THE WILD SIDE OF COLOMBO
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2002). The Wild Side of Colombo. Serendipity. December 2002. Page 8.
Nature enthusiast Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne suggests the creation of Rainforest Reserves in Colombo for a greener city
A medley of fierce whooping calls swept across from a bank of tall trees. One could have imagined you were in a rainforest. A row of houses fringing the wooded thicket betrayed the reality. We were not in a rainforest but on the outskirts of Colombo. Amila Salgado pointed out the troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys to the two Britons accompanying Wicky Wickremesekera. “Are there any European cities with endemic mammals” asked Amila half chidingly. “Look out” interrupted Wicky as a female Shikra, a Sparrowhawk like bird swooped in towards us. It veered sharply and disappeared into another wooded thicket. A gang of Common Drongos and Magpie Robins surrounded it with scolding calls and began mobbing it. The Shikra, with disgust and annoyance almost palpable, flew away.
Colombo is indeed a surprisingly good place for wildlife thanks to a series of wetlands which surround it. The economic value of these wetlands are still not recognised. For eco-tourism, flood detention and recreation and education they are a precious asset. Talangama is not far, about half an hour from our offices in the New City of Navam Mawatha. Even here, there is wildlife. The Beira Lake is responding to efforts to clean it up. Occasionally a Little Grebe may be seen bobbing in the water. Spot-billed Pelicans, an internationally endangered species, perform breathtaking demonstrations of aerodynamics. I never cease to be entertained with their mastery of the air, as their broad wings take them in soaring flight over the city offices. Around December, a whirling mass of newly arrived, Barn Swallows may share the air space with them. Competing for attention are another master of the air. The gorgeous Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, who take control of TV antennas and other high vantages, for their sallies after winged prey.
Stately Large Egrets patrol the shoreline, sharing it with Little and Median Egrets. Occasionally an eccentric Black-crowned Night Heron may take a swim, puzzling onlookers with this un-heron like behaviour.
Ficus trees and Ceylon Almonds provide much needed shade. In a car park, I once came across a Ceylon Oak. Given the chance, it will grow strong and tall. Given space and time, Colombo could green itself. Perhaps even have small Rainforest Reserves, small patches of a few tens of perches on vacant land, within the city limits. If only Colombo could match the ambitions of Singapore, the dream of rainforests within our city could be a reality sooner than we think.
The writer is the CEO of a wildlife and adventure travel company. He is the lead author of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Sri Lanka (OBC) and A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka (New Holland). To subscribe to his free, wildlife e-newsletter, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with “subscribe wildlife news” in the message header.