SEPTEMBER 2010 – MARCH 2011
A compilation by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. Assisted by Riaz Cader and Tara Wickramanayaka.
[*] Rare migrants arrive. See Birding and Wildlife News.
[*] Sri Lanka’s claim to be the Best for Big Game outside Africa. See Articles.
[*] 25 Blue Whales seen migrating together. See Press Releases.
[*] Peter Smith looks back at a successful Big Five Safari to Sri Lanka. See Trip Reports.
[*] Sri Lanka Natural History Society (SLNHS) outings to Jaffna and Mannar. See Trip Reports.
[*] An incredible encounter with Wilpattu’s top cat. See Trip Reports.
[*] Opinion: Conducting whale watching responsibly. See RFI
[*] Watching Grey Slender Loris at Jetwing Vil Uyana. See Press Releases.
[*] Second edition of A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka by OUP. See Publications.
[*] Sri Lanka designates Kumana Wetland Cluster Ramsar Site
BIRDING AND WILDLIFE NEWS
Supurna Hettiarachchi was with British client Peter Smith and his family on a Big Five Tour. They encountered 25+ Sperm Whales off Mirissa on 30th March 2011 and 20+ Sperm Whales and 06 Blue Whales on 1st April.
Suchithra Hettiarachchi was with British clients Kate Goldberg and friends, who were on a Birding and Big Game tour to Sri Lanka. At Kalpitiya, they sighted 02 Sperm Whales on 31st March, 07 Sperm Whales on 1st April and they also had sightings of Sooty Tern, White-tailed Tropic Bird and Flesh-footed Shearwater while at sea looking for the whales.
Namal De Silva photographed a Black Eagle at Buruthagolla Wewa (Uda Walawe National Park), on 27th February 2011, at around 12:30PM. He also briefly saw a Black-capped Kingfisher, at the same location at around the same time. Namal also photographed an adult Rufous-bellied Hawk-eagle in Pelmadulla, circling above a paddy field, mid-morning 26 February en route to the park.
Wicky was with British client David Back and his family, who sighted a Jungle Cat at Uda Walawe on 21st February 2011.
Suchithra Hettiarachchi was with Dutch birding clients Anneke Hemes and their touring party and sighted Otter in the late afternoon in the Hunas Falls nature trail on 8th February 2011.
Wicky was with British clients Ray and Sheila Murray and photographed Jungle Cat at Uda Walawe National Park on 12th January 2011. Off Mirissa when whale watching, they also encountered a Long-tailed Skua on 19th January and 02 Sooty Tern on 20th January.
Dhanuska Senadeera photographed 03 Otter early morning at Talangama Wetlands on 29th January 2011.
Dinouk Jayakodi and his brother Ishan were at Yala National Park and had an extraordinary sighting of crocodiles feeding on a leopard carcass at Kotabendi Wewa in Yala on 3rd January 2011.
Suchithra Hettiarachchi was with Italian birding clients Silvio Sommazzi and his group at Horton Plains when they sighted a Leopard on foot about 50 metres away on the World’s End walking trail on the 2nd of January 2011.
Namal De Silva photographed a small flock of European Bee-eaters, near Koma Wewa on the Thalgasmankada road in Yala, on 19th December 2010.
Jetwing Lighthouse Naturalist Anoma Alagiyawadu reports 25 Blue Whales on 25th November. See Press Releases for more information.
Sam Caseer was on a FOGSL tour to Mannar from the 5th to 7th November and sighted 01 Indian Courser, plenty of Grey Francolin, a pair of Spot-billed Duck and 01 Eurasian Oystercatcher at Mannar and 03 Crab Plover on 8th November.
Riaz Cader sighted and photographed a female Shikra on a tree fromhis residence in Kollupitiya on 5th October 2010.
Ceylon Bird Club Birding News (06 December 2010) carried the following report.
Two Amur Red-footed Falcons near the road from Kirinda to Yala NP about 1 km past the Nimalawa beat office on 5 December, reported by Deepal Warakagoda with two other members.
Nigel Forbes sends in these comments after a visit to Wilpattu on 21st November 2010. “After 150 days, managed to do a 6 am to 6 pm visit to the villus. Just me and the tracker: 10 hours of fact finding and a few pictures to tell the story. The Pannikar Villu bungalow which was re-constructed by Chanaka Ellawala and his team in 2005 is back in shape and now ready for occupation. It still needs a clean up but the services are now operating and the furniture has been provided. We took a break at Pannika Villu and whilst having lunch saw two elephants in the villus.
When compared to my last visit, the animals seem more settled; more sightings of wild buffalo and deer. Missed leopard sightings but I must say the park is coming back to shape and hope the NE rains come as most villus have not got the usual rainfall by this time of the year and it looks like the rain was diverted to Colombo!”
Hemantha Seneviratne reported a Lesser Cuckoo on a Kirala Tree near the riverside entrance of Kurulubedda (Galle) on the 20th of November. It disappeared into the mangrove and he could not locate the bird thereafter.
Ceylon Bird Club Birding News (07 November 2010) carried the following.
“Five Glossy Ibis at Bundala NP, to the left of the Park road with Embilikala Kalapuwa on the right, also three Hume’s Whitethroat in the scrub by this road
near the end of this kalapuwa where the oruwas are beached, on 7 November, morning, reported by Hemantha Seneviratne”
Ceylon Bird Club Birding News (05 November 2010) carried the following.
“An Oystercatcher at Bundala NP, in the water on the right of the road to the salterns, on 4 November, morning, reported by Tharanga Herath”.
(*) Jetwing Eco Holidays client Peter Smith goes on a Sri Lankan Big Five Safari.
My name is Peter Smith and I live with my family live near Leicester in the UK. For some time my wife, Cheryl, and I had wanted to visit Sri Lanka. The big question was how to go about such a trip. I am a birder and have a love of all wildlife. Whilst Cheryl also likes wildlife, she is definitely not a birder. How could we find a trip that would suit us both? We visited the Jetwing Eco Holidays stand at the British Birdwatching Fair last year (2010). Riaz Cader introduced us to the concept of the ‘Big Five Tour’. This tour promised to keep us both happy. I would see the birds and we would both see the country and a good selection of other wildlife. The ‘Big Five’ are Sloth Bear, Leopard, Elephant, Blue and Sperm Whales. Our daughter, Heather, decided at the last minute to come with us, as she is very keen on whales. I had threatened to phone her from the boat and tell her that I was looking at a Blue Whale. That did the trick, and so after some e-mail communication with Riaz, the trip was booked.
It was with much anticipation that we went through immigration and out into the airport concourse to meet our guide for the next 14 days. Hetti along with our driver – Indunil, were waiting to take us to our hotel in Negombo for the night. This gave us the chance to catch up on some much needed sleep after our flights. Arrangements were made to meet Hetti and Indunil the next morning to begin our tour of Sri Lanka. After a couple of hours sleep I went for a walk in the grounds of the hotel to see my first Sri Lankan birds (Yellow-billed Babbler; Long-billed Sunbird; White-breasted Waterhen) and a grey mongoose. Much to my annoyance, Cheryl and Heather later saw a Rat Snake, but I didn’t.
Our first full day saw us drive North from Negombo to the Palm Garden Village hotel near Anuradhapura. Although we had to get to our destination by lunchtime, we still managed to see Indian Pond Heron; Open-billed Stork; Indian Roller; Brahminy Kite; Crested Serpent Eagle and Fruit Bats (Flying Foxes) amongst others, on the way.
Arriving at lunchtime gave us time to go on our first game drive into the Wilpattu National Park. At 425 square miles this is Sri Lanka’s largest National Park. The park is made up of quite dense woodland punctuated by large ‘tanks’ (man made lakes). Game drives are by open jeep and a driver and tracker are supplied. Highlights of this drive included a Sloth Bear, Spotted Deer; Star Tortoise; Golden Jackals; Orange-breasted Green Pigeon; Little Green Bee-Eater; Malabar Pied Hornbills; Rufous-winged Bush Lark.
Day 03 saw us spend the whole day in Wilpattu Park. We set off early with a picnic breakfast from the hotel and a really good lunch supplied by the park. The day gave us Giant Squirrel; Crocodile; Toque Macaque; Land Monitors; Emerald Dove; Spotted Dove; Junglefowl; displaying Peacock; Greater Coucal; Lesser Sand Plover (Mongolian Plover); White-tailed Shama; Stork-billed Kingfisher; Brown-capped Babbler; Sri Lankan Wood-Shrike; Sri Lankan Small Barbet; Purple Sunbird; Sri Lankan Green Pigeon; Palm Swift and Asian Paradise Flycatcher (both Sri Lankan red and Indian white forms).
The next day after breakfast we travelled south through Colombo to Beruwala. We would have liked sometime just to explore the hotel grounds, but we knew we had to get going to get to our next destination. As it was, I saw a White-naped Woodpecker whilst walking from our bungalow to reception.
The traffic in Colombo is, in my experience, unbelievable. It is very, very heavy. I have no doubt that I would be involved in an accident within minutes of getting in a driving seat! However, we had every confidence in Indunil as he dealt with the drive quite magnificently. Cars, lorries, three wheelers and busses come at you from all angles, but everyone is aware of all the other vehicles and the traffic keeps moving. Not once were we stuck in a traffic jam.
We arrived safely at the Eden Resort and Spa, Beruwala. Here, Cheryl and Heather were to spend 03 nights generally relaxing, whilst after spending just 1 night, I was off with Hetti and Indunil to the Sinharaja Rainforest to spend 2 nights at Martin’s Simple Lodge.
Sinharaja Rainforest is a World Heritage Site and is famous for lowland endemics and mixed species bird flocks. The lodge, although described as ‘Simple’ is very clean and comfortable. The food is cooked by Martin’s family and is very good and tasty. A permit is required to enter the protected part of the forest and a tracker must accompany you. Walking is fairly easy going along paths. Birds seen on the first walk in the forest included White-bellied Drongo; Legge’s (White-throated) Flowerpecker; Sri Lankan Wood Pigeon; Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker; Brown Shrike; Asian Paradise Flycatcher ((Indian – white form); Crested Drongo; Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush; Malabar Trogon; Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpecker; a pair of Ceylon Frogmouth and White-faced Starling. The frogmouths had Hetti and I behaving like children in a sweet shop. We could not get enough photos as the birds just sat on a branch close to the path. They opened their eyes every now and then, but they just sat and posed for us. It is certainly a moment that I’ll never forget.
That night was quite simply magical. We sat under cover having dinner with the other guests at the lodge and listening to the sounds of the forest. Once dark, we could watch Horseshoe Bats flying around us taking moths attracted by the lights. A water-powered turbine supplies electricity to the lodge. We were advised that the best chance of seeing Blue Magpie was to be up before dawn and sit quietly. The magpies should arrive at first light to feed on moths that were still on the walls. So, at about 5.30am we were up and waiting. Sure enough 02 Magpies came and fed just as we had been told. The birds came very close to us as they fed.
Walks in the forest that day increased the list for the trip with Besra; Layard’s Parakeet; Orange Minivet; Green-billed Coucal; Red-faced Malkhoa; Yellow-browed Bulbul; Spot-winged Thrush; Scimitar Babbler and Bronze-backed Tree Snake. There was also a close encounter with the Blue Magpies again. The trackers went off into the forest looking for the newly identified Serendib Scops Owl. Unfortunately after a long search they were unable to find one. That evening we went for a short stroll around the lodge in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to find some owls or lorises. However, 02 species of fire fly glowing all around us in the dark was quite something to see. After a good dinner we were treated to a close look at a Sambar that had come to feed on our leftovers. Rest assured that the only reason for there being any leftovers was that there was too much for us to eat in one go. The good food, a well-earned beer and good company ensured that the second night was as good as the first.
After breakfast we returned to Beruwala to pick up the girls and head off to the Yala Village Hotel near Yala on the south east coast.
This hotel is in a beautiful setting. We stayed in a chalet amongst the trees and wildlife. There were Water Buffalo and Wild Pigs wandering around the gardens. We had been told that it was possible to see the occasional Elephant, but apparently it had been 2 months since one was seen within the hotel grounds.
We were here to go on 05 game drives over the next 03 days into the Ruhunu (Yala) National Park. The pattern was an early start each day taking a picnic breakfast from the hotel with a lunch break at the hottest part of the day, and then out again in the afternoons.
The first drive in the park gave us our first Leopard. This was a big male sheltering from the sun on top of a rocky hill. Luckily I had taken my birding scope with me as the leopard was some way off. This gave us some good views of the animal. We also saw our first Elephants but alas no Tusker. Birds included: Great Thick-knees; Painted Stork; Lesser Whistling Duck; Pintail Snipe; Chestnut-headed Bee- Eater; Spot-billed Pelican; Lesser Sand Plover; Black-headed Ibis; White-winged Tern; Orange-breasted Green Pigeons; Little Cormorant; Crested Serpent Eagle; Common Mynah.
The next four game drives gave us good views of leopard (we saw 04 in total), one of which was just across a 50m stretch of water. We also had very close encounters with elephants including a mother and young baby and later a male in musth. Early on one morning drive we came across a group of crocodiles just starting to feed on a spotted deer. Opinion was that this was the result of a very recent leopard kill and the crocodiles were able to take advantage by scaring off the cat. We also had what must have been a close encounter with a leopard as there were very clear tracks of a female with 02 small cubs that were superimposed on fresh tyre tracks of another jeep. Unfortunately, despite searching, these animals remained hidden from view. We did see a Tusker (Elephant) at close range walking along a road accompanied by a number of other jeeps. Other birds seen on these drives included: White-browed Fantail; Indian Darter; Grey Plover; Gull-billed Tern; Kentish Plover; Brahminy Starling; Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker; Barred Button Quail; Jungle Prinia; Sri Lankan Swallow; Changeable Hawk Eagle (Crested Hawk Eagle); Paddyfield Pipit; Pied Kingfisher; Black-headed Oriole; Black-necked Stork; Brown Fish Owl; Pied Cuckoo; Shikra.
Hetti made sure that our driver headed off away from other jeeps whenever he could. If we had one criticism about Yala, it was the number of jeeps that turned up the moment anyone saw a leopard or elephant. There was one occasion when so many jeeps turned up (to see a leopard) that once we had had a few minutes there, we could not get away. Again, the Tusker that we saw was followed along a road by a procession of jeeps and then more came from the opposite direction. We understand that the park drivers and trackers are trying to make sure that their clients get good views of the wildlife, but it may be that a voluntary code of some sort is needed to ensure that both the animals and the tourists have a good experience.
On the afternoon of our third day at Yala it was time to leave and take to the road for Unawatuna. The object of the next 03 days was to go out to sea to try and see Blue and Sperm Whales. Shortly after setting out, Heather wished me happy birthday and, whilst not a secret, word was out. Unbeknown to me, Hetti then spoke to Riaz, with the result that the bedroom at our hotel was decorated and a birthday cake arrived at the room. Riaz gave me a call to wish me happy birthday. We met up with Hetti and Indunil to have a drink and, of course, eat the cake. Everyone, including the hotel staff was really good to me – thank you for a birthday that I shall never forget.
Anyway, we were up early again the next morning to go to Mirissa to take to the seas. That first morning we saw 25 Sperm Whales! This, we had been told, was the hard whale to see, and here we were, not knowing in which direction to look as the whales were all around. Later a Blue Whale was seen by a few, including Heather, but this was a little way off.
Day 02 of whale watching gave us 100 Spinner Dolphins that decided to come and play with the boat. These are very quick and graceful animals, and were such good fun. A little later we all had good views of 02 Blue Whales. There was also a close view of a Green Turtle and a Flying Fish.
Could day 03 (1st April – Aprils Fools Day) be as good, if not better than the previous two? The answer was YES. After about 2 hours with little to see other than a couple of flying fish, out of nowhere arrived about 100 Spinner Dolphins again. This time they played and gambolled around the boat for about 30 minutes – fantastic. Then, almost straight away, not 01, but 06 Blue Whales appeared. One of these was close enough so that we could see a Remora attached to it’s fluke. We could see quite a lot of the body of this whale under the surface, as it seemed almost white. We then headed off to try and find a Sperm Whale as there were other people on the boat who had yet to see them. Success was achieved again as this time we saw at least 20 of them. Two of these whales came and swam in parallel with our boat for about 10 – 15 minutes, giving us unprecedented views. On the way back to harbour, Hetti and Heather decided to try and trick us by shouting out “Humpback Whale”. Of course someone had to fall for it – me! This trip was a fantastic way to finish off our tour of Sri Lanka.
It is definitely worth saying that the guys at Mirissa Water Sports are doing a great job. They are keen to show people the whales and dolphins in the right way. They do not chase the animals, but rather take the approach that you can see and enjoy the spectacle without causing any disturbance or unwarranted intrusion.
All that was left was to return to our hotel, get a shower and then make the drive to Colombo for our last night before catching our flight home. “All that” is apart from Heather asking if she could find somewhere to buy a Sri Lankan cricket shirt (Sri Lanka had played and beaten England in the World Cup that week). This was not as simple as it sounds. We had to contend with the traffic in Colombo again. Hetti though was undaunted, and with his help, Heather bought her shirt.
The next morning, we had a group photo and Hetti and Indunil took us to the airport and we said our goodbyes. Heather wore her new shirt that attracted attention from all sorts of people from airport security staff to the airline staff.
This tour was everything that we had wanted. I had seen some fantastic birds; I’ll always remember the pair of frogmouth that gave Hetti and me so much enjoyment. We all had fabulous views of the other wildlife; the whales especially were just out of this world. We all saw ‘The Big Five’. Our impressions of Sri Lankan people are that they are very friendly, very helpful and all want to talk to you – especially about cricket (well, they had just beaten us). Would we go back? We would love to. There is so much more to see.
Spot-billed Pelican; Little Cormorant; Indian Cormorant; Oriental Darter; Purple Heron; Grey Heron; Great Egret; Little Egret; Cattle Egret; Indian Pond Heron; Black-crowned Night Heron; Painted Stork; Asian Openbill; Woolly-necked Stork; Black-necked Stork; Black-headed Ibis; Eurasian Spoonbill; Little Grebe; Lesser Whistling Duck; Brahminy Kite; Besra; Shrika; Crested Serpent Eagle; Changeable Hawk- Eagle; White-bellied Fish Eagle; Common Kestrel; Barred Button Quail; Sri Lankan Junglefowl (e); Indian Peafowl; White-breasted Waterhen; Purple Swamphen; Pheasant-tailed Jacana; Black-winged Stilt; Great Thick-knee; Yellow-wattled Lapwing; Red-wattled Lapwing; Pacific Golden Plover; Grey Plover; Little Ringed Plover; Kentish Plover; Mongolian Plover (Lesser Sand Plover); Bar-tailed Godwit; Common Redshank; Marsh Sandpiper; Common Sandpiper; Ruddy Turnstone; Pintail Snipe; Little Stint; Gull-billed Tern; Bridled Tern; Whiskered Tern; White-winged Tern; Little Tern; Sri Lanka Woodpigeon (e); Spotted Dove; Emerald Dove; Orange-breasted Green Pigeon; Sri Lanka Green Pigeon (e); Green Imperial Pigeon; Alexandrine Parakeet; Rose-ringed Parakeet; Layard’s Parakeet (e); Red-faced Malkhoa (e); Asian Koel; Green-billed Coucal (e); Greater Coucal; Pied Cuckoo; Sri Lanka Frogmouth; Indian Nightjar; Brown Fish Owl; Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (e); Malabar Pied Hornbill; House Crow; Large-billed Crow; Malabar Trogon; Stork-billed Kingfisher; White-throated Kingfisher; Common Kingfisher; Pied Kingfisher; Little Green Bee-Eater; Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater; Blue-tailed Bee-Eater; Indian Roller; Eurasian Hoopoe; Sri Lanka Small Barbet (e); Brown-headed Barbet;Yellow-fronted Barbet (e); Brown-capped Pigmy Woodpecker; Yellow-crowned Woodpecker; Lesser Yellownaped Woodpecker; Black-rumped Flameback; White-naped Woodpecker; Jerdon’s Bushlark (Rufous-winged Bushlark); Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark; Grey Wagtail; Richard’s Pipit; Paddyfield Pipit; Grey-rumped Tree Swift; Asian Palm Swift; Little Swift; Barn Swallow; Sri Lanka Swallow (e); Sri Lanka Wood-Shrike (e); Small Minivet; Orange Minivet; Black-headed Cuckoo-Shrike; Brown Shrike; Ashy Woodswallow; Red-vented Bulbul; White-browed Bulbul; Yellow-browed Bulbul; Black Bulbul; Common Iora; Black-headed Oriole; White-rumped Shama; Oriental Magpie Robin; Spot-winged Thrush (e); Brown-capped Babbler (e); Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler (e); Dark-fronted Babbler; Orange-billed Babbler (e); Yellow-billed Babbler; Ashy-headed Laughing-Thrush (e); Zitting Cisticola; Plain Prinia; Ashy Prinia; Jungle Prinia; Common Tailorbird; Asian Paradise Flycatcher; White-browed Fantail; Brown-breasted Flycatcher; White-throated Flowerpecker (e); Purple-rumped Sunbird; Long-billed Sunbird; Purple Sunbird; Scaly-breasted Munia; House Sparrow; Sri Lanka Crested Drongo (e); White-bellied Drongo; Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (e); Brahminy Starling; White-faced Starling (e); Common Mynah.
(e) – Endemic
Land Mammals seen:
Asian Elephant; Leopard; Water Buffalo; Common Flying Fox; Horseshoe Bat; Toque Macaque; Purple-faced Leaf Monkey; Grey Langur; Golden/Black-backed Jackal; Sloth Bear; Ruddy Mongoose; Grey Mongoose; Wild Pig; Spotted Deer; Sambar; Barking Deer (Muntjac); Giant Squirrel; Palm Squirrel; Black-naped Hare.
Blue Whale; Sperm Whale; Spinner Dolphin
Reptiles and Amphibians Seen:
Crocodile; Water Monitor; Land Monitor; Kangaroo Lizard; Green Garden Lizard;Rat Snake; Bronze-backed Tree Snake; Star Tortoise; Green Turtle
Chocolate Soldier; Common Tiger; Three Spot Grass Yellow; Crimson Rose; Common Jezebel; Peacock Pansy; Blue Glassy Tiger; Blue Mormon; White Four-ring; Common Sailor; White Orange Tip; Glassy Tiger; Common Cerulean; Common Pierrot; Lesser Albatross
Flying Fish; Scorpion; Millipede; Fresh Water Crab
(Peter Smith’s Big Five Tour ran from 20th March – 02nd April 2011)
(*) Sri Lanka Natural History Society (SLNHS) Trip Reports on outings to Jaffna and Mannar.
By Tara Wikramanayake
Trip Report to Jaffna and Delft: 16th -20th February 2011
Ten members left Colombo at 2.15 am on this very first SLNHS trip to Jaffna. The early start was due to bad road conditions after the havoc left by the floods. Breakfast and lunch were had by water bodies en route.
We arrived at our lodge around 3.45 pm and having left our luggage did an about turn and headed towards the Kayts Causeway which proved to be a good birding spot and we were soon able to see Common Teal, Shoveller, Wigeon, Garganey and Pintail, very clearly through our Vice President Kithsiri Gunawadena’s scope. Some of the other birds seen here included Little Green Heron, Spoonbill, Black Kite, Indian Grey Partridge, the rare Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and Eurasian Curlew. Great Black-headed and Brown-headed Gulls, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns were also observed here. A pair of Pied Kingfishers put on an aerial ballet hovering gracefully over the water. Tired (we had been travelling from 2.15 am) but content with our sightings, we returned to our lodge.
The next day we visited the Avarangal Plains and Point Pedro. En route, in a marsh, we saw a Yellow Bittern and a grey morph Indian Reef Heron among the usual water birds. The landscape was lush and green after the recent rains and low lying areas were water logged. Blue-faced Malkoha, Collared Dove and White-browed Bulbuls were some of the other birds we saw here. By the road along the Avarangal Plains, bloomed the dainty orchid Cymbidium bicolor on a Palmyra palm. It had straight ribbon-like leaves sticking up, a drooping flower stem with a few greenish-cream, maroon striped, star-shaped flowers about 2” across. This was indeed a pretty sight-a bouquet fit for a bride. We passed the Manalkdu Desert, a barren area with imposing sand dunes. It was too hot to descend from our vehicle and explore the region as it was well past noon.
Another interesting and scenic location was Meesalai with its many water bodies. We visited Meesalai on the 17th evening and watched the sunset and moonrise here. An Indian Darter, Night Herons and Spoonbills flew towards the setting sun while many waders were seen in the ponds and shallows in the area. The full moon in all its splendour shed its silvery beams across the water. A soft breeze wafted across, cooling and gently soothing us. Refreshed and revitalised by the tranquility of this location, we lingered here until it grew dark as we were loath to leave such a beautiful spot.
We left for Delft Island on the 18th morning by a private ferry. The turquoise blue sea was calm and we had a smooth boat ride. The stark beauty of Delft enthralled us. Vast plains stretched across for miles. The boundary walls of coral with its varied textures were picturesque and it was amazing that the corals held together without the aid of plaster. We saw the famous ponies with their young: a shy lot but they did give us some photographic opportunities. We visited the famed Baobab Tree with its hollow large enough to accommodate a human being, the Banyan Tree, Quindah Tower, the rock formation in the shape of a giant’s foot and the ruins of a Dutch Fort. In Delft, Doc Malik found two species of nerites (marine snails) Clithon oualaniensis & Nerita textilis and a brown seaweed Hydroclathrus clathratus- all “lifers” for him. While in the fish net trash were Hammer Oysters Malleus malleus and a Window-pane Oyster Placuna placuna. These were wondrous specimens and we found them, especially the Hammer Oyster, fascinating. On our return ferry ride, we saw a White-bellied Sea Eagle skim the sea with a fish in its talons.
We left Delft and Jaffna vowing to revisit and explore the sites we could not include in our Itinerary.
Trip Report to Mannar: 14th -16th January 2011
Ten of us set off very early on Friday morning as we knew that the road conditions were not good after the recent torrential rains. We went via Chilaw and Nochchiyagama to Anuradhapura and then on to Medawachchiya and Mannar
Our first stop was at Tabbowe Tank where the mist was gently rising over the waters, shedding an ethereal appearance over the area. Little Grebe, Little Cormorant, a lone Indian Shag, Spot-billed Pelican, all four Egrets, Spoonbill, Whiskered Tern, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Common Swallow and Purple Sunbird were some of the birds seen here. Ashy Prinias perched on telegraph wires called urgently to their mates. We then proceeded to Anuradhapura where we stopped at the Nuwara Weva Resthouse for tea. We walked along the bund of Nuwara Weva towards the spillway which was cascading torrents of water. A few Pond Herons were in the vicinity of the spillway while some Openbills and Grey and Purple Herons flew overhead. The water level was high; thus bird life was scarce.
Our next stop was at Giant’s Tank where we had a picnic lunch.
The weather was gloomy here and it drizzled occasionally. Nevertheless we did see some Grey and Purple Herons, Lesser Whistling Teal, Cotton Teal, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns and Black Drongo in the vicinity of the Tank while in the fields near the Tank, were some very muddy looking White Ibis and some White-necked Storks and Indian Peafowl. We did not linger at Giant’s Tank as the threat of rain was imminent so we started on our final lap to Mannar. We had hoped to visit Arippu and see the Doric but were informed that the bridge was under water and the road impassable.
We then approached the Vankalai Sanctuary where we slowed down to watch the bird life here. Painted Stork, Spoonbill, Garganey, Eurasian Curlew, Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers were some of the birds sighted here. As we approached the Mannar Causeway, a solitary Crab Plover stood forlornly. This was a “lifer” for many of us. On closer inspection, we saw that the poor bird was sans a foot. Probably its foot was bitten off by a predator. An injured Yellow-wattled Lapwing came running towards us in what appeared to be (with a little imagination!) an appeal for help. Its hock joint was swollen but it was not as badly injured as the Crab Plover.
We reached our lodge- FourTeess Rest Inn (FRI) where we quickly settled our baggage and then set off for Korakulam. The whole area was filled with water and the landscape had changed so much that it looked unfamiliar. We saw three pairs of Pintail and only one Large Black-Headed Gull in one of the water bodies here while on the shore were a pair of Indian Grey Partridge. Black Drongos and Rufous-rumped Shrikes were everywhere. As it was getting dark and a few raindrops started to fall, we returned to our lodgings.
The next morning before breakfast, we went to Thoddaveli Lagoon. Here on a sandbank, were a few Brown-headed Gulls, four Caspian Terns and one Lesser Crested Tern, while waders comprised one Large Sand Plover, a few Lesser Sand Plovers, Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, and Common Redshank. An Indian Roller perched in the scrub, its beautiful blue feathers gleaming in the sunlight.
After breakfast, we left for Talaimannar but it started to rain and by the time we reached our destination, the rain came down in torrents. We then drove towards Pesalai. Mercifully, the rain had ceased and we were able to walk along the beach. Here we saw about a 100 Brown-headed Gulls, wheeling in the sky and diving into the sea. After a while, they followed two fishing boats, bobbing about in the water like “rubber duckies” in a bathtub.
Our Patron, Dr. Malik Fernando who was scouting out for molluscs and marine plants made some interesting finds. On the beaches at Talaimannar and Pesalai, were brown seaweeds Turbinaria conoides & Hormophysa cuneiformis. There were also a few plants of the sea grass Enhalus acoroides, the largest sea grass which can grow up to 1 m in height. On the beach off the Mannar Causeway, were Watering Pot shells Brechites penis, while on the premises of St. Anthony’s Church Talladi, he found the snails Trachia vittata & Trachia fallaciosa. There were many “lifers” for him among these finds and he was naturally delighted.
Our first visit to the Talladi Ponds in search of the Spot-billed Duck did not yield our quarry. Here too, the water levels were high, altering the landscape. An initial sighting of two ducks caused excitement but they turned out to be Garganey. We scouted the area until dusk. The usual ducks and waders were observed but to our great disappointment, the Spot-billed Duck eluded us. Sadly we returned to our lodgings, determined to make another attempt at locating this duck the next day.
The next morning, we scouted the gardens of FRI which proved to be very good for birding. A Golden-backed Woodpecker was seen by a few lucky members. A Hoopoe, migrant Indian Plaintive Cuckoos- grey and hepatic phase, Paradise Flycatchers-white phase, long tailed and chestnut tailed, short phase, were some of the birds seen here. A bonus was the sighting of three Barred Bustard Quails under a shrub. They were observed from the window of FRI and as they were unaware of our presence, scratched the earth grubbing for worms etc, unhurriedly.
After breakfast we checked out of FRI, where we had been very comfortable and set out to the Talladi Ponds. This was a bright sunny morning and lo and behold, as we approached the ponds, we sighted a pair of Spot-billed Ducks sunning themselves on a sandbank. After days of rain, they appeared to be enjoying the sun and were spreading out their wings, preening and generally basking in the sun. The photographers in our midst had a field day while the birds posed for them. A flock of Rosy Starlings, a Collared Dove and a Little Green Bee-Eater were also seen in the vicinity.
Thrilled with our sightings, we left Mannar but not before visiting the Fort which is now open to the public. The remains of the chapel with its inscribed gravestones invoked poignancy. Presently it is inhabited by donkeys and we hope that this Fort with its stunning vista and ruins of the Dutch Commander’s Bungalow and the Chapel will be restored as a heritage site.
(*) An incredible encounter with Wilpattu’s top cat
By Riaz Cader
It’s now just over a year since Wilpattu National Park has re-opened to the public and after a slow start, things definitely seem to be picking up. All through July – September during the height of the dry season, Sloth Bear sightings in the park were excellent (far greater than those in Yala National further South), with sightings occurring almost daily, predominantly from Maradan Maduwa in the late afternoon. Leopard sightings remained patchy, but by around June last year, the park trackers were reporting regular sightings of a mother leopard with two large cubs (Around 10 – 12 months in age at the time) in the area around Kuruttu Pandi – Kuda Patassa. After a couple of failed attempts, on the 19th September I was with Reza Ghany and Mudara Perera when after spending a full day in the park, we were rewarded with a quick glimpse of these three cats at a distance in the fading evening light at Kuruttu Pandi. All through these months until the rains in mid October, a number of other visitors to the park had enjoyed sightings of these leopards. The larger of the cubs was a stockily built male and the smaller cub was a very distinctive female with a cataract in its right eye, pale blue in colour.
The rains eventually arrived saturating the park till late January this year and with the villus overflowing, sightings of the big cats remained low. The rains had briefly ceased for over a week and on 13th February, I visited Wilpattu again on another hastily organized day trip from Colombo with Shanik and Shanela de Silva, Tariq and Thanuja Mohammed. The afternoon had been relatively quiet, but by around 5:00pm, we found sets of fresh pugmarks going in both directions along the sandy road leading out of Kuruttu Pandi. Almost immediately to the left of the jeep, we spotted a leopard sitting in the sand behind a shrub. We sat there patiently, quietly observing him for about five minutes and we could now confirm that it was indeed a male leopard. We gradually inched our way forward only to be surprised for the second time. There were in fact two leopards (the second being a young female), sitting a few metres away from each other and they couldn’t have been more than 10 – 15 meters from the vehicle. It was the two cubs, estimated to be around 14 months in age. The female was instantly recognisable with the blue coloured right eye. Much to our surprise, they seemed completely relaxed and well habituated to our safari jeep and after a few more breathtaking minutes, the female got up stretched and went out of our sight. The male hung around for a bit longer and then began to move.
We proceeded briefly in the opposite direction, to prevent any unnecessary disturbance, turned the jeep around and slowly inched our way forward only to find the male walking up straight towards us. He paused again just about 10 metres from the vehicle and lay down in the white sand by the side of a shrub giving us spectacular views. Meanwhile the female then re-emerged and walked along the road in front of us. At this point, we had a leopard immediately to the right of us and one straight ahead, all to ourselves. The female stayed on the road for a few more minutes and then disappeared out of sight. The male meanwhile was trying to catch a nap, but seemed distracted, opening its eyes every minute or so staring right at us. Eventually he sat up, gave us one last glimpse and then moved back in and went to sleep. It was now around 5:40pm and we had no choice but to regretfully leave the leopard sighting to make it out of the park before darkness.
We attempted to proceed only to be stopped by the female cub, who was stretching itself and sniffing the scent (possibly left by another leopard) on a tree by the side of the road. Afterwards, she sat down, ‘smack bang’ in the middle of the road for a few more minutes without a care in the world. She then got up and went in again, only to surprise us yet again with her boldness, coming out one more time from the thicket and approaching to within a couple of metres of the jeep from the right. She stood her ground staring curiously right into the vehicle and its occupants for a few more minutes before turning and disappearing into the forest for the final time. It had been an incredible encounter for all five of us to have such incredible and unspoilt views of these magnificent and elusive cats at such close range in Wilpattu, the largest and one of the most picturesque national parks in the island.
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). Our Big Five. Why Sri Lanka is the Best for Big Game Safaris outside Africa. The Sunday Times Plus. Sunday 18 October 2010. Features. Page 6.
‘Little Lanka best for big game safaris outside Africa says Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne.’
A British journalist told me that a shortcoming of Sri Lankan tourism is that it has failed to be bold in how it tells its big stories to the world. I am inclined to agree. One of these shortcomings is the failure to educate the world at large that Sri Lanka is the ‘Best for Big Game Safaris’ outside Africa. It is difficult to imagine that the tiny island of Sri Lanka is the next best to the gigantic African continent for Big Game Safaris. But it is so.
However, Sri Lanka’s tourism industry and Sri Lankans as a whole have failed to realize and publicize that Sri Lanka is the ‘Best for Big Game Safaris’ outside Africa. This is a big and important story we need to tell. It is one of a suite of stories that we need to disseminate to strengthen Sri Lanka’s brand as a tourism destination and in particular as a top destination for wildlife travel.
I first put into print my thoughts that ‘Sri Lanka is the best for Big Game Safaris outside Africa’ in the September issue of Hi Magazine. In the article, I explained why we need to create ‘a symmetry of phrase’ with Africa’s Big Five and also factors such as selection criteria to put the Big Five branding on an intellectual framework.
This is a story I had begun to tell over the last nine years. In September 2009 the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) in London arranged for a press evening where Chitral Jayathilake and I spoke. The exhibition was themed ‘Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Island Safari’. In a sense this is the wider and bigger story. However, in terms of carrying a punch line to the media and the public, a subset of that story, that we are the best for big game outside Africa is more potent.
For several years now my team has developed the literature to articulate that Sri Lanka is the best for leopards and blue whales. We have the largest, predictably occurring seasonal concentration of wild elephants anywhere in the world: ‘The Gathering of Elephants’ at Minneriya (and Kaudulla National Park). More recently, I have ramped up the publicity that Sri Lanka is the best place in the world for seeing and photographing the Sloth Bear. I am also drawing attention that it may be the largest tropical bear or if not one of the biggest (I understand from Dr. Shyamala Ratnayeke that as data is still thin on the ground for tropical bears, there is still some uncertainty in how it ranks in terms of weight). The whale watching which I helped to popularize in May 2008 from Mirissa and since March 2010 from Kalpitiya shows that Sri Lanka is in the top ten for seeing Sperm Whales. I have used these five animals to brand a Sri Lankan Big Five to reinforce Sri Lanka’s position as a Big Game Safari destination in a similar vein to Africa.
Why is the ‘Best outside Africa’ branding justified? Firstly, let me point out that Sri Lanka does not match Africa as a Big Game Safari destination. It is the nearest counterpart. Anyone familiar with Africa will know that nowhere in the world do you have such a concentration of big game, all in the field of view at one time. The sheer numbers are unrivalled. This article is about what happens when you look outside Africa, what is the next best continent or country? I am also using the presence of five big, charismatic mammals, which inspire awe, are desirable and can be seen with a fair degree of likelihood as a benchmark for branding a destination for Big Game Safaris.
Before we look outside, let me also briefly re-visit one of the criteria for an animal to qualify as being branded for a ‘Big List’. An animal must be capable of inspiring awe and fear because it does kill or can kill people. Let us start with the African Big Five which comprises of the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo. All of these animals are big and do kill people. The awe factor is necessary in the context of safari because subtly or otherwise there is an association with an element of danger. Not only must an animal be able to kill a human being, it must also be big to be physically frightening. Thus predators such as lions and herbivores such as elephants are typical big game safari animals. If you were on your own, unarmed and on foot, you would feel very vulnerable and quite likely frightened on encountering one of these animals. Mosquitoes may kill more people than any other visible animal, but one does not think of being on an adventurous safari if one went on a walk in an area with a risk of malaria. Similarly snakes kill, but not enough people will want to see them in much the same way as they would like to see lions and leopards. In Africa and Sri Lanka, the Big Five animals are mammals, but a destination does not necessarily have to choose only mammals for its ‘Big List’.
The awe factor means that many countries outside Africa and Asia will struggle to find a Big Five. Let us briefly run through the continents. In North America we have the three bears, the Black, the Brown (and the sub-species the Grizzly) and the Polar Bear. There is also the Cougar or the Mountain Lion. Trying to see these four species, five if you add the Bison, in one tour will be difficult and enormously expensive. This would violate the criteria I have listed, that a tour for a Big List must work as a mainstream package tour in terms of time and cost. In South America one has the Jaguar which can kill people, but it is very elusive. Despite its huge bio-diversity there are not many qualifiers for a Big Five list. The same can be said about Antarctica, which does not have a single mammal which is feared, although seals can potentially inflict harm.
In Australia, one of the large species of Kangaroos can potentially disembowel and kill a human being. So can birds like the Cassowary, Emu and the Ostrich, but although not explicitly stated, the discussion of criteria for animals which make it to a Big List centres around mammals. People are unlikely to fly to Australia mainly for a safari to see Kangaroos, although people do go there and to Antarctica for their wildlife as a whole.
In Western Europe we have the Brown Bear and in certain Eastern European countries we also have the European Bison, which could potentially kill a human being. The Wolf is once again spreading in Western Europe and although it does not kill people, has always inspired awe and fear and can be considered in a European Big Three. If we were to remove the criteria of charismatic predators which are feared for killing people, animals such as the Lynx could make it into a list. Parts of Eurasia also have the Tiger, the Siberian Tiger being a special example. But as you can see, outside Africa and Asia, one will not find five big mammals which inspire awe and fear with their potential to kill people. It tends to be such mammals that fuel the desire for Big Game Safaris.
In Asia, with the exception of India and Sri Lanka, large mammals are very difficult to see. In India, it may be easier to go in search of Tigers than it would be for elephants. The leopard and sloth bear are difficult to see. Since 2001, when the team at Jetwing Eco Holidays began to market Sri Lanka for its leopards and big game, wildlife photographers and wildlife enthusiasts from India are increasingly visiting Sri Lanka to see and photograph leopard, sloth bear and elephant. When the ease of viewing or strike factor is taken into account for these three mammals, Sri Lanka ranks well ahead of India. Sri Lanka does not have the most charismatic land mammal of Asia, the tiger. It also does not have the Asiatic Lion which is restricted to the Gir Forest in the state of Gujarat in India or the Rhino. However Sri Lanka compensates with two awesome animals, the Blue Whale, the largest animal to have ever lived in the planet and the Sperm Whale, the largest toothed whale. India is not short of animals for a Big Five. But the distances which need to be travelled and the time required makes it prohibitively expensive and difficult, compared to Sri Lanka. When the likelihood and cost of seeing and photographing four or five charismatic mammals (my barometer for big game safari potential) on a two week safari is considered, Sri Lanka is by far the better destination.
If you compare India and Sri Lanka as destinations for seeing Asian wildlife and mammals in particular, it is also the case that it is much easier in Sri Lankan national parks. Yala is only rivalled in Asia by the core zone of Corbett National Park for the ease of seeing mammals. Mammals are relatively easy to see in Sri Lanka and expectations of most visitors when it comes to safari, pivots around seeing mammals.
According to classical bio-geographical theory, small islands don’t have large animals. Sri Lanka contradicts this theory. This is because until relatively recently in geological terms (about 10,000 years ago), it was not a small island. The sea levels were much lower during the last glaciation and Sri Lanka was a part of the large Eurasian land mass. This resulted in large land animals being on what subsequently became isolated as an island by rising sea levels. What is more, we find large land animals in significant concentrations giving rise to spectacular wildlife viewing spectacles like ‘The Gathering’.
To summarize on some of what I have explained above, it is pertinent to reproduce here two tables. Table 1 lists the criteria for an animal to qualify for a Big List and Table 2 lists the ranking of my Big Five nominees in terms of their ranking for ease of viewing in the world and in Asia.
Many people, far too many to list here, have helped me over the years to position Sri Lanka as one of the leading destinations in the world for wildlife travel. In the specific context of this article, a few people are a part of the story. Chitral Jaythilake, a wildlife photographer and now with John Keells Hotels has embraced some of the concepts I have introduced such as Leopard Safaris, The Gathering and Best for Blue Whale. He has worked hard with his team to complement the efforts of Jetwing and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. Two others who have provided a much needed external catalyst for these two articles are Shiromal Cooray and Srilal Miththapala. Shiromal Cooray asked me for some new ideas, after attending ITB in March 2010, forcing me to bring together what I had been telling my staff and media for several years. Srilal Miththapala also accelerated the need for me to articulate my thoughts with his article (Sunday Times, 14 March 2010) where he suggested a Sri Lankan Big Four. Miththapala in his conversations with me also pressed me to raise the profile of the Sloth Bear. He also supported the branding of “The Gathering of Elephants”. I have also had a number of professional wildlife tour operators and game lodge owners in Europe and India who have given me their time to sound them out on the view that Sri Lanka is the best outside Africa for big game safaris.
My objective behind creating tags such as ‘Sri Lanka is Best for Big Game outside Africa’, ‘Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Island Safari: and ‘Sri Lanka’s Big Five’ is to create livelihoods in rural Sri Lanka through wildlife tourism by monetizing Sri Lanka’s bio-diversity. I do hope more people will take stock of Sri Lanka’s uniqueness; a tiny island that is a big game safari counterpart to a vast continent. It is now time for more people to carry the story that Sri Lanka is the Best for Big Game outside Africa and to see the island as a continental alternative.
Table 1: Criteria for an animal to qualify for the Big Five list
|Big||It must be physically big.|
|Desirable||It must be an animal which is so desirable that people would travel from the other end of the world to see it|
|Awe||Must be capable of inspiring awe and fear because it does kill or can kill people.|
|Strike Rate||It must be possible to see it with a reasonable degree of likelihood for it to be sellable as a wildlife tourism product.|
|Sri Lanka: A Top Site||Sri Lanka should be one of the best places in the world in which to see it.|
|Mainsteam Tour||Ideally, the species chosen, subject to seasonality, should have a reasonable likelihood of being seen in the course of a single, affordable tour which can be used for mainstream tourism.|
Table 2: How Sri Lanka ranks for ease of viewing of ‘Sri Lanka’s Big Five’
|Sperm Whale||Top 10||1|
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). Sri Lanka’s Big Five. Hi Magazine. Series 8, Volume 2. Pages 198-202.
‘Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne explains that for Big Game Safaris, Sri Lanka is the best outside the African Continent. He calls for the Sri Lankan Tourism industry to get the word out to the world at large. He connects the development of marine wildlife tourism to suggest a Sri Lankan Big Five and explains his selection criteria and the need for a symmetry of phrase.’
Africa’s Big Five is famous and over the years I have heard many people loosely referring to various Sri Lankan equivalents. One of the more recent and best efforts was an article by Srilal Miththapala in the Sunday Times of 14th March 2010. In this article, he advocated a Sri Lankan Big Four. Since around 2008, I had focused on branding Sri Lanka as the Ultimate Island Safari (see www.srilanka.travel for a free pdf) and I had not devoted time to overtly branding a Sri Lankan Big Five, or Four or Three. However, the idea for a Big Five had been forming in my mind. A catalyst for articulating this was a conversation I had in March 2010 with Shiromal Cooray the Managing Director of Jetwing Travels. She had returned from the world’s largest travel trade fair, the ITB, and commented that the mainstream tour operators were looking for fresh ideas. She was not aware of Miththapala’s article, but quite co-incidentally asked me whether we could look at a Sri Lankan Top Three or something on those lines for developing an itinerary. I suggested a Sri Lankan Big Five branding, which we had used as a visual theme on the cover of a pdf titled ‘Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Island Safari’, published a few months earlier. The choice of species agrees with Miththapala’s article and that of others who have referred to ‘Big Lists’ before, but with the addition of the Sperm Whale. In this article I will explain why I think we should brand a Big Five and also explain selection criteria and the ‘strike rate’.
Why a Big Five?
There were two strong reasons why I felt if we were to brand and market a ‘Big List’, we should go for a Big Five. Firstly, creating a Sri Lankan Big Five creates a ‘symmetry of phrase’ with the African Big Five. Secondly, Sri Lanka is the best safari destination outside Africa and it makes sense to maintain a ‘symmetry of phrase’ as the large continent of Africa and the tiny island of Sri Lanka are Big Game safari counterparts. Outside Africa, no other country or continent can boast of five, big charismatic animals which also offer a good strike rate and a chance to see all of them in one trip. I have in the last few years begun branding Sri Lanka as the Ultimate Island Safari. An A4, sixteen page, pdf publication on this topic is available on www.srilanka.travel. The more I have discussed this pdf, the deeper the realization has been that this small island, is the Big Game safari counterpart for the entire continent of Africa. I had mentioned this in conversations with a few British journalists and more recently when I was in conversation with Leia Morales of the British company Representation Plus who work with the London office of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. On 21 July 2010, we had met at Heathrow to give the famous TV birder, wildlife presenter and author Bill Oddie and journalist Liam Creedon a briefing before they flew out to Sri Lanka. In conversation with Leia, I explained I was working on articulating a Big Five branding. I also explained why outside Africa, Sri Lanka is the best wildlife safari destination for being able to serve up an alternative Big Five. Therefore because of the symmetry of phrase and Sri Lanka being an island counterpart to the definitive safari continent, it makes sense that Sri Lanka Tourism adopts a Big Five safari branding. An example of a Big Five wildlife itinerary can be seen on www.jetwingeco.com
People may ask why India is not the best counterpart to Africa. India certainly has the charismatic Tiger. But Indian wildlife enthusiasts and photographers have now begun to visit Sri Lanka to see Leopard, Sloth Bear, Asian Elephant, Blue and Sperm Whales as word spreads that for big, enigmatic animals, Sri Lanka in the right season, offers a virtually guaranteed opportunity to see these animals. In India, they are not easy to see and in most other places in the world, they are almost impossible to see. The Sri Lankan Tourism industry now needs to get the word out to the world at large, that for Big Game Safaris, Sri Lanka is the best outside the African Continent.
Sri Lanka’s Big Five
My nominations for the Big Five would be as follows.
|Blue Whale||The Blue Whale, the biggest animal which has ever lived on the planet.|
|Big Tooth||The Sperm Whale, the biggest toothed whale species in the world.|
|Big Cat||The leopard, the biggest cat in Sri Lanka, the third biggest in Asia and the top predator in Sri Lanka.|
|Big Ele||The Asian Elephant, the biggest terrestrial mammal in Asia.|
|Big Topical Bear||One of the biggest bears in tropical latitudes. The Sloth Bear may well be the largest bear in tropical latitudes, but data on Asian bears is not sufficient at the time of writing to be conclusive.|
I will develop this article along three areas. Firstly, why we should include the Sperm Whale to the list, because no one who has previously written about or discussed a Sri Lanka Big List has included the Sperm Whale. Secondly, I wish to articulate some selection criteria to make the process objective as possible. Thirdly, I wish to emphasize the importance of the strike rate, which decides whether the nominees for the Big Five are sellable as a tourism product.
Why the Sperm Whale should be in the Big Five (and the development of marine mammal tourism)
I believe it is imperative that both the Blue Whale and the Sperm Whale feature in Sri Lanka’s list of ‘must see and can see’ list of large animals because it reinforces the fact that Sri Lanka is an oceanic island. What is more, the south of Sri Lanka is the best place in the world for seeing both Blue Whales and Sperm Whales in one whale watching trip. In May 2008, drawing on a research insight by Dr Charles Anderson, I took the story to the world that Sri Lanka was the best place in the world for seeing Blue Whales. In March 2010 in the Sunday Times and Hi magazine I broke the story that the Kalpitiya Peninsula is good for seeing Sperm Whales. This was once again inspired by an insight by Dr Anderson. Records of sightings which are now beginning to come in suggest that Kalpitiya could comfortably be in the top five sites in the world for reliably seeing Sperm Whales during the viewing season. It is possible that with a more focused search around the 400m depth isobath (E 079 35) which runs parallel to the peninsula, it may rank as a top site behind Kaikoura in New Zealand and the Azores. However, at this stage it is best to conservatively list Sri Lanka as being amongst the top ten places in the world for seeing Sperm Whales.
To have been a good site for either the largest baleen whale or to the largest toothed whale would have been good. To be one of the top locations in the world for both is remarkable. Having both of these species in the Big Five reinforces the fact that Sri Lanka is remarkably rich for marine mammals. This has been echoed by visiting researchers in research vessels including the Odyssey and the Tulip in recent decades and whalers from centuries past. However of all the big wildlife stories, marine mammal tourism was the last frontier to be crossed by tourism professionals. In 2001, we began to brand Sri Lanka for its Leopards (for a history see Hi Magazine March 2009) and The Gathering of Leopards (see Hi Magazine December 2008). Other animal groups such as primates were also publicised for tourism. Birds had been developed for eco-tourism for some time thanks to the pioneering efforts of Thilo Hoffmann and his team at A Baur & Co. However within bird watching there was still room for brand labels such as the Sinharaja Bird Wave to be created for specific phenomena which had been studied by conservationists and scientists such as Professor Sarath Kotagama (See Hi Magazine May 2009).
Between 2001 and 2007, the Leopards, Elephants, Primates, Butterflies and Dragonflies (see Hi Magazine August 2009) had entered the vocabulary of tourism. However marine mammal tourism, for which the country was so ideally situated, eluded our efforts because of the cost of access. Taking a boat out to sea meant negotiating with a fisherman to compensate him for a day’s catch. The field work required to develop marine mammal tourism was prohibitively expensive. Marine mammal fieldwork was confined to a few researchers who could gain grants to run a boat out to sea. However, affordable access to the sea, especially for me and my team at Jetwing Eco Holidays dramatically changed on two fronts.
Firstly the setting up of Mirissa Water Sports after the Boxing Day Tsunami which provided me with low cost access to the Blue Whales in the southern seas. After my first whale watching trip on 1st April 2008, I negotiated with the boat crew to take me out for the cost of diesel in exchange for the promise that I would put Mirissa on the world map for Blue Whales. In 2008, the crew would struggle to get a booking and on several days had just me chartering the entire boat for Rs 3,000 of diesel for a research sailing. Two years later, it can barely cope with the demand during the season. No less than five operators were whale watching during the 2009/2010 season.
The second front was the setting up of Alankuda Beach which had fast, eighteen footer speed boats. The support by Dallas Martenstyn and his co-investors dramatically changed how the Kalpitiya Peninsula will be viewed. In 2008, they had established it as a top site for watching spinner dolphins. I was able to come up with sightings and credible reasons as to why Kalpitiya can also be a whale watching hot spot (see Sunday Times 07 March 2010). It also allowed me to pursue a long held dream to find a top spot in Sri Lanka for seeing rare pelagic seabirds (see Sunday Times 25 April).
In March 2010 we handled Andrew Sutton and Chris Waller who filmed and took still photographs of Blue and Sperm Whales in the seas South of Mirissa. The link to their images travelled around widely by email and many more underwater film makers and photographers are likely to come to both Mirissa and Kalpitiya in the future. More and more people are aware of marine mammals and with the advent of digital photography every month more and more Sri Lanka wildlife enthusiasts are up-loading images of cetaceans photographed in Sri Lankan waters to flickr.com and other picture sharing websites.
So in my view, having the Blue Whale and Sperm Whale in Sri Lanka’s top list of ‘animals to see’ makes sense. This is because we are a reliable location for seeing these highly desired animals and they underline that Sri Lanka is an oceanic, tropical island and one with the potential to be one of the leading marine mammal watching destinations in the world. The case for including the Sperm Whale also brings me to articulate a set of criteria for making the top list.
An animal that makes it to the Big Five list must satisfy the following criteria.
|Big||It must be physically big.|
|Desirable||It must be an animal which is so desirable that people would travel from the other end of the world to see it|
|Awe||Must be capable of inspiring awe and fear because it does kill or can kill people.|
|Strike Rate||It must be possible to see it with a reasonable degree of likelihood for it to be sellable as a wildlife tourism product.|
|Sri Lanka: A Top Site||Sri Lanka should be one of the best places in the world in which to see it.|
|Mainsteam Tour||Ideally, the species chosen, subject to seasonality, should have a reasonable likelihood of being seen in the course of a single, affordable tour which can be used for mainstream tourism.|
I do not include in the criteria that it must be unique to Sri Lanka as animals such as the Blue Whale which is our biggest positive international media story is widespread (although difficult to see elsewhere). Rarity is not a good criterion as rare animals cannot be shown easily to tourists. If rarity was a criteria there would be hundreds of rare rainforest animals jostling for a place on the list. The requirement for a reasonable strike rate means that rarities are excluded in the Big Five.
The requirement that it is a big animal means that the Spinner Dolphins which are much loved and desired does not make the list. Furthermore there are other places in the world where they can be viewed in large numbers. The buffalo is big but does not make the list because of doubts about its origins and also because it is not so desirable that people would want to travel to Sri Lanka to see it. But they would for all of the other animals on the Big Five list.
The Strike Rate
One of the most important criteria for big, desirable animals is the strike rate. There is limited tourism value in creating a brand association between an animal and a destination if visitors are not likely to see it. Let me run through my nominees for the Sri Lankan Big Five and explain why the island is one of the best, if not the best place in the world in which to see it.
Almost everyone in the world, dreams of seeing a Blue Whale. With Blue Whales we have now established that during the season the strike rate is over ninety per cent, off Mirissa. Nowhere else in the world can Blue Whales be seen in such numbers and with such ease.
For Sperm Whales, between Mirissa and Kalpitiya, the strike rate is good enough for specialist marine mammal tourism where visitors engage in multiple visits to sea. Given that Sri Lanka is one of the best places in which to see this animal and the other factors such as its popularity, it qualifies for the list. I believe Kalpitiya is the place in which to focus the search for Sperm Whales, based on the data during the firs quarter of 2010.
With the leopard, I initially began the mantra that Yala National Park in Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see and photograph leopards and that five game drives offered a ninety per cent chance. This has been proven over the years. The leopards have also now become so habituated to vehicles that the strike rate is probably even better than what I quoted initially. At present, 3 game drives seem to offer a 95 per cent strike rate. Every year one or more sets of cubs perform for the cameras and it has now become almost too easy to photograph leopards. The re-opening of Wilpattu National Park will see another point of focus for leopards.
The Asian Elephant is found in 13 countries. But it is not an easy animal to see other than in Sri Lanka which is the best place in the world for seeing it. Uda Walwe National Park is the only place in Asia where a visitor is guaranteed to see an elephant on a game drive. Given how popular elephants are, it is surprising that we don’t brand Uda Walawe National Park strongly enough as the best place in which to see the Asian Elephant and with a hundred per cent strike rate of seeing one. In addition, Sri Lanka also has the spectacular Gathering of Elephants, a seasonal event in the Minneriya (and Kaudulla) National Parks. At times, 300 elephants may be gathered within a one kilometer quadrant although it is more probable that one may see between 100-200 elephants on a good viewing. There are possibly two places in Africa, where more elephants may gather together in times of drought. But The Gathering of Elephants in Minneriya (and Kaudulla) is the largest gathering of elephants which recurs, predictably each year, albeit seasonally. In short, it is the largest recurring or seasonal gathering of elephants in the world.
Ironically it is easier to see a leopard in Yala than it is to see a Sloth Bear. But then again there is always an individual or mother Sloth Bear with cubs in any given year which is tolerant of vehicles and provides a reasonable chance of seeing a Sloth Bear to serious wildlife enthusiasts who undertake three or more game drives. When the Palu Trees begin to bear ripe fruit in June and July, bears can be seen on almost every game drive. Wasgomuwa National Park is believed to have the highest densities of Sloth Bear in Sri Lanka. However due to habituation, the nature of the terrain, the density of Palu Trees (a factor during the fruiting season) and other factors yet to be determined, Yala is the best place for viewing Sloth Bear. In fact it is the best place in the world for seeing the Sloth Bear.
The concept of a Big Five label has its advantages in appealing to a broader tourism market through the big tour operators who can feature a Sri Lanka’s Big Five tour. In parallel, I would like to see the branding for Sri Lanka as the Ultimate Island Safari. This enables the serious wildlife enthusiasts and photographers and writers who will travel with the smaller specialist tour operators to understand that Sri Lanka’s riches extend beyond the Big Five.
How Sri Lanka’s Big Five rank in the world and Asia for ease of viewing.
|Sperm Whale||Top 10||1|
|Species||Strike Rate for Game Drives/Sailings|
90% during season off Mirissa
Provisionally, between 1 in 3 & 1 in 5 from Kalpitiya during February & March. More data needs to be gathered to see if the rate is better and the span of the viewing window.
|100% in Uda Walawe and during The Gathering at Minneriya (and Kaudulla)|
1 in 3 at Yala. There are periods when it is 1 in 2.
1 in 5 in Yala. Improves to 1 in 3 during fruiting of Palu in June/July.
My thanks to Dr Charles Anderson and Dr Shyamala Ratnayeke for answering questions.
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). It’s Whale Time. [The Migration and feeding strategies of Blue Blue Whales around Sri Lanka]. The Sunday Times Plus. Sunday 26 December 2010. Features. Pages 3-4.
‘Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne draws on a remarkable observation of 25 Blue Whales migrating together (in the first of a two part article series) to explain why the whales are migrating and the two feeding strategies adopted by them’.
Awareness that Sri Lanka is the top spot in the world for seeing and photographing Blue Whales began with a press blitz I began in May 2008. This hinged on the Anderson hypothesis that the Blue Whales undertook an East-West migration between the Arabian Sea off the Horn of Africa and the Bay of Bengal. I have likened it to a U –shaped migration. However, on a global scale it can be viewed as a horizontal movement or if at all as one with a very shallow U shape as the whales curve around the South of Sri Lanka. The migration is driven by the seasonal presence of food: the krill upon which the Blue Whales feed, typically in the top 60 meters of water, but they could be feeding down to 300-400m. The strong winds of the South-west Monsoon physically displace water away from the African coast. Water must well up from below to replace the water which has been pushed away. The up-welling created, brings up nutrients which lead to a blooming of phytoplankton which are in turn fed on by zooplankton such as krill and creates a food chain for other marine animals. The Blue Whales return to feed on this seasonal blooming of krill. Similarly, their journey to the Bay of Bengal would have been triggered by a seasonal blooming of krill which would have been triggered by upwellings created by the North-east Monsoon. In other words, the Blue Whales go to the areas where the seasonally changing monsoon currents produce seasonally changing plankton bloom areas where the South-west or North-east Monsoon has abated from.
Blue Whales seem to be found most commonly along the continental slope, where the relatively shallow inshore waters of the continental shelf drop away steeply to the ocean depths. It is along this slope that local upwellings may occur and where plankton are often concentrated. Where the continental shelf comes close to shore, it may also allow the whales to come closer to the nutrient flow from a land mass which will create a food chain close to shore. In Western Scotland, currents creating nutrient flows and food chains resulted in massive fish stocks close to shore, which led to a large fishing industry. We have a similar situation off the Kalpitiya Peninsula where it seems currents, nutrient flows and the proximity of the continental shelf have created a large Yellow-fin Tuna fishery close to shore. Where there are fish, there is a food chain. We can therefore also find whales, whether they are baleen whales or toothed whales, feeding in their niche in the food chain, close to shore in Sri Lanka off Mirissa, the Kalpitiya Peninsula and Trincomalee. It is also my personal belief that deep water offers whales a higher degree of manoeuvrability when facing predators. So the plankton rich deep waters close to the Sri Lankan shore provide both food and safety.
In this article I want to explore the question of which theory is correct, Resident or Migrant or both? The Anderson hypothesis which I publicized of an E-W migration (shallow U-shape, for graphical dramatization by me) seemed to run contrary to the alternative belief that the Blue Whales were present all year round. Neither Dr. Anderson nor I challenge the idea that some Blue Whales are present in Sri Lankan waters throughout the year. Data going back several decades suggest that this is so. It is also possible that such resident whales change (or migrate locally) from one coast line to another to be on the lee-ward side of any prevailing monsoon. However, where Dr. Anderson and I take a strong position is that the large majority of whales which are seen during the period November/December to April are participating in a migration between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal as proposed by Dr. Anderson. I would emphasize once again this does not preclude resident Blue Whales also being seen by the whale watching boats. It appears, we are looking at two strategies used by the Blue Whales found around Sri Lanka: a smaller resident group and a larger seasonal influx of migratory Blue Whales. The fact that we have been observing directional movements eastwards around November/December to January and westwards around March to April seems to support the theory of the migrant Blue Whales. It also fits in with seasonality of Blue Whale sightings and strandings in the Maldives. Also, if there was no migratory influx, then on calm days in the ‘off-season’ we should see Blue Whales with the same abundance/frequency as during the December to April season. But this is not the case.
However, there is some confusion that the theories “migrant versus resident” are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, some prefer to believe that almost all of the Blue Whales are present throughout the year. So much so that we were asked quite innocently whether an observation of 25 individual Blue Whales travelling together on 5th November 2010 may point to the presence of Blue Whales being sedentary around Sri Lanka. On the contrary, I think this is one of the most significant observations to support the Anderson hypothesis. I received emails on this sighting from several people. Realizing how significant this observation was, I asked Jetwing Lighthouse naturalist Anoma Alagiyawadu who was on the boat for more information. In particular I enquired if any directional movement had been observed.
I have copied below his account emailed to me. He has very sharply observed that the whales were single (these would be adult males) or in pairs (mother and calf), although moving together. Whether it is millions of Wildebeest bunched up on the Mara migration or 300 elephants on a one kilometer quadrant during The Gathering at Minneriya, animals still keep to their basic social units. In the case of Blue Whales it would be a lone male or a mother with a calf. It should be borne in mind that Blue Whales can communicate across hundreds or even over a thousand kilometers using infra sounds. Therefore, Blue Whales a few kilometers apart, may in their spatial terms, be as close as humans are when walking together a few feet apart. As a result, I had thought we may not see a physically close together concentration of Blue Whales as was observed on 5th November 2010. I did on one occasion see at least 8 simultaneous Blue Whale spouts in April 2008. Others on the boat guessed there could be anything from fifteen to twenty Blue Whales. I could only be sure that there were at least 8, but I knew the number was probably much more. I suspect that was a group on the return migration.
Anoma Alagiyawadu was on his 234th whale watching trip, more than any other person in Sri Lanka except the (Mirissa Water Sports) MWS crew. He is a trained naturalist observer. His claim of 25 individual Blue Whales travelling together is a safe observation. He is a trained observer very aware of my preoccupation shared with Dr. Charles Anderson to distinguish ‘sightings’ from ‘individuals’. But be aware that many claims of 20 plus Blue Whale sightings in a single session usually relate to multiple sightings of 4-5 Blue Whales. Alagiyawadu, also commented that there were almost certainly many more travelling together on that day. Anoma Alagiyawadu’s remarkable sailing began as usual at 7.30am from the fishery harbour at Mirissa in the South of Sri Lanka, close to Dondra Head, the island’s southern-most point. At 10.05am, they found a Bryde’s Whale around 12.42 nautical miles from Mirissa. He writes “When we were coming back to Mirissa, it was very windy. At 10.40am at a distance we spotted a few blows. We thought they were Sperm Whales”. Alagiyawadu says they thought they were Sperm Whales at a distance because the strong wind was keeping the blows short and probably slanted like that of a Sperm Whale and not tall and straight as with a Blue Whale. I also suspect because there appeared to be at least a few clustered together, sub-consciously, Sperm Whales rather than the Blue Whales seemed the right conclusion.
He continues to say “Ten minutes later we recognized they were Blue Whales. We could not believe we were seeing such a large group of Blue Whales. They were travelling West to East. The current in the water was also running West to East. They were moving a little bit fast, doing shallow dives, and looked like they were travelling on the surface. We were 8.86 nautical miles from Mirissa with the water temperature at 83.20F. All the whales were travelling close to each other, but either individually or in pairs. I counted 25 around me, but definitely there were more, I am sure of that’.
Wow! You can imagine how I felt reading this when Alagiyawadu finally emailed this in response to questions from me and Dr. Anderson. The timing of the observation does raise questions. Were they unusually early this year and if so why? Or is it that the migration starts earlier than the December-January period which I had publicized earlier in several previous articles? In November 2008, between the 7th and 30th, Blue Whales sightings were reported on whale watching sailings. On the 30th November 2008, Anoma Alagiyawadu reported what were potentially 9 different Blue Whales at four observation points. Dr. Anderson commented in the Sri Lanka Wildife eNewsletter (September – November 2008) that there was a time when he thought that the whales began to move past Sri Lanka in November but the data from the Maldives had not supported it. It is possible that the migrant whales may be arriving earlier than the December-January period. Perhaps we have been missing the massed arrival in previous years because the seas have been rough or there has not been much appetite to go out. This is possible but more data is needed. Alagiyawadu, myself and others have sailed in October and November, but more data is required than the few sailings so far to be able to draw conclusions. Sightings and nil sightings are equally important and the data for the over 200 sailings are available on www.jetwingeco.com.
I suspect that as with some species of birds, the photographic records of whales, will show that Sri Lanka has both resident and migratory individuals. I also suspect that in the years to come, a large body of the data will come from pictures posted onto public sites on the internet such as Flickr and Facebook. The automatic GPS encoding on future compact cameras will give rise to a wealth of data to individually identify Blue Whales and their movements. A Facebook or Flickr account acting as a portal for uploading images taken on commercial whale watching sailings will provide a wealth of data to tracking the movement of Blue Whales. Interested land lubbers could become amateur marine biologists.
In my next article in this sequence of two articles, I will discuss the question of whether the whale watching will be better at Mirissa or Trincomalee. I will also touch briefly on the need for responsible whale watching.
My thanks to Dr. Charles Anderson for answering questions and to Tara Wikramanayake for copy editing.
(*) Jetwing Hotels Press Release: Our latest visitor to Jetwing Vil Uyana – The Northern Grey Slender Loris!
Intuition told me that I would see the Northern Grey Slender Loris (also known as Loris lydekkerianus nordicus) sooner or later within the confines of Jetwing Vil Uyana. Let this narration tell you the story!
It all started when I heard a sound that resembled the Loris whistle, reminding me of what I had heard last July; the presence of the Loris. I immediately requested the General Manager of Jetwing Vil Uyana to allow me to create a path through the forest near the hotel. However a few months passed before I was able to make this a reality. This was indeed the first time that I was able to put my theory to the test; the date was the 20 October 2010. My adventure in search of the Grey Slender Loris had begun.
I entered the trail at 7.30pm carrying a red lit torch, in order to locate the animal. After about 10 minutes I suddenly saw one red-eye in the dense bush but did not pay any attention to it initially as it was only one faint red light. However, after a few seconds I recognized that this one red eye was most definitely a Loris’ eye. The Loris was on a tree 2 metres above ground level. It must have had an eye problem as I could only see one red eye the entire time I was observing it. Although I had no camera with me to take photographs, I was fortunate enough to have my video recorder. This enabled me to film my first encounter with the one Northern Grey Slender Loris in this new trail. (www.youtube.com/jetwinghotels)
I was excited to share this knowledge with my colleagues and thrilled that I had discovered a potential habitat for the Loris, here in our own Jetwing property! The next day I returned to the trail in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Loris, but my luck had run out. Thereafter I returned on the 22 October at around 8.00pm and spotted another Loris. It was different from the Loris I had seen on the first night as it had two red eyes, not just one. As it was the second time I had sighted a Loris, I came to the conclusion that Jetwing Vil Uyana was indeed an ideal habitat in which to discover and observe the Northern Grey Slender Loris.
My encounter with the Loris will help me complete the research that I am currently conducting on the Loris population in the dry zone. Up to date no research has been done in this area, and I realized that it was an ideal habitat for the Loris. As a result of this exciting new discovery, Jetwing Vil Uyana can now be listed as an ideal location for Loris watching. This will certainly be a trail worth exploring while staying at Jetwing Vil Uyana both in the daytime and also at night as there will be birds, butterflies and dragonflies during the day and the Northern Grey Slender Loris at night!
“I plan to continue observing and learning more of the habits and antics of the Grey Slender Loris”, said Chaminda Indika, the Naturalist at Jetwing Vil Uyana. “My aim is to collect as much information as possible; my Project Report for the Jetwing Research Initiative is due in January 2011 and I hope by then to shed new light on this exotic mammal” said a truly delighted Chaminda.
Jetwing Vil Uyana Naturalist Chaminda conducts Loris watching tours every evening at Vil Uyana at a rate of USD 25 per person. The tours have proved to be extremely successful with Grey Slender Loris spotted virtually every evening in dry weather conditions.
(*) Jetwing Hotels Press Release: Whale Bonanza
When Jetwing Lighthouse’s resident naturalist Anoma Alagiyawadu set out to go whale watching on the 5th of November 2010, he never in his wildest dreams imagined that he would be seeing 25 Blue Whales in the spectacular waters of the Mirissa Sea. However it was to be a red letter day as it yielded up a most unexpected sight; i.e 25 of the largest mammal species to have ever inhabited the earth.
On a cloudy and windy November morning, an expedition of whale watchers led by Anoma Alagiyawadu left Mirissa at 7.30am. When returning at around 10.40am they spotted in the distance what they thought were sperm whales. However within 10 minutes they recognized the large pod of whales to be Blue Whales who were travelling with the water current from West to East possibly towards the Bay of Bengal. At this time the team was in a boat which was 8.86 nautical miles away from the coast of Mirissa. The whales were reported to be seen travelling on the surface of the ocean at quite a speed while doing shallow dives as they moved through the waters. The Blue Whales were travelling close together either in pairs or individually. Jetwing’s naturalist confirmed that he counted 25 Blue Whales around him but he swears that there were more in number although he cannot give an exact figure. This discovery is certainly exciting news for whale enthusiasts as it spells increased whale activity off Sri Lanka’s southern coast.
In 2007 it was confirmed that migratory whales were passing through Sri Lanka’s southern seas. This confirmation led to southern Sri Lanka being named the “Best place in the World for seeing and photographing Blue Whales”. This is especially true during the months of December to April when the calm southern seas are the perfect time during which to observe not only Blue Whales but Sperm Whales and Spinner Dolphins as well. As a result Mirissa, less than an hour’s drive from Jetwing Lighthouse has become a popular spot for whale watching excursions. Furthermore, Jetwing Hotels have taken a lead in ensuring that responsible whale watching is promoted. Of equal importance is the fact that the hotel has a resident naturalist who has been trained by the experienced cetacean researcher, Dr. Charles Anderson. This would certainly be an added bonus for all fervent whale watchers seeing that the travel website TripAdvisor describes whale watching with Anoma Alagiyawadu as a “truly magical experience”.
(*) Opinion: The importance of conducting whale watching in a responsible manner.
By Sue Evans
Sue Evans was on a whale watch on the 16th April 2011 and stated that, “there were about 06 boats out there all chasing the whales, probably saw about 06 – 07 blues in total, mostly distant tails as they sounded as soon as the ‘cavalry charge’ began. Location of the sightings was 11 Nautical Miles due South of Mirissa, obviously good feeding ground judging from the amount of whales and orange faeces around.
I strongly advocate self-regulation. All the main operators are local fishermen and given basic training will easily understand that following WDCS guidelines makes good business sense . Real win-win, i.e. happier clients and happier whales!”
Mirissa Water Sports, used by specialist tour operators like Jetwing Eco Holidays carry the following notice along with the WDCS guidelines “You can help Sri Lanka to develop whale watching in a responsible way which ensures the welfare of the whales. We know everyone likes a close whale encounter and would like to take good photographs. But we must always let the animals decide if they wish to approach close to the boat. Please don’t put pressure on the boat crew to act in a way which will create stress on these intelligent animals. For your information we have copied below the WDSC Code of Conduct, with which we wish to comply.”
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Cetacean Watching Code of Conduct
Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent animals, sensitive to disturbance and can be hit by vessels, including their propellers. If they approach the boat or bow-ride, maintain a slow speed and course until clear. Cetaceans should never be chased or harassed in an attempt to make them bow-ride. When watching dolphins, always let them decide what happens.
When watching marine mammals please follow these simple guidelines:
KEEP your distance. Never go closer than 100m (200m if another boat is present).
NEVER drive head on to, or move between, scatter or separate dolphins. If unsure of their movements, simply stop and put the engine into neutral.
PLEASE spend no longer than 15 minutes near the animals.
SPECIAL care must be taken with mothers and young.
MAINTAIN a steady direction and slow ‘no wake’ speed.
NEVER try to swim with cetaceans for your safety and theirs.
DO NOT dispose of any rubbish, litter or contaminants at sea.
(*) Internships with Jetwing Eco Holidays
Internships are available with Jetwing Eco Holidays for periods varying from one month to a year. Candidates should have excellent written English. A creative eye is also very helpful. Interns are exposed to a wide variety of office skills as well as occasional field visits.
If you are interested in an internship, please email Paramie Perera on firstname.lastname@example.org with the header titled ‘Internships with Eco Holidays’.
(*) Jetwing Eco Holidays Facebook Fan Page
For image galleries, the latest news and article links on Sri Lankan wildlife you can join the Jetwing Eco Holidays Facebook Fan Page.
(*) Sri Lanka designates Kumana Wetland Cluster Ramsar Site as its 5th Wetland of International Importance
[10/02/2011]. Source http://www.ramsar.org/cda/en/ramsar-news-rssri-lanka/main/ramsar/1-26%5E25012_4000_0__
This Ramsar Site (19,011 ha; 6°37’N 81°44’E) falls within two existing protected areas, Kumana National Park and the Panama-Kudumbigala Sanctuary. Located South-east of Sri Lanka in the Ampara District, this site consists of a diversity of coastal wetland habitats, including lagoons, estuaries, irrigation reservoirs, mangroves, salt marshes, interspersed with sand dune, scrubland and forest vegetation.
As summarized by Marina Gwilliam, the site provides excellent feeding and resting habitats for a large number of threatened wetland species, including three turtle species such as the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas),Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), and the Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivaceae). Other threatened species include the globally vulnerable Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), bird species like the vulnerable Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilus javanicus), and mammals such as the endangered Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). The productive coastal wetlands support a thriving near-shore fishery that includes commercially important crustaceans such as Penaeus spp., and Macrobrachium spp., and also offer refuge for their juvenile stages. Locals engage in lagoon fishing and rice cultivation, and also depend on seasonal non-timber forest products such as Woodapple fruits.
The site is famous for its historical values. Around 200 B.C, the area belonged to an ancient irrigation civilization. Caves were occupied by Buddhist monks as far back as the 1st century BC with a few caves being famous for their ancient rock inscriptions and paintings. Threats to the site include disturbance by increasing visitor numbers, increased siltation around lagoons due to cattle grazing while surrounding areas face the problem of illegal logging, poaching and excessive use of chemicals for agriculture. The Department of Wildlife Conservation, under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka is directly responsible for managing this diverse and culturally rich wetland.
(*) Harrison, J. (2011). A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. 49 colour plates by Tim Worfolk. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 224 pages. 200x140mm. Paperback ISBN 978-0-19-958567-0. Hardback ISBN 978-0-19-958566-3.
A new edition of a truly comprehensive, up-to-date, modern guide to Sri Lanka’s abundant avifauna. Contains 49 stunning colour plates by Tim Worfolk
All species on the official Sri Lankan list are described in the text
Plumage variations according to age, sex, season, and race are depicted. Birds are shown both perched and in flight where relevant to their identification
New to this edition
Includes the latest information on the habits and distribution of the region’s bird species .
New and revised colour plates reflect recent changes to the classification of some species, the identification of a completely new species (the Serendib Scops Owl), and the growing number of species on the official list.
A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka is the only fully comprehensive, modern field guide to this ornithologically fascinating country. All of Sri Lanka’s official avian species are described in the text and depicted in a collection of stunning colour plates painted by Tim Worfolk, one of Britain’s leading bird artists. The text, accessible to experienced ornithologists and beginners alike, highlights the important identification features such as plumage variations, size, calls and songs, range, distribution, and status for every species. The plates illustrate the various plumage variations for each bird, and show the birds perched and also in flight, where relevant to their identification. An introduction to the guide describes briefly some of the best sites for watching Sri Lanka’s abundant avifauna, and provides useful contact addresses for the prospective traveller. This will be an essential purchase for all birdwatchers travelling to the region; the beautiful plates and clearly-written text will also make it a must-have for anyone who loves birds, and Sri Lankan birds in particular.
(*) Advanced Bird Id Guide: The Western Palearctic
by Nils van Duivendijk In association with British Birds
Press Release by New Holland Publishers
This innovative guide will be an essential addition to the library of any serious birder. It accurately describes every key detail of every plumage of all 1,000 species that have ever occurred in Britain, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East – the region known to all keen birdwatchers as the Western Palearctic. Its level of detail is unprecedented for a book of this size, and it will be sought after by all bird enthusiasts.
A large number of existing bird field guides covers Europe and the Western Palearctic. This, however, is a guide with a difference. It has no colour plates or illustrations, but instead its unique selling point is that for every species the detailed text lists the key characters of each recognizable plumage, including male, female, immature, juvenile, all subspecies and all other variations. This level of detail includes, for example, all eleven forms of ‘Canada goose’ and all nine forms of ‘yellow wagtail’ known in the region. In the past such in-depth detail has only been available in huge multi-volume tomes such as Birds of the Western Palaearctic. The Advanced Bird ID Guide enables birders to take this information into the field for the first time.
The detailed yet concise nature of the guide means that the original Dutch edition of this title became an instant classic when it was published in 2002. UK birders who know of the Dutch edition have been eagerly awaiting an English-language version for many years, so this is an exciting opportunity for New Holland in terms of publishing a cutting-edge bird book.
The book will be endorsed by the renowned journal British Birds, which has been running for more than 100 years and which has a dedicated and enthusiastic readership.
(*) Book on the ‘Primates of Sri Lanka’
‘Primates of Sri Lanka’ a 156 page guide to the primates of Sri Lanka has been published by The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), as part of its efforts to promote wild life related tourism to the island.
“Sri Lankan primates have an established track record of generating millions of US dollars worth of television coverage” explains Dileep Mudadeniya, the Managing Director of the SLTPB.
“We have realized that in the search for new tools for gaining media coverage we have to think laterally. Because of the fascination for primates in developed countries, they offer a good medium though which we can gain access to print and television in these countries. Even high end travel magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller run stories on primates and so do other travel magazines such as Wanderlust. We therefore realized that it would help Sri Lanka to have a publication which could be used by print and television media as a credible brief” he said.
The publication which is authored by Anna Nekaris with photography by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, is sponsored by Metropolitan, the agents for Canon in Sri Lanka. At present it is available only in electronic format as a pdf and can be downloaded free of charge from www.srilanka.travel, www.metropolitan.lk and www.jetwingeco.com.
“Canon is the preferred choice of wildlife photographers world-wide. Sponsoring this pdf shows our support for conservation’ said Taslim Rahaman, CEO-Regions of Metropolitan Office Pvt Ltd. “Canon were delighted to sponsor the publication. Furthermore, it also underlines our support to Sri Lanka Tourism to brand Sri Lanka and generate tourism revenues in a post war environment” Rahaman said.
Primates are a group of animals that fascinate television audiences world-wide. This is especially true of countries in Europe, which are an important source of tourists for Sri Lanka. In the 1980s, the BBC filmed ‘The Temple Troop’ and in 2009, Natural History New Zealand launched the 13 part series, Dark Days in Monkey City. Both of these drew on the work of the Smithsonian Primate Project in Polonnaruwa.
The book can be downloaded from www.jetwingeco.com.
About the Book
The book was written by Dr Anna Nekaris of Oxford Brookes University who conducted research work in Sri Lanka. Visits by her and her students have been supported by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, various individuals, organisations and companies in Sri Lanka’s tourism sector. The latter include Jetwing Hotels, under the Jetwing Research Initiative. Dr Nekaris continues to be in dialogue with many local researchers and assists them by the provision of technical literature, academic contacts, funding and other resources needed for research.
The book is in two parts, with the first part having a series of chapters which provides and overview of the social behaviour and ecology of primates. The second part is a series of semi-technical species accounts on the five species of primates found in Sri Lanka. This includes three diurnal species, the Hanuman Langur, Toque Monkey and the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. The last two species are endemic to the island. The Purple-faced Leaf Monkey has four sub-species, of which the Western Purple-faced Leaf Monkey is listed amongst the 25 most endangered primates in the world. These critically endangered monkeys can still occasionally be seen in central Colombo although sites such as Talangama wetland on its suburbs offer a better chance of seeing it. Sri Lanka also has two nocturnal primates, the Red Slender Loris an endemic found in the wet zones and the Grey Slender Loris. More studies may show that there is more than two species of Loris in the island.
The design of the book was undertaken by Divya Martyn, following a set of design principles laid down for the publishing arm of Jetwing Eco Holidays by Chandrika Maelge. The photography for the book was undertaken by wildlife celebrity Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, who is a brand ambassador for Canon in Sri Lanka. He shoots exclusively on Canon professional equipment.
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Birds of Sri Lanka. National Trust – Sri Lanka: Colombo. 215 mm x 275mm. 218 pages.
This is the first title to be published in the Heritage Publications series of the National Trust – Sri Lanka. The book covers 100 species of birds in 208 pages. 215 mm x 275mm (slightly shorter and fatter than A4). The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and the text written in a style to foster an interest in birds amongst the public.
Harrison, J. (2011). A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. 49 colour plates by Tim Worfolk. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 224 pages. 200x140mm. Paperback ISBN 978-0-19-958567-0. Hardback ISBN 978-0-19-958566-3.
Somaweera, R. & Somaweera, N. (2009). Lizards of Sri Lanka: A colour guide with field keys. Chimaira Buchhandelsgesellschaft mbH, Germany. 304 pages with over 600 colour illustrations. ISSN 1613-2327. ISBN 978-3-89973-478-2.
This book on Sri Lankan reptiles covers all known lizards (agamids, chameleons, geckos, skinks, snake-eye lizards and varanids) and has colour illustrations for all species, including the doubtful species. It gives comprehensive information (current taxonomy including all know synonyms and chresonyms, details about the type specimens, vernacular name, range, distribution in Sri Lanka, diagnosis, size, natural history and conservation status) for all Sri Lankan species over eight chapters, and colour illustrations depict most of the colour variations known for each species. The book also features a set of field keys with thumbnails for each lizard family.
Wijegunawardane, V. (2010). Sri Lankan Elephant: A Celebration of Majesty. 212 pages. 11″(H) x 14.25″(W). Published in December 2010 by the Author. ISBN 955529240-X. Contributions by various authors. Illustrated with photographs by Vajira Wijegunawardane.
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