortable experience in a National Park.

Ajith Gamage At the end….this elephant “Gemunu” will be blamed. Wildlife Dept. officials who accompany the vehicles must take the responsibility and should not allow the drivers to stop the vehicle near the elephant. This situation has created by the people. Wildlife officials and the DRIVERS OF THE SAFARI VEHICLES must act in a more responsible manner to avoid such incidents and more importantly to protect this animal.

Compiled at midnight, 20th.Aug.2013

Gemunu & the Soldier: Images of Yala Shooting incident

August 20, 2013

The real story behind the shooting incident in Yala is now fully revealed. The images of the incident has been posted on “Sri Lankan Wildlife” group by biologist Manory Gunawardane. She stresses  that the incident should be taken to rethink on issues Yala National Park faces due to over-visitation. I’m re-posting this series of images on my blog for future references..

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A video of Yala Shooting emerges

August 19, 2013

..a video showing soldier on foot firing his automatic rifle aimed at air to scare the jumbo emerge. Luckily, Gemunu ran toward the jungle. But what if he panicked and with the fright, decides to attack the soldier…? Wouldn’t he unleash the bullets in his firearm toward Gemunu..?  ..and it will be the end of another tusker.

Image just before shooting occur

Soldier on foot at Yala seconds before shooting to the air to scare Gemunu

Gemunu and the result of irresponsible tourism

The following is statement by the Federation of Environmental Organizations (http://www.feosl.org/) with regard to the recent incident of firing of an automatic rifle in Yala National Park by a member of the armed forces at an elephant. 

A National Park is an exclusive space set aside for the conservation of wildlife. Therefore the protection, safety and wellbeing of wildlife within the parks are paramount and remain the primary purpose. National Parks are also national assets. Visitation should be considered a privilege. Visitors must respect this privilege Regrettably, with the rapid development and emphasis on wildlife tourism, there is an increasing trend where adherence to rules and regulations that govern visitation are not followed. Indiscipline among visitors and tour service providers is rising. 

Recent incidents in Yala NP that relate to Gemunu, an adult tusker, illustrate the broader and very serious ramifications of unchecked visitation. Gemunu grew up in Yala NP and is habituated to visitors. Recently visitors have begun to feed him, despite this practice being strictly prohibited under park rules. Gemunu has now started to aggressively approach vehicles in search of food, creating a potentially dangerous situation for both visitors and the elephant. 

On this occasion, however, a ranking army officer and entourage, on duty supervising the “Pada Yatra” pilgrimage through the Park, were amidst this melee. Photographs and video taken during this incident clearly show a soldier, disembarked from the vehicle, firing at least one shot, possibly to drive off the elephant. The Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance clearly states that under no circumstances should a service weapon be discharged in a National Park at a wild animal, other than by a member of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Therefore the incident is a clear violation of national park laws.

The FEO strongly believes that such incidents are the outcomes of unplanned, unregulated and irresponsible tourism that threaten the protected areas of Sri Lanka.

The FEO urges the Minister of Wildlife Conservation to: 
1) expedite measures to curb visitor related infractions in National Parks, 
2) Compel the Department of Wildlife Conservation to enforce the park regulations and rules; and 
3) together with the relevant line ministries and stakeholders develop a sustainable visitor management plan for National Parks. 

Shots fired inside Yala National Park to scare tusker Gemunu

August 19, 2013

It is reported that shots were fired inside Yala national park to scare its iconic tusker Gemunu on saturday. Later reports confirmed that Gemunu is in good health and the shots were fired to the sky by an Army officer as Gemunu put its head to a Safari Jeep trying to grab some food scaring off the visitors in it.

With Yala closure is few weeks ahead, it is interesting to know how Gemunu will response to the closure of the national Park as he will loose his snacks being looted from the safari jeeps. He may go toward Sithulpawwa temple or move toward hotels in the vicinity. There is also change that it might go toward Army Camp set up in Yala which could be dangerous. If Gemunu appear suddenly, then a panicked soldier could fire at the animal getting panicked. Shooting by a Civil Defense (Grama arakshaka) has resulted in death of iconic  Kumana Cross-tusker, so something like that will be tragic. So wildlife enthusiasts warn the need of doing something as it is a ticking ‘time bomb’ or a disaster waiting to happen..!!

Meanwhile few weeks ago, a video emerged that Gemunu puts its head into a safari jeep full of foreign tourists in an attempt to get a snack. Feared that Gemunu might overturn their Jeep, the tourists started getting down from the jeep. One had just jumped out from the wrong side landing only few inches from the Elephant. They had been picked by the Jeep coming from behind. (Click on the link for video video showing panicked visitors getting down from jeep)

from-the-video---tourists-jump-out-from-the-jeep

from the video – tourists jump out from the jeep. One was just few inches away from wild elephant.bmp

Gemunu’s habit of getting food has been reported for a long time and still he is gentle and no violence has been reported. However he is a male elephant and at time of musth; he could anyway be dangerous. It is believed that the visitors had initially offered food to Gemunu; to make him brave now to stop jeeps and even put his trunk and head inside in attempt to loot food, if not given. The best thing you can do is avoid the elephant and If you see him in the distance, turn around and drive off. Also, seal or tie up any boxes or bags containing food; calls experts.

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Gemunu sniffing for food (c) Riaz Cader

Also read this article “Feeding wild elephants is high-risk entertainment”: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130113/news/feeding-wild-elephants-is-high-risk-entertainment-28494.html

Wilpattu certified as a wetland of world importance

February 10, 2013

The Wilpattu game reserve was recently named Sri Lanka’s sixth Ramsar Wetland, a name give to ecologically significant wetlands around the world. The Ramsar Convention, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. Bundala was Sri Lanka’s first Ramsar wetland, followed by Anawilundawa, Madu Ganga, Kumana and the Vankalai Sanctuary.

Dr. Lew Young handing over the Wilpattu Ramsar Certificate to H. D. Ratnayake

On February 2, World Wetland Day, Dr. Lew Young, senior advisor for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands for Asia and Oceania, handed over the Wilpattu Ramsar Certificate to H. D. Ratnayake, director general of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).

During his visit, Dr. Young met officials responsible for protecting the country’s wetlands. He also gave a public lecture on the importance of wetlands and how they play a role in regulating the water we consume. This year’s Wetland Day theme, “Wetlands Take Care of Water”, is aligned with the United Nation’s Year of Water Cooperation.

Dr. Young said he and his colleagues were not aware that a road was being illegally constructed across the Wilpattu national park at the time the Wilpattu reserve was being considered for Ramsar endorsement. “But now that Wilpattu has been declared a wetland of international importance, it is all the more important that we protect Wilpattu,” Dr. Young said.

Wilpattu is on the northwest coast of Sri Lana and is the country’s largest and oldest national park. During the war, terrorists infiltrated the game reserve, killing the park warden. After the war, Wilpattu was again in the news when a controversial road linking Puttalam and Mannar and cutting across the national park was opened to the public. Environmentalists say the road is hazardous to wildlife and violates the Flora and Fauna Ordinance. Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) has filed a case and the matter is before the Supreme Court.

“The Ramsar Convention promotes the sustainable use of wetlands, but balancing conservation and development is always a challenge,” Dr. Young said. Declaring Wilpattu a Ramsar wetland is only the first step. Wetland management involves setting up committees to monitor the well-being of Ramsar wetlands. These committees may include government agencies, adjacent communities and environment groups who are stakeholders of the sites.

Wilpattu has a total of 205 water bodies, natural and manmade, within its perimeter. Wilpattu is home to a unique habitat known as the “villu,” natural depressions in the land that will fill up with rainwater during the monsoon. The villus are havens of biodiversity. They attract waterfowl and other bird species, as well as wild animals, including elephants. Elephants in this part of Sri Lanka are said to be larger in size than the average Sri Lanka jumbo because they feed on nutrient-rich grasses growing in the villus.

The Wilpattu Ramsar site extends beyond the boundaries of the national park to the ocean front to include the rich coastal and marine habitats of Kalpitiya. Seagrass beds, mangroves, salt marshes, swamps and floodplain forests contribute to the area’s rich biodiversity. The park is home to 21 endemic vertebrate species, including the endangered Sri Lanka leopard (Panthera pardus ssp. Kotiya). The site once supported a thriving agricultural civilization, and 68 archaeologically important sites have been identified.

Other wildlife experts and conservationists present at the Ramsar ceremony were Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya; Manjula Amararathna of the Department of Wildlife Conservation; Udaya Sirivardana of the Ceylon Bird Club; Dr. Pradeep Nalaka Ranasinghe, Dr. Suranjan Fernando of the Centre for Applied Biodiversity Research, and Gamini Samarakoon.

Published on SundayTimes on 10.02.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130210/news/wilpattu-certified-as-a-wetland-of-world-importance-32500.html

Pigeon Island national park status in the balance

January 29, 2013

Pigeon Island is one of the two marine national parks of Sri Lanka with some of the best remaining coral reefs of the country, is under threat with moves to strip its National Park status citing it as a hindrance for development, environmentalists claimed.�

A proposal to de-list Pigeon Island has already been sent before the required amendments are drafted, they said.�Wildlife Ministry Secretary Udeni Wickremasinghe denied attempts to delist Pigeon Island as a National Park.

However environmentalists said they were aware of plans by the Wild Life Department to delist this island as a national park.�In 2011 the Green Movement of Sri Lanka which wrote to Department of Wildlife Conservation has received a written reply assuring Pigeon Island’s Marine National Park status will not be stripped.

However, it is sad, if any fresh attempt would be made to strip its status, commented Gayan Pradeep Wijethunga of the Green Movement. Through a media release, Green Movement alleges that already a few hotels are built in the buffer zone and this issue was blocking the opening of at least one hotel resulting in those in power making amendments to the law.�

However, some point out it is not fair trying to manage a Marine National Park on the same basis as land based National Parks such as Yala or Udawalawe. So they don’t see a huge issue in ending the buffer zones of National Parks by the water’s edge at the beach while calling for introduction of new specific amendments to protect Marine Protected Areas from pollution and over exploitation. However, Jagath Gunawardane, an environmental lawyer says the buffer zone even on land helps to prevent pollution etc., so there is no need for any relaxation of the law for Marine National Parks.

Even with its status as a National Park, Pigeon Island faces many challenges. While fishermen are using illegal methods to catch fish, visitor pressure too has risen. More marine resources too will need to serve these tourists, but at the same time Sri Lanka also can gain financially from tourism. So it needs more thinking to manage these two goals, other conservationists point out.

Published on SundayTimes on 27.01.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130127/news/pigeon-island-national-park-status-in-the-balance-30480.html

Black tip reef shark - an important member of Coral Island biodviersity (c) Gayan Wijethunga

Black tip reef shark – an important member of Coral Island biodviersity (c) Gayan Wijethunga

Sea feathers at Pigeon Island (c) Gayan Wijethunga

Sea feathers at Pigeon Island (c) Gayan Wijethunga

Feeding wild elephants make Yala’s iconic tusker a nuisance

January 19, 2013

Yala’s iconic tusker Gemunu has developed bad habits after being encouraged by visitors who tempt the animal with food and other tidbits. Gemunu comes to the road, stops Safari Jeeps and dips his trunk into the vehicles jeep in search of snacks –  by Malaka Rodrgo�

Disaster waiting to happen: Visitors to Sithulpawwa feed an elephant. Pic courtesy Aruna Seneviratne

Wildlife lover Riaz Cader had a closer encounter with Gemunu on December 29, when the tusker went from jeep to jeep, sticking his trunk into vehicles looking for food and biscuits. It was an exciting up-close encounter, the closest Riaz has ever been to an elephant in the wild. But this is a potentially lethal situation, and an accident is waiting to happen, Riaz warns.

“Gemunu seemed harmless, but many guests and Jeep drivers looked nervous,” Riaz said. “Tourists who pat the tusker on the back as he walks past don’t realise the danger.”�

Gemunu. who is about 20 years old, has moved closely with humans from his adolescent jumbo days. It is claimed that the elephant would frequent a hotel at the edge of Yala to forage for food leftovers. In the early days, visitors and staff would give it snacks. The elephant even broke into the kitchen when the hotel management changed and no one was throwing it snacks.

Gemunu stopped visiting after strict no-feeding rules were laid down. Frequent Yala guests say Gemunu started approaching safari Jeeps about a year ago.

Wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardane, a regular at Yala, also had a close encounter with Gemunu. She was there last Tuesday when the tusker came up to their Jeep and started pushing bags around with his trunk. Empty biscuit cartons might have caught his attention. Manori slapped Gemunu on the trunk while the others shouted to scare the animal away.

Yala : Gemunu snifs at some food in Riaz Cader’s jeep. Pic courtesy Riaz Cader

“The best thing you can do is avoid the elephant,” advised elephant biologist Dr. Prithviraj Fernando. “If you see him in the distance, turn around and drive off. Also, seal or tie up any boxes or bags containing food. The elephant gets interested the moment it gets a whiff of food. Elephants are intelligent. In Udawalawe, you see jumbos lining up along the fence by the road. They are waiting for food, but they don’t invade the Jeeps.”�

Another tusker visits the Sithulpawwa Temple inside the Yala game reserve. Visitor Aruna Seneviratne has taken photographs of pilgrims feeding the tusker, despite warnings not to. The tusker, named Anuradha, has attacked Jeeps.

“The Jeep drivers should be blamed for this,” says Tharindu Jayasinghe, secretary of the Yala Safari Jeep Owners’ Association. “The drivers encourage the elephants by going close so that visitors can feed them,” he told the Sunday Times.�

Feeding wild animals is considered a meritorious act in this country, but there is a risk. At least two Yala elephants were killed last year when they came too close to humans.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.01.13 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130113/news/feeding-wild-elephants-is-high-risk-entertainment-28494.html  

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Gemunu searching Safari Jeeps (c) Riaz Cader

Gemunu searching Safari Jeeps (c) Riaz Cader

President Orders the camp sites to be out of National Parks

October 21, 2012

Private campsites at national parks are to be dismantled and removed, on an order from President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The order came at a special Hambanthota District Development Committee meeting held last week, at which a report was tabled that claimed these campsites had become permanent and were polluting the environment.

Environment lawyer Jagath Gunasekara said he welcomed the news, as the private campsites were illegal. Under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance, only the Department of Wildlife Conservation may provide facilities inside a park. The lawyer said private parties had no right to clear vegetation, build roads or put up structures inside a national park.

These private campsites have been maintained for years inside national parks with permission from Department of Wildlife Conservation. It was only when a dispute arose between campsite operators and Yala Jeep drivers that the illegality of these structures has come to the spotlight. In August, a gang of Jeep drivers assaulted employees of campsite operators, saying they were taking away their business. Campsite operators denied the allegation, saying their services were pre-booked several months ahead, while Jeep drivers conducted safaris on a daily basis. Reports also say that over 100 jeep drivers gathered at Palatupana near Yala entrance with aim of beating the leaving campsite operators and there is lack of Police Protection. However, jeep drivers too break law and discipline inside the park driving vehicles on high speed. 

[Full text: It is reported that the President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered private campsites to be removed from the National Parks. As state mediate reported, he made this directive addressing a special Hambanthota District Development Committee meeting last week. According to the report, President Rajapaksa said these camp sites have now become permanent camp sites and the environment of the National Park has been polluted in alarming proportions according to information he gathered.

Environmentalists commend the move of the Rajapaksa also pointing out that the private camp sites are also a violation of law. The Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunasekara says that he welcomes this move as the private campsites are clear violation of law. He points out that according to the Fauna and Flora Ordinance (FFPO) only Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) can provide facilities inside the park. Furthermore no person can engage in having business in National Parks. The veteran lawyer point out it is also illegal to clear any vegetation, construct roads or erect any structures inside a National Park by private parties.

However, these campsites are been operated for many years and only a raw between the campsite operators and Yala Jeep Drivers had taken this issue to the arena. In august, several employees of camp site operators have been beaten savagely by the Jeep drivers saying that they are grabbing the jeep drivers business in unfair manner. But the campsite operators denied these allegations saying that their services were pre-booked several months ahead while Jeep Drivers are getting their safaris on daily basis.

This raw has been later settled down, but followed a DWC team to inspect the sites. They had given green light for 2 of the camp sites, but the one operated by the EcoTeam was temporary closed down as the conditions were found unsatisfactory. The head of the Leopard Safar; Noel Rodrigo said their operation is clean and done on Environmental Friendly manner with limited environmental footprint.

However, organizing a press conference on the issue; Sajeewa Chamikara of Environmental Conservation Trust alleged that 4 more private companies are given campsites in Yala. It is also revealed that those private campsites are going to be allowed in other National Parks too which could be a dangerous precedence.

Rukshan Jayawardane who is another activist who follows the Yala issue also welcome the president’s decision. However he pointed out that there should be a thorough investigation on how these private campsites have got permission through DWC and allowed to be running for many years ignoring the FFPO. Rukshan also point out that the visitor misbehavior and Tissa Jeep Drivers activities too should be regulated and monitored properly in Yala National park. The Jeep Drivers are speeding in the national park and on busy long weekends the Yala National park is getting lots of vehicles that all in search of leopards which ends up speeding.]

Published on SundayTimes on 21.10.2012 0n page 04

Sri Lanka could be in path of world’s longest insect migration

October 21, 2012
Public asked to watch out for mass movement of dragonflies

Last year same period: Waves of Dragonflies were reported from the west coast and other areas. The world’s longest insect migration was documented from India-Maldives-Africa and this observation hints Sri Lanka too could be a hub in its path. Public support is sought this year to unravel this mystery�

On October 20 last year a large swarm of dragonflies were spotted in Sri Lanka’s west coast by a bird watcher Nashath Hafi. The insects had been seen heading south from areas including Moratuwa and Kollupitiya. Subsequent investigations confirmed this unusual influx of insects

A Globe Skimmer Dragonfly found last year soon after the wave of dragonflies

Speaking to the Sunday Times Sarath who lives by the coast in Dehiwela said, “the cloud of dragonflies took a few hours to pass our area. The insects were everywhere and some even ended up inside houses”. Members of the fishing community at Dehiwela helped to catch a few dragonflies that were still hovering around.

An investigation into the phenomenon by consulting biologists revealed a possibility of a mass migration of dragonflies spanning India – Maldives and all the way up to East Africa. The path covers a distance of around 14,000 kilometres and could be called the world’s longest insect migration.

Maldivian-based biologist Dr. Charles Anderson initially revealed the amazing phenomenon based onthe dates the dragonflies appear in the Maldives and India.

The Maldive Islands lack surface freshwater as the soil absorbs all rainwater. This indicated that dragonflies which spend their larvae stage in fresh water cannot breed in these tropical islands. Yet, every year millions of dragonflies appeared in the Maldives which the biologist who had been living in the islands for many years found puzzling. He also noted the insects appeared in the Maldives in October.

So Dr. Anderson investigated the concentration of dragonflies in other areas.�He noted the dates dragonflies arrived in the Maldives and India demonstrated that the insects travelled from southern India –a distance of some 500 – 1000 km. Subsequent investigations also revealed an increase of dragonflies in Seychelles islands in Africa and the arrival dates in the Seychelles matched with a possible mass migration.

Dr.Anderson based on his data calculated the Dragonflies first appear in the capital city of Maldives on 21st of October on average. Quite interestingly the wave of Dragonflies was observed in Sri Lanka on 20th October highlighting the possibility that the island too was part of the path of the India-Africa dragonfly mass migration.

Checking photos of the species of dragonflies found in Sri Lanka Dr.Anderson was able to confirm it was the same species known as Globe Skimmer, or Wandering Glider, scientifically categorised as Pantala flavescens.

A Dehiwala resident showing a dragonfly caught on the beach

The biologist also noted the dates of arrival of dragonflies and occurrence coincided with the southward passage of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which creates certain wind patterns that could assist dragonflies in their journey across oceans.

The Meteorological department confirmed the ITCZ would cross Sri Lanka next week. So it is likely that this year’s mass movement of the dragonflies could occur in next few days.

Inspired by this mass movement of dragonflies, the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) that studies bird migration has launched a MigrantWATCH programme.

It calls on members of the public who may notice the mass movement of dragonflies, to note down the date and time of observation, the location, the direction they fly and the approximate number of dragonflies if possible.

All data should be sent to MigrantWATCH program via email at: fogsl@slt.lk, by post: MigrantWATCH, FOGSL, Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Colombo-03 or by telephone via Nos: 2501332/ 0712543634.

New species of dragonfly found in Sri Lanka�

Sri Lanka is listed with having 118 species of dragonflies of which 43 are endemic to the country. Recently a new variety was discovered by Nancy van der Poorten – a well known researcher into dragonflies who made the discovery from Kudawa at the western edge of Sinharaja rain forest.

The new Dragonfly – Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai

The variety belongs to a genus referred to as Macromidia. Genus is a categorization of species that has similar characteristics and this is the first time a dragonfly of this genus has been discovered from Sri Lanka.

The species similar to a species found in India’s Western Ghats is separated from its Indian cousin by a distance of 750 km and could therefore be endemic to Sri Lanka.

Researchers however point out, until certain aspects of the Indian dragonfly are studied in detail, it would not possible to confirm the differences scientifically.

Until such time the latest discovery of Dr. Nancy van der Poorten has been designated as a Sri Lankan subspecies and named Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai, honouring Rohan Pethiyagoda who made several discoveries of new species.

Published on 14.10.2012 www.sundaytimes.lk/121014/news/sri-lanka-could-be-in-path-of-worlds-longest-insect-migration-16409.html