Posts Tagged ‘Sinharaja’

Hope rises for threatened Sinharaja jumbos with radio collaring

August 3, 2019
Geofencing project could save human and elephant lives. Published on SundayTimes on 28.07.2019 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190728/news/deep-in-sinharaja-hope-rises-for-threatened-jumbos-360224.html

A hazardous operation to radiocollar one of the last remaining elephants of the Sinharaja rainforest has given new hope that both elephant and human lives can be saved when the two species collide.

The elephant was radiocollared on June 1 by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) following a strenuous operation in mountain terrain amid leech-infested rainforests.

Signals transmitted every four hours by the GPS collar show the elephant, known as Panu Kota, travelled 52km over the last two months (55 days), crossing two mountain ranges, the DWC’s Director of Veterinary Services, Tharaka Prasad, said.

Dr, Prasad said the signals could be used for “geofencing”, giving warnings if an elephant crosses the border of a village. He explained that a geofence is a virtual perimeter that can be pre-set on the application that uses to monitor elephant movements.

For example, a geofence can be set encircling a village so that whenever an elephant crosses that boundary, an SMS is transmitted to those monitoring the elephant’s movements. This message can be relayed to local DWC staff who can rush to the area and chase the animal back into the forest.

Collaring of Sinharaja Elephant (c) Dr.Malaka Abeywardana

Dr. Prasad said his officers are still working on the geofencing facility and, once set up, it would be an invaluable tool to manage the Sinharaja elephants. The collaring of Panu Kota was carried out with help from the Eco-system Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP) through a project funded by the World Bank that will see 40 elephants collared in order to better understand their habits and reduce human-elephant conflict, Dr. Prasad said.

Historically, Sri Lanka’s wet zone rainforests teemed with elephants, but now only two, Panu Kota and Loku Aliya, both males, remain in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage. A female that had not been sighted for some time is believed dead.

Incursions into villages over the years by these elephants have cost 16 human lives, and last year villagers campaigned for the animals to be moved to another area.

The then minister of Wildlife Conservation, Sarath Fonseka, initially supported the villagers’ demand to relocation but this provoked environmentalists who wanted the elephants to be left free to roam. The DWC then decided to attempt using radiocollars for geofencing.

After being tracked for several days, Panu Kota was sedated by a team led by the area wildlife ranger, Kapila Ranukkanda, and veterinary surgeon, Malaka Abeywardena, in an area known as Dole Kanda.

Wildlife officers worried about how to safely sedate the lonely jumbo in difficult terrain. When an elephant is shot with a sedating dart it must be followed to make sure it does not fall awkwardly and suffocate through having its lungs blocked. If that happens, wildlife vets would have to immediately employ the reversing drugs to get the animal back on to its feet – a dangerous operation.

“We opted for a less powerful drug to sedate the jumbo,” Dr. Abeywardena said, adding that this would increase the risk for the team that followed the elephant but decrease the risk to the elephant. Panu Kota had a gunshot wound in one of its legs and the team used the opportunity to treat the injury, Dr. Abeywardena said. He estimated Panu Kota could be 35 years old.

Panu kota at boader of Tea Estate (c) Nisal Pubudu

Nisal Pubudu, a tea inspector in Pothupitiya, says most villagers in the area loves the animals, seeing them as a source of pride for their area. When a DWC team caught Panu Kota in 1999 to relocate him, villagers, particularly students at Kajuwatta School, protested and forced the release of the elephant.

The home range of the Sinharaja elephants could extend to 22,853 ha, spilling outside the protected area, said Shalith Karunaratne, a young graduate of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura who studied the rainforest elephants.

The elephants roam in seven secretariat divisions covering Kalawana, Kahawattha, Godakawela, Kolonna, Neluwa, Kotapola, Nivithigala, and 29 grama niladari divisions.

Mr. Karunaratne’s research, conducted with the support of ranger Kapila Ranukkanda, shows both the elephants moving around the Dolekanda, Rambuka, Rakwana South and Kathlana Grama niladari divisions from March to July when they are in musth and become aggressive.

At other times, they roam mainly in forest-edge habitats and, at the end of August, the elephants head towards the Morningside cloud forest area of Sinharaja.

This year, no deaths have been reported due to the elephants’ presence, and activists praise wildlife officers for their proactive measures to chase the elephants back into the forest whenever they are reported in villages. The radiocollaring data is expected to paint a more accurate picture about the elephants’ movements.

An instance where both Sinharaja Elephants are together (c) Shalith Karunarathne

Sinharaja’s slithering new beauty

September 26, 2016

A new creature has been found in the Sinharaja rainforest, surprising experts who believed the well-researched forest had few secrets left.

Hidden from sight high in the tree canopy is a new and vividly-coloured snake now revealed by veteran herpetologist Mendis Wickramasinghe in an article published this week in the prestigious science journal, Zootaxa.

“The snake lives in the canopy of the forest and that could be the reason it eludes the eyes of researchers who frequent Sinharaja,” Mr. Wickramasinghe explained. He had first seen the snake as early as 2001 while conducting other research and had continued to search for this snake afterwards, managing to spot just six such specimens.

He has named the new snake the Sinharaja tree snake or Sinharaja bronze-backed snake.

treesnakegraphic-449x1024

The Sinharaja tree snake is a beautiful reptile with a unique colour pattern of prominent cross-bars in black and white and a red neck. It has a dark purple tongue. It has a slender body, rounded pupils, enlarged vertebral scales, and a head distinct from the body.

The live specimen Mr. Wickremasinghe photographed was recorded 15m high up in trees near Kudawa. “I was on top of a small cliff so the tree canopy was at eye level when I spotted the beauty,” he said, recalling his chance encounter.

The snake is active during the day and lives in the trees. Its large pupils give it very good eyesight, and Mr. Wickremasinghe believes sight, more than scent, is used to hunt prey. The snake could be feeding on geckos, lizards, skinks and could be laying its eggs in tree hollows.

The holotype or the single type specimen upon which the scientific description and name of a new species is based was unfortunately a member of the species run over on the road near Mederipitiya. Mr. Wickramasinghe preserved it in formalin and then began the painful scientific process of comparing it with specimens of other snakes to make sure it was not, in fact, already known to science.

Mr. Wickremasinghe assigned the snake to the genus Dendrelaphis and gave it the scientific name Dendrelaphis sinharajensis. In Sinhala, it is called Sinharaja haldanda and in Tamil, Sinharaja komberi.

The Dendrelaphis genus has 44 members around the world. There are six bronze-backed snakes in the country, three of them endemic. Although they share many common features, the colour pattern of Sinharaja tree snake makes it easily distinguishable from its close relatives.

The Sinharaja tree snake is rarely sighted, so it is likely to be rare, Mr. Wickramasinghe said, stressing the need for more research into the species.

Habitat loss and forest fragmentation could affect this species directly as it need trees to survive. But, sadly, the axe of destruction moves at the boundaries of the Sinharaja forest.

With the new discovery, Mendis Wickremasinghe has scientifically described 23 new species – two snakes, 11 amphibians, seven geckos and three skinks. He hinted that another discovery is on the way, so keep checking The Sunday Times for another new species very soon.

Published on SundayTimes on 18.09.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160918/news/sinharajas-slithering-new-beauty-209050.html

Repertoire: Mendis’ book wins awards at State Literary Awards 

Mendis Wickramasinghe is an outstanding wildlife photographer and his maiden coffee-table book,Repertoire, won two awards at the recently-concluded State Literary Awards, commended for presenting scientific information in a simple manner and for Kasun Pradeepa’s excellent layout.

Those interested in buying a copy should contact 0767 987 688 or purchase the book at a special rate from book fair stall no: L-379 of the Wildlife Trust. 

repertoir