de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2003). Book Review: A Guide to the Biodiversity of Knuckles. Serendipity. July 2003. Page 8.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne wishes he had this handy guide, on previous visits to the Knuckles
A Guide to the Biodiversity of Knuckles Forest Region by C.N.B Bambaradeniya and S.P. Ekanayake. 2003 Published by IUCN – The World Conservation Union, Sri Lanka Country Office. Colombo. vi + 68 pages. ISBN 955 – 8177 – 20 2
I remember a visit to the Knuckles over a year ago. I was in the company of a group of hoteliers who were visiting it so that we could all acquaint ourselves first hand with the beauty and wildlife of the Knuckles area. With us was Dithya Angammanna, the naturalist of Hunas Falls Hotel. He had done his post graduate study on the flora of the Knuckles area. We listened whilst he explained about the montane endemics found in the Knuckles. Looking down from Corbett’s Gap, we could look down from the stunted forest at the top down to patanas and to rectangular plots of cultivated land. A patchwork of habitats results in a very high number of species explained Angammana adding that any further cultivation will have very serious consequences to the remaining endemic fauna and flora.
The discussion moved to bird life and as if on cue a raptor came flying in low. Was it a Black Eagle, which is often found hugging the ridge tops, flying with its primaries opened out? The bird was lighter in colour, a Changeable Hawk Eagle perhaps. The bird alighted on a Keena Tree. To our excitement, it was a scarce Mountain Hawk Eagle. Identifying the birds was not difficult as there is more than one guide to the birds of Sri Lanka. But how does one attempt to develop an understanding on the wider picture of the Knuckles Wilderness?
The answer comes at last, in the form of a handy A5 sized publication by the IUCN – World Conservation Union’s Sri Lanka office. A Guide to the Biodiversity of Sri Lanka is lead authored by Channa Bambaradeniya and S.P. Ekanayake. Channa Bambaradeniya is a new breed of scientist who understands the need to take the technical literature to a wider audience. This book is part of a series which follows the title on Bundala.
The book is the result of survey work done by the IUCN as part of their work to develop a conservation strategy for the Knuckles. Admittedly, the book is not overtly populist. However, the format of the book is encouraging with reasonably non technical essays and the profuse use of colour photographs. This will make this book appeal to a wider audience than a book which is primarily technical in nature.
The book is structured with the opening chapter being a general introduction to the Knuckles. Practical information is provided on access routes, accommodation, nature trails, interesting locations, a code of conduct etc. A substantial part of the book is the chapter on vegetation types and plants of the Knuckles. Different eco-systems such as montane forests, sub montane forests, patana grasslands, home gardens etc are given a single page essay followed by a list of the common plant types. Unfortunately, the tables may seem rather technical as many species do not have common names in English and Sinhala. The Latin names may seem rather intimidating. But this is not a fault of the authors and any technicality is a reflection of the surprisingly poor knowledge in Sri Lanka of our plants. I for one, fall into this group of ignorant people. When I lived in the UK, I knew the name of more plants than I know of in Sri Lanka. This reflects the lack of field guides for the lay person. A book such as this IUCN guide will be a stepping stone for more populist guides for lay people.
A chapter on the Animals of Knuckles has sections on the birds, reptiles, mammals etc. It flags a number of interesting facts such as that the endemic Leaf-nosed Lizard (Cerataphora tennentii) is found only in the Knuckles. Many other species of plant and animal confined to the Knuckles are also mentioned. Although the fauna and flora tend to attract the greatest attention, the authors have also devoted chapters to the Village Life and Cultural Diversity in Knuckles and the Conservation Issues facing the Knuckles.
A short but adequate bibliography on the Knuckles and a series of species lists completes the book. Species lists are included for butterflies, freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds. The occurrence of a species is indicated for the Central, North, South, East and West of the Knuckles region. Browsing through the species lists is enough to wet one’s appetite for a visit to the Knuckles in search of the highland rarities. The book contains 68 pages but as much of it is tabulated information, I found two evenings adequate to read the text sections.
With the road access being improved, the Knuckles region is possible as a day trip from Kandy either through Matale on the Laggala-Raththota side or towards Corbett’s Gap passing Teldeniya. If you are planning a visit to the Knuckles, make sure you take a copy of A Guide to the Biodiversity of Knuckles.
The writer is the CEO of a Wildlife & Adventure Travel Company. To receive his free, monthly wildlife e-Newsletter, e-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the message header.