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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Explore Negombo Lagoon and Muthurajawela Wetland

Picturesque Hamilton Canal connecting Negombo lagoon

Muthurajawela – the largest saltwater coastal peat bog in Sri Lanka, located on the west coast between the Negombo lagoon and Kelani River. It is one of the island’s most important wetland habitats and together with the Negombo lagoon forms an integrated coastal wetland ecosystem extending over 6,232 hectares of marshland and mangroves. It is sheltering about 190 species of plants and over 200 species of animals, including over 100 species of birds.

Take a boat ride to see a rich assemblage of water birds, including various species of Herons, Bitterns, Egrets, Cormorants, Lesser Whistling Teals, Pheasant-tailed Ja├žanas, White-breasted Water hens, Purple Swamp hens, and Common Moorhens. Common perching birds (such as several species of kingfishers) birds of prey (such as the Brahminy Kite and Shikra), as well as mammals (such as the endemic Toque Monkey) and reptiles (such as Water Monitors and Saltwater Crocodiles), are also common. A cruise along the Negombo Lagoon, Muthurajawela, Hamilton canal (built during the British period) and Dutch canal (built during Dutch period) will take you through a lush vegetation of mangroves. The Hamilton canal and Dutch canal starting from Kelani River near Colombo and opens into the vast expanse of the serene waters of the Negombo lagoon.

Muthurajawela marsh has been declared as s sanctuary by the government in 1996 due to its vast bio diversity.

Jetwing Lagoon conducting boat rides in Negombo lagoon and Muthurajawela marsh. For more information please contact resident naturalist of Jetwing Lagoon on 0312233777

Brahminy Kite

Flock of Whiskered Terns

Purple Swamphen

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Whiskered Tern

Little Cormorant Juvenile

Common Redshank

White-throated Kingfisher

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator)

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Red-wattled Lapwing

Oriental Darter

Saltwater Crocodile Juvenile (Crocodylus porosus)

Common Kingfisher

White-bellied sea eagle

Black-winged Stilt with breeding plumages 

Land Monitor (Varanus bengalensis)

Muthurajawela mangrove and wetland

Little egret

Whiskered Tern

Lesser Whistling-duck

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Journey to the end of World

Horton Plains National Park 

(Journey to the end of World)

Horton Plains National Park is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is covered by Montane Grassland, Aquatic & Wetland Habitat and Cloud Forest. This plateau at an altitude of 2,100–2,300 meters (6,900–7,500 ft) is rich in biodiversity. In early singhala the plains are known as Mahaweli Plains or Maha Eliya and Stone tools dating back to Balangoda culture (before 1000 BC) have been found here.The second & third highest mountains of the country namely Kirigalpotta & Thotupola respectively are found within the borders of the park. Park receives rainfall from both northeast & southwest monsoons as well as inter-monsoonal rains with annual precipitation of about 5000mm. The area is headwaters of three rivers, the Kelani, Walawe & the Mahaweli. Due to altitude the area is comparatively cold. Mean annual temperature is around 15C and during colder months it will go down further. 

The plains vegetation is grasslands interspersed with montane forest, and includes many endemic woody plants. Most of the fauna and flora found in the park are endemic and furthermore some of them are confined to highlands of the island. 

Though this was one of the best elephant habitats in the country they are locally extinct due to sports hunting occurred during the British colonial era. Large heard of Sambhur & wild boar are the most common large mammals in Horton Plains. Endemic Bear Monkey, Rusty- Spotted and Fishing cats, Otter, Black napped hare and Giant Squirrel are among other mammals. The national park niches to largest carnivore cat species of the island the Leopard. Many species of endemic & threatened rats & shrews are also found in the park. Diversity & endemicity of reptiles (Lizards) and amphibians are remarkably high.

Though this is cold highland plateau the bird diversity is very high. More than 70% of Sri Lanka’s endemic birds are found here.

The park is named after Sir Robert Wilmot Horton, the British governor of Ceylon from 1831 to 1837, who travelled to the area 1836.Horton Plains was designated as a wildlife sanctuary on 5 December 1969 and because of its biodiversity value, was elevated to a National Park on 18 March 1988. The land area covered by Horton Plains is 3,160 hectares.

Photo credits - Ishanda Senevirathna (Naturalst, Jetwing St.Andrew's)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nature Excursion to Elpitiya/ Talgaswela Estate

It is not Nature, It is not Culture, It Is not Plantation, It is Sustainable tourism

Now you need just an hour and a half of travelling (From Galle) to witness the thriving tea and Rubber Plantations in an evergreen tropical rain forest surrounding.  At these estates, you are privileged to experience some more commercial crops such as cinnamon, coconut, oil palm and banana.  As you know the aroma of Cinnamon invited many foreign powers in to this land since about the sixteenth century. You will be enlightened on the processes of the production of tea, rubber and oil palm by the specialists at the respective fields. Also you will be provided an opportunity to be a tea taster for a while. You will feel the dampness of the grass under your feet and the coolness of the fragrant breeze blowing over the distantly stood mountain ranges when you engage on trekking  in the adjacent   forest  in search of colourful endemic birds. Their melodious songs may charm your mind and the sole. Environment friendly ferry ride of about 45 minutes in the tributary which flows through the estate may not fade away from your memory for many years. The taste of local sweet meats and the beverages is matchless. The demonstration of the preparation of one of the sweetmeats in the afternoon is an activity that you should not miss. The colonial lunch prepared and served in estate bungalow may take you back to the period of the British occupation in the island. Observe and experience the unique features of the micro culture of the plantation workers. Some more, if you are interested in purchasing fine Sri Lankan tea at the estate sales outlet you will enjoy a special discount particularly for ornamental packages.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Studying our distant cousins

A Grey Slender Loris. Pic by Chaminda Jayasekara

Chaminda Jayasekara’s research on the elusive Grey Slender Loris has made pathways into their secretive 

Elusive and tiny they are, with overwhelmingly large soulful eyes, and certainly not considered a match for the majestic and enigmatic mammals that Sri Lanka boasts of.

In a corner of the vast Dry Zone, a humble researcher from Polonnaruwa, however, has not only shone the spotlight on this creature but also taken the public, both local and foreign, and schoolchildren into their very secretive world.

As a schoolboy at the Nelumwewa Maha Vidyalaya in the border village of Dimbulagala which had been vulnerable to numerous terrorist attacks during the conflict, Chaminda Jayasekara had oft heard the derogatory saying, “Unuhapuluwage patiya, unuhapuluwata menikaklu” (that to the loris its offspring is a gem, implying that it is an ugly creature).

Having seen the loris once in a way, Chaminda certainly did not think so and this was why when Jetwing Hotels launched a research initiative three years ago, it was not the exotic birds or the majestic elephant that he chose.

He picked the fascinating Dry Zone Grey Slender Loris (Loris lydekkerianus nordicus), for no one seemed too interested in this primate considered one of the smallest.

“We sighted lorises in the thickets in an area owned by the hotel,” says 28-year-old Chaminda who joined Jetwing Vil Uyana in Sigiriya in 2009, after securing a Degree in Travel and Tourism Management from the Rajarata University. He has followed it up with a Post-graduate Diploma in Environment and Regional Development from the Colombo University.

Launching a ‘loris night trail’ on October 20, 2010, his intense interest has led to the collection not only of loads of information on the behavioural patterns of the loris but also heaps of photographs. This has been incorporated in the first-ever ‘Dry Zone Slender Loris – A photographic educational guide’. (See box)

For three years and even now, camera slung around his neck, Chaminda who is the Resident Naturalist of Jetwing Vil Uyana armed with a red light would become nocturnal himself, waiting and watching for his beloved lorises to emerge from their niches in the thickets which dot the three acres. Not only has he been engaging in this passion but he has also opened up the world of the little-known loris to numerous people.

“Do you know that if you shine a white light on lorises it will harm their eyes,” asks Chaminda, pointing out that it is also not effective in locating this small creature. A red light is the ideal for this purpose, as it reflects off their eyes. “Then the eyes of the loris light up like bulbs.”

Chaminda’s search for any titbit of information about the loris has not been limited to Jetwing Vil Uyana. It has taken him also to far-off Veddah territory and remote villages.

From the Veddahs, he has heard folk-tales and legends about how lorises devour the heads of peacocks and are stealthy and silent killers while from villagers have emanated stories about snakes which shout.

The Veddahs who make forays into the jungles daily have not seen a loris in 30 years, he says, adding that many villagers warned him against entering the jungle as there were snakes which made a noise.

“It is the ‘keeeing’ noise of the loris,” smiles Chaminda. “The villagers are referring to the whistle-like call of the loris when they are mating. That is the time you see two lorises, a rare sight, as usually you catch a glimpse only of a solitary loris.”

These beliefs, although not substantiated, add to the mystery that envelopes the loris, according to him.
With the thickets at Jetwing Vil Uyana being the home of the loris and the ‘second home’ of Chaminda, the conservation-conscious management which had earlier been planning to expand the hotel, has shelved plans to build more rooms there.

Declared the first ‘Loris Conservation Site’ complemented by a Conservation Centre, many have been the sightings of singles, families and even mothers with not just one baby but also twins which have resulted in both the BBC and National Geographic featuring it.

For Chaminda, there is only simple logic why he ‘pursues’ the loris.

“Meka angata bandhunata passey galaweemak nae,” he says without pretence, adding that once the passion for this animal gets into one’s being there is no turning back.

This is what keeps drawing him, from his comfortable and warm bed, not only in the night but even at the crack of dawn, as early as 3.30 a.m. when dew has settled on everything around, there is absolute stillness and most animals are deep in slumber, with only the loris active in the wild.

A guide to Dry Zone Loris

It was a book launch with a difference at the Barefoot Gallery in Colombo on Wednesday.

Among the eminent gathering of invitees and the media were 12 girls and boys in their white uniforms from the Kimbissa Vidyalaya who had the privilege of being presented the ‘Dry Zone Slender Loris – A photographic educational guide’ by the author himself.

This slim, colourful guide, packed with photographs and little-known information, after several years of research and exploration, is not at all scientific but easy to understand and grasp by anyone, even a small child.

Interesting facets linked to the loris emerge – how the name ‘loris’ is derived from the Dutch ‘Loeris” which means a jester, joker or dud and also an unorthodox character who does things to make others laugh and merry.

Jetwing Hotels Chairman Hiran Cooray (left) and Chaminda Jayasekara. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte

Commending the study of lorises by Chaminda, it is Prof. Devaka Weerakoon of the Colombo University’s Department of Zoology, who stated at the book launch that many of us have seen monkeys but not lorises because they are extremely rare primates and are slow and very shy.

There are 91 species of indigenous mammals in Sri Lanka, of which 21 are endemic; 12 species which have been introduced to the country; and 30 species of marine mammals, he says.

Of the five species of primates, the Purple-faced Langur, the Toque Macaques and the Red Slender Loris are endemic while the Grey Langur and the Grey Slender Loris are found both in Sri Lanka and southern India, according to Prof. Weerakoon.

What Prof. Weerakoon finds interesting about Chaminda and his book are that although many may take up the work he is doing as a job and not as a passion, Chaminda is passionate about his work.

While previous work on primates has focused on taxonomy and distribution, Chaminda has studied the behaviour of the loris in its natural habitat, according to him.

A glance through the colourfully-illustrated guide gives an insight even on simple things like one finger of the loris’s hind limb having a long fingernail while the rest are flat and round. How lorises have the “special feature” of being able to manipulate their limbs in any direction while moving, which helps them to get away swiftly from danger and how unlike other primates they have no tail.

The guide points out the fact that though the Slender Loris may be found in almost every ecosystem in the country, the Northern Grey Slender Loris has been recorded only in the Dry Zone, with the locations so far includingAnuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Talawa, Mannar, Wilachchiya, Thammennawa, Sigiriya and Dambulla.

Mature adults mark their territory with urine, laughs Chaminda, adding that he has seen some touching the marked areas with their hands and thus expanding their territory as they grip other branches to move on.
Lamenting about the threats to the loris, he cites habitat destruction through slash-and-burn (chena) cultivations as a major issue while pointing out that in some areas like Polonnaruwa and the Sigiriya rock they face electrocution by the high-tension wires.

Underscoring the need to conserve the loris, he suggests identifying and protecting their habitats and awareness campaigns as essential.

Chaminda and his team have not gone unnoticed with regard to their loris work. They bagged the first prize in the environmental category at the World Travel and Tourism Council Awards in April and the PATA Grand Award for Environment which has been announced but will be presented in September.
The best compliment, however, came from Prof. Weerakoon last Wednesday, when he said that Chaminda’s efforts have helped to shed light on a primate about which very little is known. “We do need to get to know them, for lorises, primitive primates they may be and as tiny as eight inches but they are the distant cousins of humans.”

The book launch was graced by Jetwing Hotels Chairman Hiran Cooray making it clear that the management was not only fully supportive of Chaminda and his work with the lorises but also conservation efforts which include the protection of this primate; Jetwing Hotels Managing Director Ruan Samarasinghe who saw Chaminda as “a true champion of conservation” and Jetwing Vil Uyana Resident Manager Indika Gamage.

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi and Shaveen Jeewandara

Friday, August 8, 2014

Launch of "Dry Zone Slender Loris" - Sri Lanka's first photographic educational guide

Launch of "Dry Zone Slender Loris" - Sri Lanka's first photographic educational guide by Jetwing Vil Uyana resident naturalist Chaminda Jayasekara

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yala National Park - 24/25 July 2014

Explore the wildlife at Yala National Park with Jetwing!
Photos © Chaminda Jayasekara