Archive for the ‘Youth & Envrionment’ Category

Young eyes on nature

November 29, 2019 published on SundayTimes on 24.11.2019

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

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

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

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

Entrance is free for these exhibitions.



Awarded as Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) 2014

January 24, 2015

I’ve been awarded as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) on November 2014. TOYP is an effort to recognize the young people (under 40) who excel in different fields and I received the award for the ‘Environmental Leadership’. I take this opportunity to THANK all those who guided and supported me in doing related environmental work that contributed on getting this award..!!

Here are some moments from the awarding ceremony held at Waters Edge on 11.11.2014. (For more about TOYP, click on following and

lowRes - TOYP award - TOYP LowRes - TOYP award - with daughter LowRes - TOYP award - Family LowRes - TOYP award - at speak 2 LowRes - TOYP award - with others LowRes - TOYP award - receiving


Wildlife Diaries- Memoirs from the wilderness

October 23, 2013

“Rajiv is different to the new crop of wildlife photographers that Sri Lanka is producing. Firstly he doesn’t concentrate only on the national parks. Secondly he is deeply concerned about conservation,” says veteran wildlife photographer Namal Kamalgoda of Rajiv Welikala who is preparing for his maiden wildlife photographic exhibition “Wildlife Diaries: Memoirs from the Sri Lankan Wilderness”.

Back to back - the young tuskers of Kalawewa herd

Back to back – the young tuskers of Kalawewa herd

Armed with his camera, Rajiv has braved wildernesses across the country, been chased by elephants while trying to photograph tuskers in Kalawewa and once had a narrow escape in an encounter with a bear in Lunugamwehera while on foot. But he is undeterred in his passion for bringing out the true beauty of Sri Lanka.

Rajiv has a passion for photographing tuskers. He believes documenting them is the first step towards protecting these gentle giants before they all vanish. The majestic tusker known as ‘Medha’ (weather god in Sinhala) hidden in a jungle patch in Wilpattu is his favourite tusker photo. “We had to wait over 15 minutes as many vehicles passed the spot even without noticing the majestic tusker taking shelter in the jungle. Slowly but surely the tusker started coming out. I captured this image at the right moment, when a beam of sunlight hit the side of his face, giving this amazing picture,” he recalls. The photograph captures the sense of mystery and awe the tusker inspires, and the landscape Wilpattu is famous for, he adds.

Photos of several tuskers showing different characteristics will be part of the exhibition. “I like to focus on locations outside national parks to search for tuskers especially in the North Central and Wayamba Provinces. The best time of day is evening, roughly between 4.30-5.30 p.m. which I like to call “Magic Hour” where the light is golden and optimum for photography,” Rajiv revealed. Rajiv Welikala

But Rajiv’s love for nature goes beyond tuskers as the over 70 such photographs exhibited will reveal- birds, mammals and reptiles among

his subjects.

While he loves to spend time in the wild, he points out that wildlife is all around us and one does not necessarily need to look to far-off jungles to photograph wild animals. Even closer to Colombo, there are many locations which are a haven for a multitude of species. Home gardens provide opportunities to capture photos of birds and other creatures, says Rajiv showing us a photo of a Brown-headed Barbet he had taken at his grandparents’ garden in Bambalapitiya.

Nature is so diverse and full of surprises there is never a boring day if you learn to open your eyes and broaden your horizons, he says, pointing out that many wildlife enthusiasts looking only for leopards in sanctuaries such as Yala, totally ignore the other species found in plenty there.

Rajiv started wildlife photography at the age of 13 while at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. He did his higher studies at the University of Wales and now aged 28 is currently reading for an MBA from the Cardiff Metropolitan University, while working at MAS Intimates as a merchandiser.

‘Wildlife Diaries – Memoirs from the Sri Lankan Wilderness’ will be held from October 26-27 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo 7.

The whisper - sambur family

The whisper – sambur family

Ulama - the Devil Bird or Forest Eagle Owl from Wilpattu

Ulama – the Devil Bird or Forest Eagle Owl from Wilpattu

Megha - An elusive Wilpattu Tusker - Rajiv's favorite Tusker photo

Megha – An elusive Wilpattu Tusker – Rajiv’s favorite Tusker photo

Mounting garbage a problem as pilgrims flock to sacred cities

August 17, 2013

In the wake of the ongoing annual Kataragama Esela Festival, environmentalists and officials have called upon pilgrims to be mindful of not polluting the sacred city with garbage.

A Monkey in search of food at a Garbage Dump

Anything for me? A monkey in a garbage bin full of polythene bags

Shasheendra Rajapakse, the Kataragama Basnayake Nilame told the media that the festival that started on August 7 and continued till the 20th annually attracts thousands of pilgrims. He said although additional garbage bins are placed in many places pilgrims dump their food and the more harmful non-biodegradable polythene bags wherever they want, even into the Menik Ganga.

He said, about 50,000 pilgrims are expected for this year’s traditional ‘pada yatra’ where pilgrims from the north and east cross the Yala National Park to worship at the Kataragama Devale. He said the park tracks were being polluted.

About 900 kg of polythene was collected in the Kumana area in a programme conducted by the Young Zoologists’ Association last year its president Sachindra Deepankara said. The team had distributed cloth bags among pilgrims as an alternative to polythene bags.

Cleaning operation at A'pura in action at A'pura

Cleaning operation at A’pura organized by WildReach

The problem of pilgrims dumping garbage is not only peculiar to Kataragama. Other sacred areas too are facing the same problem, Sunil Gunathilake, who has been in Polonnaruwa for over 30 years studying the primates said. “Polonnaruwa is protected by 2 Acts – Archaeological and Wildlife – but it is sad that no meaningful effort has been taken to prevent pilgrims dumping their polythene. He further said the monkeys at least were intelligent enough not to eat it.

Meanwhile a two-day Shramadana was conducted last week by the WildReach Environment Trust in Anuradhapura. About 1000 kg of garbage spread over an area of 800 acres in ‘Mahamewuna Uyana’ had been collected. The trust’s chairman Nilupul Rangana said in some instances the matter was made worse by monkeys who rummaged open garbage bins in search of food, with polythene bags being scattered in areas that were sometimes inaccessible.

Before - then - After

WildReach Volunteers with collected non-biodigradable left overs by Pilgrims

Published on SundayTimes on 11.08.2013

Painting with colours hidden in nature

January 12, 2013

The SHILPA 2012 – National Handicrafts Exhibition that was held at the end of 2012 had many interesting exhibits on display but this artist’s work merited closer attention from visitors due to its unique and innovative method of creations. Made using only wood- a collage of wooden chips and scraps, the works on show were eyecatching in their intricate composition.

“I have used wood scraps, wood chips and their dust to create this artwork,” the artist Udayanga Weerasinghe explained. “These are scraped using the normal ‘yathukete’ to get delicate wood scraps and wood chips. Using a ‘welikadadasiya’ (sand paper), I get the wood dust of different colouration which is then mixed with glue for this artwork,” he said.

The works are full of colour but Udayanga says these are all the natural colours of wood. “Each wood has its unique colours which I carefully select to get the suitable shade to give life to the creatures and background.” He opens a small bag and shows us fine scraps of wood. They are all different colours from black, red, orange, beige, brown to white. Black is from Ebony, red is from Pathengi wood, orange from Bakmee and yellow is from Jak – a few of the options he has.

The colour of the wood darkens from outer softwood toward the inner hardwood. “Kos lee alone can be used to get lots of different shades from yellow to orange,” he says. The timber of the Biling tree (Averrhoabilimbi) too is one of Udayanga’s favourite as it enables him to work with white.

“Wood scrapings and dust of about 60 trees has been used for this artwork,” said Udayanga pointing out the different kinds of woods used in designing the vibrant collage of Junglefowl fighting and the forested habitat. The collage also has a flowing river with rocky banks. “The water which is white is made using Billing tree scrapings which are then glued and the edges broken by hand to give a natural flowing effect,” explained Udayanga. He also used a billing wood that has been seasoned under mud for some time for the rocks. “When billing wood is submerged in mud over a period, it brings a nice ‘wairamwairam’ curvy design. I had used the same for the sky to get this effect,” Udayanga said.

Lichen that grows on the outer bark is also used. The decaying log in the ‘Junglefowl fighting’ work is naturally decaying wood. He pasted lichen on it to give a more natural look and Ebony dust mixed with glue to give depth to the hollow inside the log.
‘Weniwel’ dust which is greenish has been used for grass and foliage. For the trees, the weniwel dust has been used together with juice of some greenish leaves such as Manioc to get a darker shade of green.

While onlookers admire the work, he also shows some of his previous creations of bathing elephants, birds, Buddhist monuments, and even scenes from Colombo.

This craft was introduced to Sri Lanka about 35 years ago in the ’70s by Udayanga’s father Berty Weerasinghe. The Weerasinghe family from Badulla has mastered this method and made a living creating these works. Udayanga has already won six awards but says that he is disappointed when judges sometimes overlook his creations believing that paints has been used in the work.

With about six of the Weerasinghe families making a living out of this craft Udayanga is hopeful that if he gets support to expand his workshop, he can further develop this technique to bring out more creative designs. Udayanga can be contacted on 0713375968.

Published on SundayTimes on 06.01.2013 

The Junglefowl fight - a masterpiece made by using wood scrapes and wood dust

The Junglefowl fight – a masterpiece made by wood scrapes and wood dust

Raw materials used for the design

Raw materials used for the design

Taming the wilds with his untamed images

December 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

Published on SundayTimes on 02.12.2012

A man who made them all ‘wild-men’

October 14, 2012
Dharma Sri Kandamby, the unassuming ‘sir’ from Galle has inspired a host of leading wildlife conservationists in the country, reports Malaka Rodrigo

Earlier this month the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle launched its first major publication “Sri Lankan Primates: An Enthusiasts’ Guide” before a gathering of the wildlife community. The book was dedicated to a man little known to the public: Dharma Sri Kandamby. The dedication read- “To Dharma Sri Kandamby, Founder Patron of the Galle Wildlife Conservation Society for his guidance and inspiration”.

Curator of the Galle Maritime Museum, Mr. Kandamby retires this month, after a lifetime of service to conservation, guiding many young people in Galle who have gone on to become well-known scientists today.

When the time came to present the first copies of the book, the authors Madura De Silva and Nadika Hapuarachchi invited Mr. Kandamby on stage. After handing over the first copy, Madhura knelt before ‘Kandamby Sir’ to pay tribute to his first teacher in wildlife – the man who helped him come this far in the field. Hundreds of unsaid words would have been expressed between these conservationists from two generations in the emotional hug on stage.

“I was so happy when I learned from Madura de Silva and Nadika Hapuarachchi that they wanted to dedicate their book on Primates to Mr. Kandamby. It makes me proud to know that none of these young men have forgotten their teacher and their mentor,” said Rohan Pethiyagoda who contributed the text of the book.

“Kandamby Sir” as they call him has also been a great source of inspiration to the young naturalists of the Galle Wildlife Conservation Society at Hiyare. Recalling the early days, Madhura, who has been the society’s president since its inception said that back in 1992 a few nature lovers had gathered together with the intention of forming a Wildlife Society. “But we neither had direction nor proper resources to learn about wildlife. Luckily we heard that the Galle Maritime Museum had an expert on wildlife and decided to go and meet him to get his support.” Madura and his friends were then studying for their Advanced Levels.

“I wanted to check whether their intentions were genuine. An interest in nature alone wouldn’t work as real conservationists need discipline and ethics,” Mr. Kandamby said remembering that first meeting. “I believe conservation begins with a love for nature. To love nature, one needs to be knowledgeable- so education plays a major role.” Mr. Kandamby’s vision on conservation also became the vision for the Galle Conservation Society. Soon the Maritime Museum became the study centre for members of the Galle Conservation Society. But membership was not something obtained overnight. One needed to attend a few classes and show an interest in studying at least one animal group to become a full-time member.

Madura also praises Mr. Kandamby’s approach to conservation. “As youngsters, we always want to catch animals such as snakes. But Mr. Kandamby always discouraged us from doing that. He taught us to be patient and made us first understand animal behaviour.” It wasn’t an easy task two decades ago as there were only few guides and colour illustrations that helped identify animals or plants.

But under such guidance, many prominent researchers on wildlife have emerged from Galle. The list starts with Mohammed Bahir who is now the authority on freshwater crabs, a species that records the highest endemism in Sri Lanka. The researcher never forgot his mentor and paid tribute to him in 2005 by naming a freshwater crab that is new to science as Ceylonthelphusa Kandambyi. Other young naturalists who had been inspired by Mr Kandamby include Sudath Nanayakkara, Sudesh Batuwita, Dr. Kalana Maduwage and Dr. Anjana Silva.

Ceylonthelphusa Kandambyi: The freshwater crab discovered by Mohammed Bahir, named after his mentor

Dr. Kalana Maduwage who has discovered many new species of snakes testifies that Mr.Kandamby is the most inspiring teacher that he has ever met. “He has the ability of using different teaching methods for different�students�according to their talents and interest, which was the reason for their successful careers. The outcome of his teaching ability is expressed in the discovery�of more then 100 new species by his students,” Kalana added.

Sudath Nanayakkara who is now managing the Agra Arboretum and WHT research centre recalls memories of the days Mr. Kandamby kept the Maritime Museum open for him to study when he came in late after attending another technical course.
Mr. Kandamby remains the modest man he always has been. “After Madura and others came to leadership, I let them run the association on their own.

I’m really happy that the society which is still young has come this far,” he said. Before he became curator of the Galle Maritime Museum in Galle in 1992, he was attached to the National Museum’s Zoological Lab where researchers would often come to study specimens. Joining as a technical officer, he studied on his own and associating with top scientists both local and international helped further his knowledge on reptiles, amphibians and fish. His presence in the museum also made the researchers’ task easier, as he could point out any specimen they were looking at quickly.

“Mr. Kandamby understood the importance of type specimens on which the description and name of a new species is based and put extra care into preserving them,” said well-known researcher Kalum Manamendrarachchie who has discovered a number of new amphibians.

Wildlife expert Rohan Pethiyagoda who published the landmark guide to Freshwater Fish was only an amateur naturalist when he first met Dharma Sri Kandamby back in 1988, almost 25 years ago. “I was preparing to write my book on freshwater fishes and I went to the museum to look at some of the type specimens. Mr. Kandamby immediately made me feel very welcome and offered to help me in any way he could. I went on to spend many happy days in his company in the museum. I was incredibly impressed by how much he knew about fish and how readily and unselfishly he shared his knowledge with me, going to a lot of trouble to find specimens and refer old registers,” Rohan said.

Most of the country’s wildlife societies are based in Colombo, so Mr. Kandamby’s contribution to Galle producing so many young naturalists cannot be forgotten. Rohan Pethiyagoda’s comment may be the most fitting tribute to this quiet man of science. “I sometimes wonder what natural history studies in Sri Lanka would have been like if there were a “Mr. Kandamby” in every town in Sri Lanka. Can you imagine how many young people could have been inspired? But sadly, there is only one Mr Kandamby, and for him we must all be grateful.”

Published on 20.09.2012

A brush with nature at KIN WILD 2012

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

Some of the exhibits that will be on display

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

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

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

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

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

Published on SundayTimes – 03.06.2012 –

Gaia the earth goddess goes digital

March 11, 2012
Using viral music videos as inspiration, environmental group EarthLanka produces one of its own, ‘Make It Green Again’ to advocate sustainable living – Malaka Rodrigo
‘Kolawari de’ has become a runaway hit on the web, proof that music videos are popular among the youth. The British Council’s International Climate Champion Nilanke Panthiarachchi used this medium to spread the message on the need to protect the environment with their song ‘Make It Green Again.’
“Awareness on Sustainable Living using Digital Media’ was my theme,” says Nilanke, who was supported by fellow Climate Champions Sikander Sabeer, Anoka Abeyratne and Mohamed Huzni. The project was initiated by the EarthLanka network

Filming on the borders of Sinharaja Forest amidst rain and leeches

They first needed a good lyric, so they organized a lyrics competition, which helped to get others involved. From the entries received, the one sent by Y. A. Sriyani Yapa, an English teacher from Gampaha Bandaranayake College, was chosen as the best. Veteran musician Diliup Gabadamudalige stepped in to produce the song which was sung by Dimitri Gunathilake.

Filming the video posed the biggest challenge. Film locations included Athwelthota on the borders of Sinharaja rainforest, on the premises of the Ceylon Steel Corporation. Undergraduates of the faculty of University of Visual and Performing Arts supported the effort. The video was based on a simple concept.

The spirit of the earth – Gaia, the Earth Goddess in Greek mythology, returns to Earth to find all the greenery gone. The visuals end with the message to stop over-consumption and take steps to avoid ravaging the earth.

There was heavy rain when shooting began in a beautiful part of the forest in Baduraliya. The crew had to take extra precautions to protect the valuable camera equipment. The rain also aggravated another problem – the leeches.

“It was a great experience. We didn’t even have electricity in that part of remote wilderness. It wasn’t easy to get dressed up as the spirit Gaia without proper facilities and the leeches were a big threat. But we enjoyed the filming,” Anoka Abeyratne who featured as the main character of the video said.

Anoka is the South Asian Youth Environment Award recipient in 2011 and a British Council Climate Champion. Together with her fellow Climate Champion Sikander Sabeer, she attended the International Climate Change Summit, COP17, in Durban South Africa in December, where they first launched the video. “Launching the video at the first ever Sri Lankan youth side-event at a UN Climate Change summit gave it a high profile,” said Sikandar, who was happy with the response they received.

Dulip Gabadamudalige praised the enthusiasm of the group and said he hoped the video would be a platform to carry this message on environmental consciousness. The video was launched locally at the EDEX exhibition held in January.

The crew behind a green message

Find out more

Visit to read about the making of Make it Green Again..!! You can view the video at YouTube type “Make it Green Again” at to search it or visit this tiny URL

Would you like to be a Climate Champion of 2012?

The “Make it Green” venture was initiated as a project by the British Council’s International Climate Champion (ICC) programme. ICC aims to inspire young people, especially students, to spread the word about Climate Change, its effects and what can be done to mitigate them.

You too can become a Climate Champion for 2012. Contact for more information.

Published on SundayTimes on 11.03.2012

From pollutant to pulp

September 19, 2011

Young inventor Prasan Warnakula, a 12th Grade student of Joseph Vaz College, Wennappuwa brought honour to Sri Lanka winning second place in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

The World Water Week in Stockholm, a global conference focusing on big water issues and practical solutions attracts experts, opinion leaders, and decision-makers from every corner of the globe. Parallel to the event, a competition is held to recognize innovative projects that contribute to the water conservation. The Stockholm Junior Water Prize was introduced 15 years ago to encourage youth participation.

Prasan receiving his award from Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden

“I am happy to receive this award for my project,” said an elated Prasan who had just returned from Stockholm after receiving his Diploma from Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.

Prasan’s project came in for high praise at the ceremony. “This year’s diploma of excellence is awarded to a project that reflects a refreshing new way of systems thinking that is highly needed for future sustainability.

The jury was impressed by the independent nature of the investigation and especially the innovative approach to conducting the experiments using equipment adapted from items readily available in the home environment. The principle of this detailed project is inspired by nature and will soon be applied in a much larger context: a real world example of industrial symbiosis in a developing country”.

Pasan’s idea was to use industrial waste water from the textile industry to make recycled paper. A large volume of water is consumed in the textile finishing process with several chemicals used in dyes for colouring the clothes.

This waste water has to be treated to remove the chemicals before it is released to the environment and utilizes a compound called Alum (Aluminium sulphate) which reacting with the chemical particles in the water makes a heavy compound which can be separated from the water. This same alum is used for the paper recycling process. Prasan has investigated the possibility of integrating paper recycling with chemical treatment of wastewater.

“I’ve got this idea when I visited a textile dying plant and also a paper recycling plant soon after my O’Ls. Seeing the amount of waste water and after realising the same chemical is being used in both processes, this idea struck me and I worked to test it,” Prasan said. Prasan’s father works in the waste water treatment field and he had thus developed a keen interest in it from a young age. Prasan has used locally available tools for his research which also impressed the jury.

Prasan was selected for the Stockholm Junior Water prize, through a competition organized annually by the Community Led Environmental Awareness Network (CLEAN) managed by Industrial Solutions Lanka (ISL) and held under the guidance of the Ministry of Education. Prasan had earlier entered the National Inventors Competition with his invention of a coal iron that could regulate heat.

He was among the final 28 selected to participate in the World Water Week held from August 19th to 25th in Sweden along with contestants from Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Korea, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, UK and USA. The first prize was won by the USA for an innovative idea of using mobile phones to estimate water pollution in the field.

Managing Director Community Led Environmental Awareness Network (CLEAN) Anura Vidanagamage who organized the national competition said Sri Lanka had been taking part in the competition since 2006 and had won second place in 2006 and 2008 –a proud achievement testifying to the talents of Sri Lankan youth.

Leading garment exporter Brandix plans to implement Prasan’s novel idea as a pilot project soon.
For more details about next year’s competition email

Along the Kelani river for unity and education

September 14, 2011

It was a 13-day journey along the Kelani River. Starting from the foothills of Sri Pada, a group of 21 young people made the journey downstream, some times wading through the river, at other times travelling by raft. They caught a bus to pass some stretches and biked along the banks of the Kelani at other times.

They had also made several stops on their way to do street dramas to raise awareness on climate change, stressing to village folks and others that they too can do their bit toward the environment individually. Named as ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’, the programme aimed at increasing environmental consciousness to combat climate change at grass-root level through youth participation.

“‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’ is also an attempt to make young Green Leaders who can take the message of environmental protection to society,” explained Kanchana Weerakoon, president of the Eco-friendly Volunteers (ECO-V) who masterminded the programme.

Kanchana said that the idea of having a river journey is also a strategy since youth always enjoy challenges and outdoor activities and working in the field than learning in a classroom. “Water is severely affected by climate change and the Kelani is one of our waterways that faces many environmental challenges – so we wanted to highlight these issues too,” Kanchana explained.

Organizers say they received more than 100 applications and interviews were conducted to select the most suitable. University undergraduates, members of the Youth Parliament, school students were among the final 20, most of them aged between 18 and 20. At the organizers’ request, two ex-combatants being rehabilitated were also given chance to join the group. It was also the first time these two Newton and Selva were seeing this part of Sri Lanka.

“Newton is a young ex-LTTE combatant who was with us during our environmental expedition on Kelani River with his colleague Selva. During the journey the two had been able to integrate well with the others and face the challenges of the journey as a team,” said Imala Abeyratne, a second-year student of Rajarata University.

“Eventhough we had heard of complex things like Carbon Footprint, it is this ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’ training which has given me the proper understanding of the concept and how each of us can contribute in simple ways,” Imala explained.

Another participant, Madusha Kularatne, a Peradeniya University undergrad valued the chance she got to observe the biodiversity along the Kelani River. Seeing a handun diviya (Fishing Cat) near Moussakelle for the first time in her life was a novel experience for her.

The team tackling difficult terrain

The team also did some water monitoring, to ascertain the changes in water quality that would reveal the level of pollution downstream. Talking about their Tamil colleagues, Madusha said that she had felt a little fearful initially hearing that two ex-combatants were joining ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’. But it was just a matter of time before the spirit of youth overcame all divisions resulting in all of them being good friends now.

How Newton felt about this newfound friendship was evident in the poem he had written on the third day of the programme, while the team took a break on large rocks on the river.

“This is a journey that had given a meaning to humanity
This is a journey that blends beauty of nature
This is a journey beautiful places were observed
..and this is truly a journey where nature becomes life..
This is a journey that bring shame to those who ordered to kill
This is a journey that changed hatred
This is indeed a noble journey of peace
..and this is a journey that make us understand the power of god..!!

An exhibition to showcase the work done on the river journey will be held at the Beira Lake Kala Duwa (island) on September 15 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Action! It’s Bollywood Vs Hollywood for WED

June 12, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published on SundayTimes youth section – MirrorMagazine on 12.06.2011

Sri Pada season ends but polythene problem persists

May 22, 2011

Young volunteers remove 500 kilograms of polythene left behind by visitorsMalaka Rodrigo reporting from Sri Pada

On Vesak Poya, the pilgrimage season to Sri Pada ended with the sacred artefacts and statues placed on the summit for the pilgrimage season, brought down in a procession, according to tradition. Along with the ceremonial ending of the season, some 500 kilograms of polythene left behind by visitors too, was brought down by a group of volunteers.

Carrying the burden on their shoulders: Two youth descend Sri Pada with Polythene collected at the peak
Bundles of collected polythene

Usually, February and March have the highest number of visitors to Sri Pada, but according to many wayside boutique owners on the footpath to Sri Pada, this year’s crowd peaked towards the end of the season.

However, the issue of non-biodegradable bags such as polythene and plastic discarded by pilgrims, continue to litter the sacred mountain. Sri Pada is covered by the Peak Wilderness Santuary, which is one of the prime biodiversity hotspots of the country, with the highest number of endemics – notably birds, reptiles and amphibians. Due to its different altitudinal and climatic zones extending across 22,380 hectares, the forest remains unique among others in Sri Lanka. Considering this uniqueness, UNESCO named Sri Pada a Natural Heritage in 2010.

The garbage discarded by the pilgrims can cause problems to this unique ecosystem in many ways. The polythene mixed with the soil doesn’t decay and can destabilise the soil. Animals feeding on the polythene can die. Many environmental organisations started collecting the discarded polythene from the mountain, but still the root cause of dumping polythene remains untreated.

Meanwhile, the Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA) conducted its annual polythene removal campaign last week. YZA is a pioneering organisation that had identified the issue as far back as the 1980s, and started a cleaning programme on Sri Pada. Based at the Dehiwala Zoo, the volunteers target the last day of the season to do this cleanup, and this year too, had done this noble shramadana with the participation of 75 young zoologists.

They brought down over 60 polysack bags full of polythene and plastic weighing 514 kilograms. This figure looks like an improvement compared with last year’s collections by YZA. The Sri Pada pathway had also been cleaned by ‘Tharunyata Hetak’ a few weeks back. Additionally, the Wildlife Department based at Nallathanniya too conducts a regular polythene removal programme. The fact that the YZA still managed to collect this large amount of non-biodegradables, is an indication of the nature of the mammoth problem.

“The solution indeed lies on addressing the root cause of discarding garbage responsibly by the pilgrims. If all the visitors bring down the polythene and plastic they bring in, then there will not be a need to cleanup,” commented YZA president Sacheendra Deepankara. Most of the garbage consists of plastic bottles, toffee and biscuit wrappers, which are not even messy , to be brought back by the visitors. Awareness is the key to tackle the problem and Deepankara stresses the need to protect this unique biodiversity hotspot.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.05.2011

Not guns and gunny but art and gunny

May 9, 2011

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

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

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

The two artists working on jumbo sized gunny

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

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

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

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

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

Imalka (in foreground) and Hiran

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

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

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

published on SundayTimes on 01.05.2011

YZA: Young protectors pass on the message of conservation

April 10, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join any one of these study groups

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

Published on SundayTimes on 10.04.2011

Conservation and friendship: Young US scholars reach out

January 30, 2011

On their Sinharaja trek (c) C. Mahanayake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pix by Chaminda Mahanayake

Published on SundayTimes on 30.01.2011

Championing the fight against climate change

October 18, 2010
The British Council has always been a place to encounter energetic youth. Last week it was time to meet another talented and determined group- the 12 new Climate Champions.

Anoka Abeyratne, Arshath Zameek, Sulakshana Senanayake, Chathurangi de Silva, Indika Dharmapriya Fernando, Mohamed Husni, Joanne Kotelawela, Shehan Amaratunga, Fathima Rusna Kalenthar, M.S.M. Sikander, Savindi Caldera and Shamanthi Rajasingham’s aim is to fight climate change and protect the environment through some innovative, yet practical activities. Each one has an ambitious project aimed at reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions or to set up ways to clean the already emitted GHG from the atmosphere -the main contributor to human-induced Global Warming.

Sulakshana Senanayake’s plan is to promote the use of CFL bulbs throughout Sri Lanka. “CFL bulbs will save electricity. Electricity on its generation emits green house gases like carbon dioxide, so using the energy efficient bulb is a step taken to fight climate change,” Sulakshana said addressing a small ceremony to launch Climate Champions 2010 on October 6.

Green crusaders: The ICCs in India last month

There are some ongoing CFL bulb projects, but Sulakshana has developed a Carbon Calculator calibrated with the Sri Lanka Energy Authority values which is aimed at stimulating the public by showing the kind of energy waste and savings they can get by going in for CFL. He calls this the first calculator in the region giving values in rupees and cents that will make sense to Sri Lankans; see

The projects undertaken by these 12 Climate Champions are broadly categorized under the following areas namely Energy & Transport, Reforestation & Tree Planting, Recycling & Waste Management, Awareness & Positive Lifestyle Change in School/Communities.

“The International Climate Champion programme aims at creating a platform for talented young people to raise awareness and stimulate community action on Global Warming. The British Council also aims at fostering a global network of young people who work toward a common goal and bring forward a meaningful dialogue through ICC,” Country Director of the British Council Charlie Walker explained.

The programme began in Sri Lanka in 2009. The British Council provides the framework in which ideas can grow and flourish but the ICC initiative is driven first and foremost by the Champions themselves. International Climate Champions are encouraged to work with private and public sector organisations, educational institutes, local NGO’s and INGO’s to seek implementing, resource and funding partners to implement their projects. “We are encouraged by the enthusiasm of these young Climate Champions and are confident of a positive outcome,” the Country Director added.

Five young Sri Lankans were chosen in 2009 to be ICCs, and the success and the results of the first batch persuaded the British Council to increase the number of champions this year to 12. The ICC 2010/2011 was launched in Sri Lanka in April 2010 with the National Science Foundation coming on board as the National Partner. The British Council called for applications from young people between 18 and 23 and received over 200 applications. The best 35 were short-listed and applicants were interviewed by a panel of eminent environment and climate change consultants, academics and representatives of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The participation of youths from the north and east is testimony to a changed climate in the country. Fathima Rustha Kalenther living in Kalmunai is doing her Advanced Level in the physical science stream and is thrilled to be selected as an International Climate Champion. “This is really a good opportunity for all of us. Being an International Climate Champion will help me to get recognition in my community to pass the message on the need to act now in our own capacity to fight climate change,” Fathima says.

All 12 champions were sent for a workshop in India to sharpen their communication and leadership skills. Two of the Sri Lankan ICCs also participated in the International Youth Forum on Climate Finance held in Shanghai, China last month. published on SundayTimes on 17.10.2010

Changing climate of cartooning

March 23, 2010
Women to the fore in largely male dominated field
By Malaka Rodrigo
The climate is changing and we don’t mean just the weather. The recently concluded cartoon competition on Climate Change organized by the British Council saw young women cartoonists claiming both first and third places in a field hitherto dominated by men.


Reindeers sunbathing in a North Pole that had lost its ice caps due to climate change was the theme of Shamanthi Rajasingham’s cartoon “Welcome to the North Pole” that won first prize in the contest. With Santa Claus in shorts and shades enjoying the sun, the cartoon was both eye-catching and effective.

“The cartoon just made me laugh the minute I saw it. It is uncomplicated and genuinely comical – a great advantage when satirising and often hard to achieve,” said the UK based cartoonist Michal Boncza Ozdowski who was one of the judges, commending Shamanthi’s confident draughtsmanship.

Michal is also a trustee of the Ken Sprague Fund which collaborated with the British Council to conduct this event coupled with a one-day cartoon workshop. Michal together with a panel of eminent Sri Lankan cartoonists, science communicators and Climate Change consultants had a tough time selecting the best cartoons from 400 entries.

The cartoons were judged on creativity, humour and subject relevance. Shamanthi, a 21-year-old undergraduate of the University of Colombo reading for a degree in English said the idea struck her while she was researching for a debate on climate change at the university. Christmas was also around the corner at the time so when she got to know about the competition it spurred her to use these familiar images. “I did not look through other environmental cartoons on the internet as I wanted to keep the novelty in my work,” Shamanthi said.

“If a picture is worth 1000 words, then a cartoon’s worth 10,000,” adds Shamanthi who is a firm believer in the power of this medium. In Sri Lanka though, cartoons mostly cover politics and subjects like conservation are sidelined. Shamanthi who is not drawn to political cartoons said she developed a special interest in the environment when she was learning art at an early age where she got the chance to study nature closely. She fears deforestation will be a major environmental issue in the future for countries like Sri Lanka.

Already using cartoons to liven up some of the websites she designs, she says the laptop she won as first prize will encourage her to continue cartooning.

Placed second was Dileepa Dalawatta’s cartoon ‘I pray for water not nectar’ which lampoons our naiveté in hoping that supernatural forces will somehow solve problems we have created.

“The cartoon is a funny eye-opener, a wake-up call of the type that is much needed today,” said the judges praising Dileepa’s work. Three other cartoons by Dileepa also won a ‘commended’ from the judges.

The third prize went to W.M.D. Nishani – a 27-year-old science teacher from Negombo. “When I teach science subjects, I’m often reminded of what could be our destiny if we destroy forests” Nishani said explaining her theme. In their citation, the judges acknowledged her effectively ridiculing the get-rich-quick mentality and pitfalls of our present suicidal culture.

With a flair for children’s illustrations, Nishani earlier won a UNESCO’s picture book illustration competition in 2006.

A special guest at the awards ceremony at the British Council was Camillus Perera, creator of the popular Sri Lankan cartoon character – Gajaman. Camillus started cartooning 45 years ago and is still giving life to his characters today.

“When I started, there was nobody to help me. Competitions and workshops like this are important to encourage young talent,” he said.

The winning and commended entries will be on display from March 25 to 27 at the British Council auditorium.

They can also be viewed at the British Council website