Posts Tagged ‘Sripada’

Rare Sri Pada elephant yields valuable evolution clues

July 10, 2013

Last hideout of shy herd that survives by being elusive – Malaka Rodrigo

Scientists are finding evidence of possible changes in evolution among elephants roaming Sri Pada with a chance to examine the body of an elephant found in the area in the first such sighting. The body was found last week (June 26) in the periphery of the Laxapana Tea Estate in Nallathanniya which adjoins the Peak Wilderness Wildlife Reserve, the last hideout of a dozen elephants that survive in the area.

The roaming herd in Siri Pada. Pic by Anil Vithanage

This is the first time the body of an elephant has been found here, and villagers flocked in large number to witness this rare scene.
The veterinary surgeon of the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) which oversees wildlife issues in the Peak Wilderness, Dr Vijitha Perera, said it appeared the elephant had been dead less than 12 hours, and that the death was due to natural causes. Dr. Perera, who performed the post-mortem on the elephant, told The Sunday Times that, interestingly, the elephant had fed solely on the small bamboos that grow in the Peak Wilderness. No grass was present in the gut.

The elephant’s jaw and ears, and overall the body, was smaller than elephants living in other areas. Dr Perera is of the view that these changes are a result of evolving adaptation to life in mountain terrain. The foot was smaller as well as smoother, unlike the cracked soles of an elephant in the Dry Zone.

The elephant also had well developed tushes (tushes are similar to tusks but do not grow more than a few inches). The white pigmentation on its body (known as kabara in Sinhala) made it look fairer. Dr Perera believes the dead elephant was at least 30 years of age.

The elephants in Sri Pada are elusive, said Nallathanniya Assistant Wildlife Ranger Anil Vithanage who has been studying this small elephant group for nearly a decade. He has been lucky enough to encounter the herd several times and was able to photograph it at Dharmaraja gala a few years ago. There were three sub-adults and a pregnant female in this herd, he said, allowing The Sunday Times use of the rare photographs.

Mr. Vithanage said the Sri Pada elephants roam a large area of the Peak Wilderness but are shy and keep their distance from humans. This has so far spared them from becoming casualties of human-elephant conflict. Fortunately, he said, the local people hold the animals in respect because the elephant is considered to be the bearer of lord Sumana Saman, the deity watching over Sri Pada (Samanala Kanda) Adaviya. Legend says that the devastating floods of 2002 were triggered by a curse over the killing of a Sri Pada elephant for its tusks.

A rare scene: The body of the elephant. Pic by Dr. Vijitha Perera

The elephants avoid the main areas during Sri Pada Pilgrim season and return to the range during the off-season as the noise of the pilgrims recedes.On the wilder pilgrimage paths through Kuruwita/Eratne and Palabaddala there can be seen signs of elephants that had passed through the area.

Mr. Vithanage said climbers who scale Sri Pada in the off-season for pilgrims were disturbing the silence enjoyed by these animals. Proposals such as setting up a lighting system to the peak as well as a cable car system should be considered with care in this extremely sensitive environment.

The Peak area was “a dense and trackless forest, the home of elephant, leopard, and bears” according to an 1862 missionary account. Huge herds were chased away as the Brititsh established plantations in the mountains. To protect the crops and for sport, thousands of elephants roaming the hill country and Wet Zone were killed.

The Peak Wilderness is now a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Natural Wealth and the remaining few elephants are the jewel of Peak Wilderness’ biodiversity. A conservation plan to protect them for future generation is a clear necessity, say environmentalists.

 And then there were two … 

The Sinharaja is home to just a couple of elephants in the Wet Zone, and they are probably the last of their generation. A few years ago, three elephants were spotted roaming in areas such as Pothupitiya, Ilumbakanda and Rakwana but Runakanda Friends of Biodiversity Association President Amila Chanaka says only two were spotted during the past year.

Unlike the Sri Pada elephants, the Sinharaja elephants are in conflict with villagers. They have claimed the lives of a few people in the area and in return, have been shot. Mr Chanaka worries that the missing jumbo was a casualty. He said all the elephants were males, so they are the last of their generation.

The remaining forest patches in these areas have been encroached on, mainly for tea cultivation, so the elephants have to pass populated areas, risking confrontation with humans. Relocation is virtually unfeasible as there are not sufficiently large Wet Zone habitats for these animals.

An attempt to relocate one of the Sinharaja elephants was blocked by some local villagers who take pride in the presence of the elephants. They say illicit liquor makers and timber fellers want to get rid of the elephants in order to carry out their activities undisturbed deep in the forest.

Published in SundayTimes on 07.07.2013

Amidst beauty and emotion

May 29, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sri Pada: Its significance

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

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

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

Published on SundayTimes on 29.05.2011


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