Friday, March 28, 2014

Dolphin & Whale Watching Sightings at Mirissa: 25/03/14 - 28/03/14

Sightings at Mirissa from 25th - 28th March 2014

2014.03.25 - 1 blue whale & 25+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.26 - 2 blue whales & 10 spinner dolphins
2014.03.27 - 25+ sperm whales & 50+ bottlenose dolphins and short-finned pilot whales
2014.03.28 - 4+ blue whales & 100+ spinner dolphins

Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports Pvt. Ltd

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dolphin & Whale Watching Sightings at Mirissa: 21/03/14 - 24/03/14

Sightings at Mirissa from 21st - 24th March 2014

2014.03.21 - 1 blue whale & 100+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.22 - 1 blue whale
2014.03.23 - 20+ Sperm whales & 10+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.24 - 1 blue whale & 100+ spinner dolphins

Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports Pvt. Ltd

Friday, March 21, 2014

Armed with camera traps the hunt is on

Researchers Ranil Nanayakkara and Nilantha Vishvanath are on a painstaking trail of the elusive and endangered sloth bear to ascertain its population density in the Wilpattu National Park. Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports

Wilpattu’s grandeur. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

For a brief moment in time, deadlines and headlines and also domestic responsibilities placed on hold, we answered the call of the wild, spending a day and a night amidst the pristine beauty of the largest National Park in the country.

And unfold Wilpattu did its grandeur with stunning visions of both its fauna and flora and also its unique villus.
Disappointed, however, we were that we could not catch even a fleeting glimpse of one of the most iconic large land mammals of the country – the sloth bear, among Sri Lanka’s ‘Big Three’ (the others being the elephant and the leopard).

Sloth bear captured at night on a camera trap

The sightings of the sloth bear, which environmentalists and villagers say has a reputation as “one of the most dangerous animals in the wilds”, have been few and far between.
This is why deep within Wilpattu, where anecdotal evidence suggests the presence of this elusive creature, a quest is on.

Away from their families and the comforts of their homes, eating meagre meals and sometimes living on water and camping amidst the stillness of Wilpattu broken only by the orchestras of insects, researchers Ranil Nanayakkara and Nilantha

‘Shot’ by Ranil and Nilantha on their cameras

Vishvanath of ‘Biodiversity Education And Research’ which aptly reads as BEAR are on a ‘hunt’ in earnest. They are not newcomers to the field of research, with Ranil well-known for his work on the dugongs and he and Nilantha carrying out joint work on tarantulas.

This is a hunt of a different kind and they are on the trail of the sloth bear, armed with unobtrusive ‘camera traps’ which they fix to trees in areas where they believe are their haunts. They are bent on capturing images of these creatures while also spending long hours squinting at and following their pug-prints and scats (droppings).
A proper census is needed before a conservation model can be established for the sloth bear, says Ranil, explaining that they are attempting to estimate the sloth bear population density in the Wilpattu National Park.

Nilantha (left) and Ranil fixing a camera trap to shed light on the lives of the sloth bear

Pointing out that not much research has been carried out on the sloth bear, as the major focus has been on the elephant and the leopard, he underscores the importance of this project in the light of fears that their population has dwindled.

Except for a study in the 1970s and a collaring project to find the sloth bear’s home range at Wasgamuwa and Yala in the early 2000s, this is an unstudied species, says Ranil.

Chatting with the Sunday Times at the Manawila bungalow within Wilpattu during a break in their pursuit of the sloth bear, he compares this project to others such as Project Tiger in India.
Attempting to conduct a census is challenging, says Ranil, as there is not much research on the identification of individual sloth bears. This is why camera trapping is being used as a census technique while also capturing them on the powerful cameras that the duo carries with them on their forays into the Wilpattu wilderness.
They have mobilised both the trackers and safari-jeep drivers to keep tabs of the sloth bears that they sight, as the “park is very big” and Ranil and Nilantha cannot traverse every inch of it. “Then we can put together all the information we gather and establish individual identities,” Ranil adds.

The camera trap technique is explained by Nilantha. Based on a Google Earth aerial map, a virtual plot of 10sqkm has been demarcated, with that too being sub-divided into 1kmX1km grids. This is the area in Maradanmaduwa where the camera traps have been placed.

Whenever any animal passes by a motion sensor detects it and transmits 10-second video footage, says Nilantha going into the technicalities. The images of the sloth bears are then used for the identification of individuals by marks such as claw injuries suffered in fights. The images of the sloth bears would also be compared with the photographs that both Ranil and Nilantha click on their sophisticated cameras.
Another technique is the 10km line-transect which uses the silent-device census in which Ranil and Nilantha drive up and down along that area, recording all sightings.

The team is also closely studying pug-marks and meticulously measuring their size to confirm whatever data that the camera traps would yield, while also looking at scat density. The pug-mark, particularly of the hind-foot would give a rough idea of the size and weight of the sloth bear, points out Ranil, adding that they are also monitoring the foliage to get an inkling of their preferred habitat.

Six months into the project, Ranil is of the view that they need to collect information for at least three years to get an accurate picture on the density, as the ranging patterns of the sloth bear change from season to season.

Dang or palu thiyena kaleta, the density would be more in that area, smiles Nilantha.
An analysis of the scats would reveal the dietary habits of the sloth bear, says Nilantha, what they have been eating at a particular time, be it insects or termites or fruits such as weera, palu and dang. Adds Ranil: “The scats have a seasonal variation.”

Unlike many others, this research project would not be just a one-off effort. Once this reaches culmination, these plots would remain, leaving a strong pulse through which an increase or decrease in the sloth bear population in that particular area could be monitored.

The project, hopefully would not end in one year, but expand to cover the lifestyle of the sloth bear, their behavioural patterns and also which is deadlier – the male or the female.

With the sloth bear only found in India and a sub-species endemic in Sri Lanka, this would truly be a study of global importance to stymie this species from vanishing from the face of the earth.

A marriage to protect our biodiversity
It is a unique partnership. The ‘Estimate of the population density of sloth bears at the Wilpattu National Park’ has seen the light of day after BEAR joined hands with CIC Holdings with the broker of this marriage being the Sri Lanka Business and Biodiversity Platform.

Business has a responsibility towards society but in recent times we see a polarization between the two. We felt the need for the Platform to bridge this gap, said CIC Managing Director and CEO Samantha Ranatunga, himself a wildlife enthusiast. He plays a dual role – being an active member of the Platform as well as funding the sloth bear project including the importation of the camera traps and other logistics.
The Platform had been cobbled together as a joint initiative of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Dilmah Conservation in November 2012. Mr. Ranatunga is Chairman of the Platform’s Advisory Committee.

Pointing out that there are many initiatives by the private sector linked to biodiversity such as gathering and dissemination of information and also preservation and conservation, Mr. Ranatunga said that the Platform is a meeting point.

Mr. Ranatunga

Without working in isolation, the Platform would provide an arena for the sharing of best practices, exchanging stories of excellence and also bringing into the spotlight the work of unsung heroes while facilitating important research such as the sloth bear project.

The Platform hopes to be the link between the private sector and the researchers at ground-level to ensure that the investments are channelled for worthwhile projects.

The sloth bear project had been picked as there are fears over their dwindling numbers, the Sunday Times understands. With the ferocity of the sloth bear being in no doubt and its regular haunts being in the northeast, there have been suspicions that frequent human-bear encounters would have been disadvantageous for the latter.

There has been a major lack of research on the sloth bear and the Platform had felt the need for a baseline study to build-up a database, it is learnt.

“This is a commendable initiative,” said Prof. Devaka Weerakoon of the University of Colombo who provides scientific guidance on methodology on a voluntary basis, adding that the sloth bear is the most threatened species in recent times.

The sloth bear is listed as ‘Endangered’ in the National Red List 2012 for Sri Lanka.
Reiterating that the sloth bear has not been looked at in a scientific manner, Prof. Weerakoon recalled just one other project in recent times — collaring the sloth bear or using telemetry at Wasgomuwa and Yala. This is the “next serious study” which is non-intrusive and would have no impact on the animals.

He too concedes that there is a deep mistrust of the private sector that it is there only to make profits but not put something back and lauds the efforts of the Platform to dispel this misconception.

Ms. de Silva

 “We’ve just passed the halfway mark of the sloth bear study,” says Platform Coordinator Harshini de Silva, adding that this is Phase 1 and there are plans to extend the study.

Ten camera traps have been imported for the study which is being conducted in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Department’s Research and Training Division.

The financial management of the project is by the Platform.

Referring to how individual bears would be identified, Prof. Weerakoon says that unlike the leopard with its specific spotting it may be more difficult in this case as they have no significant markings. “Torn ears or broken tails would be taken into account,” he adds.

While the data generated by this study would be analysed to determine the sloth bear’s habitat needs, Ms. de Silva is quick to point out that the camera traps have yielded “an unexpected bonus” – images of other nocturnal animals.

With a vital need being more such studies and not only on animals dubbed “charismatic” what everyone has on their minds is succinctly made vocal by Mr. Ranatunga about the need to safeguard Sri Lanka’s biodiversity.

Prof. Weerakoon

“If we lose it now, it will be lost forever,” he says with finality.

Dolphin & Whale Watching Sightings at Mirissa: 19/03/14 - 20/03/14

Sightings at Mirissa from 19th - 20th March 2014

2014.03.19 - 1 blue whale

2014.03.20 - 1 blue whale & 10 false killer whales & 200+ spinner and spotted dolphins

Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports Pvt. Ltd

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Today (20th March) is World Sparrows Day (WSD)

Today (20 March) is the World Sparrow Day (WSD), declared to draw much-needed attention to the declining species and to harness popular support in the efforts needed to conserve them. This day was initially named as the World House Sparrow Day (WHSD) in 2010 but was broadened to include and draw attention to the reduction of all species of sparrows in the world in 2011 and renamed as the World Sparrow Day (WSD).
House Sparrow
Image courtesy of Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

This is the fourth consecutive year the day is commemorated. It is an international initiative carried out jointly by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), together with the Nature Forever Society, in co-operation with various national and international bodies in different countries. This initiative was the idea of Mohammad Dilwar of the Nature Forever Society who has been studying them. It is seen that many countries have come to realize that this very common bird, found always in the company of man, has been in decline for the past decade or more in different countries. Hence, the declaration of a World Sparrow Day (WSD) is a welcome move to draw attention with a view to conserving them as well as to highlight the underlying causes.

The decline
The House Sparrow is a native of Asia, North Africa and Europe and has several different sub-species (or forms) within this range. The form found in most of the Indian sub-continent and Sri Lanka is the Indian House Sparrow (Passer domesticus indicus).This species was introduced to Southern Africa, Australia, America and oceanic islands by European invaders who made these countries their colonies, for emotional reasons, as they wanted familiar plants and animals amongst them in these unfamiliar and far-off places,(In some American bird literature, it is still sometimes called the English Sparrow). In these new habitats, the sparrow had no natural enemies and was able to breed and spread very quickly. This happened so much that it was subsequently deemed as a pest by some countries it colonized, in contrast to the native lands where it has always been considered a welcome presence. The Guiness Book of Records on Birds has listed it as the bird that has spread over much of the earth during the past two centuries, because it is now found in over 2/3 of the land mass of the earth.

Good luck
However, the decline of the only sparrow found in Sri Lanka the Indian House Sparrow has been occurring since the mid-1970s' but has still not drawn the attention it deserves. This is rather strange because the House Sparrow is one of the most well-known and beloved birds in the country. It is welcomed by many and some even go to the extent of providing suitable nesting sites to attract them to houses. There is a belief that this bird brings good luck and prosperity to the dwellers of houses where it is allowed to reside. Hence, it is a great disappointment to some and a cause for unease and alarming to many more, to see this bird vanishing from their houses. It has caused disappointment to many who see it as a welcome and familiar presence in the surroundings. This has drawn the interest of others who believe that there is an underlying ecological warning behind this trend. The efforts to draw attention to the disappearance have been carried out by me since 1998.

The decline of House Sparrows was detected by me in Ampara in 1976 and subsequently in other parts of the country in the following years. My studies and observations are still continuing from those days. What was observed initially by me was that although the birds nested and laid eggs in our house in Ampara as usual, the eggs failed to hatch and there were no subsequent generations after the death of the parents. Thus, this decline was gradual and caused them to vanish from our house by the end of that decade. However, inquiries revealed that many people failed to notice it until there were no House Sparrows in their houses and surroundings. This decline and subsequent disappearance of House Sparrows has been observed by me in 17 Districts in Sri Lanka. They are Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Ampara, Monaragala, Badulla, Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura and Kegalle. Since no studies were carried out in the other districts, it is not possible to determine the status of the House Sparrow in them.

Use of mosquito coils
The House Sparrow shows the same pattern of decline and disappearance throughout the country. They breed as usual but the nests fail to produce any young and they slowly reduce in numbers as the adults die and disappear after a time. It is always seen that although it is absent in residential areas in many of the districts; it is always plentiful in the busy town centres where there are shops. This situation is seen even in the busy, commercial areas of Colombo, Kandy, Galle and Matara where there are quite large and thriving populations of the House Sparrows. In contrast, it is very much absent in the residential areas of the same towns. The belief among the people of the Digamadulla (Ampara) District who were aware of this in the late 1970s was that Malathion which was sprayed to control the Anopheles mosquito (the malaria-vector) was the cause for the decline. The next wave of decline of the House Sparrow was seen since the mid1990's, notably in the Hambantota and Badulla Districts, where they were quite plentiful during the 1980's when there was a decline in many other districts.

Inquiries made in these areas in the 1990's revealed that the people of these places where the second wave of decline occurred have been regularly using mosquito coils. This use has occurred only a short time before a decline was noted. These coils all have different types of synthetic Pyrethroids as active ingredients. These synthetic Pyrethroids are known to be extremely toxic to birds and interfere with the reproduction of birds and hence it is quite possible that these chemicals would be a prime cause for the decline and disappearance of House Sparrow.

The House Sparrow is a hardy, adaptable, omnivore that can feed on a very wide range of edible matter, from seeds and grains to leftover food and insects and other small creatures. Similarly, it builds the nest in any available nook and cranny, and has a distinct preference to nest in human dwellings where it not only finds resting and nesting sites, but also an abundant and steady supply of food throughout the year. It is not shy of human presence and can always be seen near people, searching for food and foraging around without getting frightened. Hence, this decline is different from the decline of many others who cannot adapt to urban areas. It was seen that the decline has nothing to do with food or suitable dwelling sites both of which are still available in abundance in all the places from which it has declined and disappeared.

Legal protection
The real reasons for the decline and disappearance of the House Sparrow from many areas of Sri Lanka has yet to be ascertained and we can only presume some possible causes and continue with the observations as was in the past to see whether the causes can be definitely found out. It is also seen that there are slight recoveries in some areas as in Nuwara Eliya since 2008, but is still too early to predict whether this trend will continue in the future or spread to other areas as well. In these circumstances, the move to make the House Sparrow a protected species of birds is praiseworthy, as it show that the authorities are aware of and are sensitive to the decline of this much liked and familiar bird. This happened with the amending of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in 2009, implementing a decision taken by the Ministry of Environment in 2008. According to the provisions of Section 31 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (as amended by Act No. 22 of 2009), it is an offence to kill, harm, injure, keeping in captivity, sell and any protected species of bird or any part of a killed bird. It is an offence under Section 54 to make or serve any food that contains any part of a protected species.

There are those who think that the House Sparrow does not need any legal protection because no one seems to threaten their existence deliberately. The only instances when this bird was deliberately killed were in a small area of the Eastern Province where they were trapped and killed for human consumption. It cannot be said that others may not acquire a taste for this bird as the current trend is to feed on species that were unharmed during the past. The more important reason may be to prevent the destruction of the breeding places by those who may consider this bird as a nuisance.

The present decline of the House Sparrow seems to carry a deeper ecological message, as presumed and feared by many. The fact that it can thrive in busy non-residential areas but not in residential areas show that something found or carried out in residences but not in commercial areas seems to be the cause for the decline.

Deeper ecological message
A series of observations have shown that there are no people staying the night in the commercial areas as opposed to residences and hence there are no mosquito coils and chemicals being sprayed in these places. At the same time, it was also found out that several other animals that were common in households have vanished or are in decline. These include familiar creatures such as the small Wolf Spiders (Jumping Spiders) and the Potter Wasps (Ran-Kumbala in Sinhala). The total of these observations add credence to the assumption that vector control measures could have contributed, not only for the decline of the House Sparrow, but in a general decline of other animals that were found in houses. Since all these chemicals are poisonous not only to the intended target species but all creatures in general, and are more accurately referred to as 'Biocides' for this reason, the underlying message that is conveyed could well be that we are slowly poisoning ourselves to death by the continuous and increased reliance on them to control unwanted pests.

By Jagath Gunawardana

Jetwing St. Andrew’s celebrate World Sparrows day with the support of Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka

Other related links:

Wildlife Sightings 17th March 2014

Spotted 05 Lorises and 01 Indian Hare at Jetwing Vil Uyana Loris Conservation site (17.03.2014 at 07.00pm to 8.30 pm)

Images by Chaminda Jayasekara - Naturalist at Jetwing Vil Uyana, Sigiriya

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dolphin & Whale Watching Sightings at Mirissa: 10/03/14 - 18/03/14

Sightings at Mirissa from 10th - 18th March 2014

2014.03.10 - 4 blue whales & 150+ spinner and spotted dolphins
2014.03.11 - 2 blue whales
2014.03.12 - 3 blue whales & 35+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.13 - 2 blue whales & 100+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.14 - /
2014.03.15 - 2 blue whales & 300+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.16 - 1 blue whale & 300+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.17 - 1 blue whale & 10+ bottlenose dolphins
2014.03.18 - 1 blue whale & 300+ spinner dolphins

 Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports Pvt. Ltd

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jetwing Vil Uyana, Sri Lanka - Finalist, Environment Award

The garden is usually the last piece of the jigsaw. Especially when it comes to hotel building. Normally it’s the foundations and facades you see first. Not the grasses, plants and trees. 

Jetwing Vil Uyana is exceptional in many ways, however. Located in the shadow of the UNESCO World Heritage site and rock fortress of Sigiriya, the concept of this hotel was to create a place of unique beauty where the clocks turn back two thousand years.

Consequently, environmental experts created plans for the regeneration of three habitats: Three hectares of the hotel’s land is now dominated by wetland and its associate flora and fauna, half a hectare is for growing paddy using traditional and organic harvesting methods and two hectares have been re-forested using species native to the dry zone. Not an easy task on land that had, until that point, been totally depleted by slash and burn agricultural practices. The first two years (2002 – 2004) were spent solely on these creations, using specialist architects, engineers and irrigation experts. Only indigenous plants were used, grown naturally while the wetland was being created, with butterfly and bird attracting flora planted to enhance species richness.
The 30 luxurious dwellings were then integrated into each habitat, designed by Sunela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka’s leading environmental architect, using wood, granite, thatch and concrete to create simple lodges, built over the lake and marshland on stilts with access via wooden boardwalks. Its success was immediate, with guests coming in their droves: 80 species of birds, 17 species of mammals, 36 species of butterflies and 21 species of amphibians now residing within the hotel grounds as well as rare and threatened Otter and Fishing Cats. The VIP guest is the endemic and endangered Grey Slender Loris - looking like it is now a full time resident, with a growing population of nine.

Vil Uyana’s environmental creation sits perfectly with Jetwing’s sustainable tourism ethos where the Jetwing Eternal Earth Programme (JEEP) is the umbrella term used for all community and nature-based projects. JEEP is split into four sections – Community Outreach Initiatives, Sustainability, Eco Projects and Humanitarian Programmes. Consequently, Vil Uyana has implemented energy efficient measures, using a Green Directory to monitor environmental performance across ten specified key performance areas that include energy, water and waste. Monthly reports are prepared and an annual independent audit is conducted. The second phase of landscape regeneration has also now begun, with 'Trees for Life', a forestation programme involving the local community, and just one of several on-going community education projects, such as nature tours led by the hotel’s resident naturalist and active partnerships with environmental researchers, students and academics by offering them board and lodging. Such initiatives show that the clock hasn’t turned back at all at Vil Uyana. Quite the opposite. It is looking forward to a cleaner, greener and highly sustainable future.

To find out more about this organisation please visit their website Jetwing Vil Uyana

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dolphin & Whale Watching Sightings at Mirissa: 05/03/14 - 09/03/14

Sightings at Mirissa from 5th - 9th March 2014

2014.03.05 - 4+ Blue Whales & 350+ Spinner Dolphins & Spotted Dolphins
2014.03.06 - 1 bryde's whale & 1 blue whale & 10+ pilot whales & 10+ blottlenose dolphins
2014.03.07 - 2 blue whales
2014.03.08 - 2 blue whales
2014.03.09 - 2 blue whales

 Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports Pvt. Ltd

Friday, March 7, 2014


There is a proverb used generally amongst village communities; “For the Loris its offspring is a gem.” This proverb refers to the loving nature of one of the country’s rarest animals – the Loris. Now, you may not have used such a statement, or seen a Loris let alone heard one due to its extremely elusive nature. In the case of villagers, asking them “have you seen a loris?” would usually be met with the question: “is it the animal that sounds like a cobra?”. When the same question is posed to one of the indigenous people of Sri Lanka however, they say that the loris makes no sound; that they are dumb and mute creatures.

They also believe that the loris does not emit sounds, as they prefer to stay hidden. Living in the jungles of Sri Lanka, this animal is considered to be a threatened species and faces extinction. Within Sri Lanka four sub species have been identified, and among them the Grey Loris could be found in the dry zone. Being a nocturnal animal and a slow mover, the grey loris can however move away quickly when danger is sensed. Mainly they feed on insects, but have been observed at times eating fruit found in the forest.
Generally the body size/length is about 08 inches and is a small mammal weighing about 230 grams. Most of the time, it lives in solitude though occasionally in pairs. The major threat to their survival is the fast destruction of the forest cover where they live. An interesting find is that the diversity of flora and fauna in Sri Lanka is a major tourist attraction to both local and foreign visitors.

This gives rise to an interesting opportunity -introducing Loris watching tours which would be a novel attraction. To the tourist who likes night safaris / tours, Loris watching would be a perfect excursion. Of course, it goes without saying that we should take care in every respect not to disturb the animal during such excursions. To spice things up, folklore about the Loris would be discussed, to provide an overall experience to a visitor.

I was fortunate to visit the indigenous people of Sri Lanka that live in Dambana. The chieftain Uruwarige Wanila Aththo’s younger brother, one Gunabandila Aththo provided us with lot of information enthusiastically and in a cordial manner. My two companions, naturalists Sunil and Buddhika who accompanied me gave me immense support in gathering information. They also said that the Loris prefers certain trees to live in, and especially the “Kenda” (Helapeniya othaniya) tree which they take cover in, and also move slowly through them. This is where things became very interesting, as we learnt that the Loris is such a careful animal that when climbing a tree if a piece of bark gets chipped off, it will not allow it to fall but bring it down and placing it calmly without making any sound and climb up pursuing their prey. In this manner they capture fledglings and other creatures efficiently and also capture peacocks and eat their heads!

This animal species faces habitat loss today. When I first started the loris watching excursions from Jetwing Vil Uyana, guests had to be taken quite far to the forest. About two years ago, we made an astonishing discovery: the loris had made its home in the forest area of Jetwing Vil Uyana!

Jetwing Vil Uyana, Sigiriya is fast becoming the easiest location to see this rare and wonderful animal, and the management has taken steps to preserve and conserve their habitats to ensure their survival. Tourists who have taken this night walk to see the Loris have commented very appreciatively and been thankful for the opportunity. They have even stated that this excursion had been the best and the most exciting wildlife event they have experienced during their visit!

For more information about the loris and loris watch excursions, please contact Chaminda at Jetwing Vil Uyana on 066 4923585.

Family owned and in the tourism industry for the past 40 years, Jetwing Hotels has surpassed expectation at every aspect. Building on their foundation of being passionate, as well as the experience of true, traditional Sri Lankan hospitality, constantly pioneering discoveries captures the essence of the brand. Such a strong statement and direction have enabled Jetwing Hotels to imagine, create and manage marvels and masterpieces, where distinctive design and elegant comfort complement each other and the environment. Considered a priority, sustainable and responsible practice is implemented through the award winning Jetwing Eternal Earth Programme; with energy efficiency, community upliftment, and education of earth saving measures to schoolchildren being a few tenets of the Programme.

by Chaminda Jayasekera, Resident Naturalist of Jetwing Vil Uyana

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Blue-and-white Flycatcher spotted for first time in Sri Lanka

Blue-and-white flycatcher has been spotted at Sinharaja Rainforest for the first time in Sri Lanka earlier this week.

The Blue-and-white Flycatcher (Cyanoptila cyanomelana) is a migratory songbird in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. The species, also known as the Japanese Flyctacher, is the only species in the genus Cyanoptila. It breeds in Japan, Korea, and in parts of north eastern China and far eastern Russia. It winters in South East Asia, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sumatra and Borneo.

Bird description from Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A rare lizard species found

Picture by Uva Province group

A rare species of white lizard with black stripes was caught by Manjula Pushpakumara of Alupaswala in Siyambalanduwa while it was perched on a tree in the area. The four inch long lizard which has lost its tail has been handed over to the wildlife authorities. 

Dolphin & Whale Watching Sightings at Mirissa: 01/03/14 - 04/03/14

Sightings at Mirissa from 1st - 4th March 2014

2014.03.01 - 3 blue whales & 100+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.02 - 1 blue whale
2014.03.03 - 2 blue whales & 150+ spinner dolphins
2014.03.04 - 2 blue whales

 Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports Pvt. Ltd

Leopards and elephants supply the animal magic on safari in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park

ON THE LOOKOUT: A watchful leopard.

The park claims to have the highest density of leopards in Asia. Source: Supplied

IT MUST sound strange that the whiff of musty animal dung can send shivers of anticipation up the spine.
But there’s no denying the excitement as we jump into the four-wheel-drive to set off on a safari in Yala National Park, 300km south of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.
We are on the lookout for wildlife in Sri Lanka’s premier 14,000ha national park where 32 species of mammals can be found, including elephants, wild buffalo, wild boar, spotted deer and the prince of cats, the leopard.

A safari vehicle at main gate of Yala National Park.
A safari vehicle at the main gate of Yala National Park. Source: Supplied

We follow the ochre coloured track, one of several that crisscross the park, as it cuts through the thick low-lying scrub, open plains and forest.
Its perfect camouflage even for animals as large as the elephant, with vegetation so dense, even when the massive creatures are 10m away, I only see them when our guide Sanesh points out three adults and two calves feeding on thorny shrubs.
The Asian elephant, which is fairly widespread in the undeveloped areas in the north, east and southeast of the 65,610sq km island, seem unconcerned about their audience of three 4WDs loaded with tourists and continue to feed contentedly, flapping their massive ears.
There’s a certain irony in the fact that while the animals are wild, since the park was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1938, 4WDs and tourists are a common sight for these natives.

Yala National Park, also known as Ruhunu National Park, sits on the southern tip of Sri Lanka and is the country’s showcase of conservation and home to the densest population of leopards in the world.
This semi-arid region is now dotted with waterholes after recent rains, attracting an amazing array of animals. I mentally tick them off: macaques, peacocks, mongoose, rabbits and even wild buffalo and boar enjoying mud baths despite there being crocodiles in the vicinity.
Tiny birds such as the bee eater, one of over 250 species of dry zone birds, flit among the bushes while a rare find of an eagle perched on a tree branch is a joy to capture on film.
Both my guide Sanesh and driver Sami have eagle eyes themselves and point out a herd of perfectly camouflaged spotted deer among the bushes and the tail of a land monitor poking out from a tree hole some 10m above ground.
An hour into our ride, as we take a corner I suddenly spy a leopard walking nonchalantly along the side of the track. We come to a sudden stop and round the corner I hear a screech of brakes – another 4WD has sighted this magnificent animal as well.
I hold my breath as we follow behind him, the leopard stops, turns around to look at us and continues his slow walk along the track before disappearing into the thick scrub. Within minutes, another four vehicles turn up with camera lenses jutting out, all anxious to capture this secretive animal that is one of almost 40 in this national park. A leopard sighting is today’s trophy – and the thrill of witnessing this rare creature is palpable.

Crocodiles have the right of way
Crocodiles have the right of way in the park.Source: Supplied

Spotted deer often stay in large groups.
Spotted deer often stay in large groups. Source: Supplied

The next trophy is the sloth bear. With four vehicles stopped ahead of us, there was obviously a creature worth seeing. We joined the queue and notice the bear quickly cross the road and disappear into the scrub. Not a great photo opportunity but we were witness to an elusive creature.

After a three-hour safari where we have hit the jackpot with the variety of animals sighted, we head back to our lodgings at Cinnamon WildYala, located adjacent to the national park. The eco-friendly resort has its own lake with jungle or beachside chalets and bungalows nestled in light shrubbery. As a result, the opportunity to see monkeys, lizards, squirrels and even the resident wild elephant Short Tail is always close.
Appropriate signs are everywhere warning guests not to venture too close to the animals. And once twilight settles, visitors are also advised to wait for staff to escort them on their walks between the bungalows and the main building in the event of an unexpected encounter.
Our comfortable jungle bungalow rooms with ensuite were simply but tastefully furnished with today’s basics of TV, Wi-Fi and deck.

The dining room was on the second floor of the main building for good reason – it prevented the wildlife from helping themselves. Even so, with open verandas making a quick jump from nearby trees no obstacle to the resident monkeys and squirrels, staff had to be quick to clear the tables.

The resort pool, which had a view of the scenic lake, offered wonderful relief from the humidity. There was enough activity at the water’s edge with water buffalo and water birds, and while poolside we were fascinated to see a crocodile glide effortlessly to the bank of the lake within 50m of where we were sitting.
We had chosen to go on two safaris and while full-day tours and night safaris are available, we opted for an afternoon tour and a morning session the following day.
The two trips were enough to offer a glimpse of most of the wildlife in the park. While the prince of cats has been described as elusive and shy, two days spent on safari will almost guarantee a sighting.

The park claims to have the highest density of leopards in Asia and as a result, an ongoing conflict exists between farmers and these majestic felines. There is a strong movement to save the animals through research and conservation groups have helped build steel cages and electric fences to protect farmers’ livestock.

Yala was in the direct path of the 2004 tsunami and suffered severe but localised flooding with some 250 people killed while two park resorts were destroyed by the tidal surge.
On our first safari, we stopped at a clearing by the beach where a memorial stands by the remains of one of the hotels.
Interestingly, there were no sightings of large-scale animal deaths, with reports that research done on two radio-collared elephants showed their movements were prompted by cues generated by the tsunami waves rather than a sixth sense.

The appropriately named Elephant Rock, a limestone outcrop in the park.
The appropriately named Elephant Rock, a limestone outcrop in the park. Source: Supplied


Getting there
The writer flew Singapore Airlines to Colombo. Other airlines that fly to Sri Lanka include SriLankan Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Emirates. From Colombo, it’s best to hire a car with a driver for the four to five-hour drive to Yala. The journey used to take 6-7 hours but the new highway between Colombo and Galle has improved travelling time.
Another option is to fly into Mattala International Airport, which is 60km from Cinnamon Wild Yala and a 1hr 15min drive.

Doing there
Yala National Park is open from 5.30am to 6pm daily and closed in September during the dry season.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Wildlife Sightings - 28/02/14 - 01/03/14

Jetwing Eco Holidays naturalist chauffeur guide I. G. Keith Brohier was on tour with Mr. Gunter and group reported seeing the same leopard on 3 jeep safaris to Yala National Park. He also reported seeing many species of birds and Elephants.