Archive for the 'wild life' Category

Super-Rich Wild Life

Why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife

How geology, evolution and ancient cultures forged a super-rich wildlife destination

 

“Sri Lanka is a puzzle: it has large animals which a moderately sized island should not have. In fact it has the highest annually recurring concentration of wild elephants and possibly the highest density of leopards”

Hakgala CRW_4472 (c) Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Hakgala CRW_4472 (c) Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

above: Toque Monkey 2008 08 05

Synopsis

This article unveils an internationally significant story. It quantifies how the species per unit area in Sri Lanka is unexpectedly anything from 5 to 13 times higher for certain species groups, than predicted by island bio geography in comparison to other large tropical islands such as Borneo, New Guinea and Madagascar. Sri Lanka is a puzzle: it has large animals which a moderately sized island should not have. In fact it has the highest annually recurring concentration of wild elephants and possibly the highest density of leopards. Unusually for a continental island, large whales are close to shore (best for Blue Whale and super-pods of Sperm Whales). This article is the first to provide a cohesive explanation in plain English as to how planetary physics, evolutionary forces and human factors have worked, almost as if with a design to create a wildlife super-rich island; arguably the best all-round wildlife watching destination.

Introduction

This is the story of how evolutionary forces and ancient civilizations have made a tropical island super-rich for wildlife on a scale that is not seen anywhere on moderately sized or large islands. Sri Lanka’s super-richness on a proportionate scale eclipses large islands such as Madagascar, Borneo and New Guinea.

Alfred Russell Wallace, the founder of modern bio geography and Charles Darwin with whom he shared the theory of natural selection in evolution were both influenced by what they had observed on islands. Both of them would have been surprised by Sri Lanka. Almost every key driver of evolution seems to have played a part in shaping its biodiversity. The result is an island which is rich in wildlife both in terms of endemic tropical biodiversity as well as large land animals and marine mammals and in concentrations which give rise to some of the world’s most interesting wildlife spectacles. It’s an island which Wallace and Darwin or modern biologists could not have imagined as so many of the bio geographical and evolutionary forces have come in to play simultaneously, to create an unrivaled richness. To top it all, it’s a compact country with good tourism infrastructure making it optimal for wildlife tour operators.

This article is about the physical, evolutionary, and human factors that have made Sri Lanka something seemingly imaginary, but yet real.

In a previous article (Sunday Times: Sri Lanka, 13 January 2013) I explained why Sri Lanka has a claim to be the best all-round wildlife destination from a wildlife tour operator’s perspective. In this article I explain the physical, evolutionary and human-induced forces that have made this happen. In essence, I would simplify it conceptually into a three part ‘business model’ for the creation of a top wildlife destination. The first is a set of physical factors, especially those influencing both surface and underwater topography. These together with other planetary phenomena such as plate tectonics and monsoons create structural or topographical complexity on land and under water. Together with time, the topographical or structural complexity on land with monsoonal rainfall has led to the creation of distinct climatic (and hence ecological) zones that are the engine for specialization. Sri Lanka has benefited from other physical factors such as an ancient Gondwana start and having deep seas close to it unlike other continental islands. Having set up the right conditions for evolutionary factors, the engine of speciation needs to be fed with raw material. The output of the species production factory will be enhanced if besides the operation of long intervals of evolutionary time scales, new species production is boosted by fresh stocks of mainland species through immigrant waves. However, surprisingly, Sri Lanka has managed to produce a phenomenally above normal species richness (explained below with examples) primarily from evolutionary radiations within the island resulting in endemic genera and species. It seems that only later has it supplemented its cargo of species by land-bridging repeatedly with the mainland. This has become more apparent recently through phylogenetic studies using DNA.

I would describe the land-bridging as a five stage process for building up the number of species. During periods of glaciations, water is deposited as ice on land and sea levels fall forming a land bridge in the shallow seas. A land bridge is still physically evident in the discontinuous land bridge between Mannar and India, known as Adam’s Bridge. New waves of immigrants are imported to the island via the land bridge and dispersed and then isolated by rising sea levels drowning the land bridge during warming after an ice age (a post glacial). The new arrivals are physically stressed into niches by complex structural and physical factors of topography and climate. In essence, the process is connect – import and disperse – isolate – stress – speciate.

Glaciations have been a key agent of the island’s richness in allowing large land mammals to colonise and persist in Sri Lanka. However, phylogenetic studies indicate that most of the radiations of endemic species occurred before the land bridge connections of the Pleistocene epoch in the Quaternary Period. So land-bridging has helped, but still unresolved evolutionary forces have been responsible for the species super-richness which occurred before the recent Pleistocene ice age.

The third of the large scale factors is that it has benefitted from human factors or a cultural overlay. The last has two aspects. Firstly, the decline of ancient kingdoms has resulted in great seasonal gatherings of wild elephants and one of the best sites for leopards. This creates wildlife spectacles which make great viewing on wildlife safaris. (These spectacles have also been complemented by evolutionary factors mentioned above resulting in species radiations which are of great scientific interest even though species such as amphibians are not high on the list of commercial wildlife safaris). The second aspect of the cultural overlay is that the deep respect for life makes wildlife viewing easy as man and animals co-exist with great tolerance.

Taking Stock: What does Sri Lanka have?

Allow me to start by surprising you. If I asked you which country has the largest seasonally recurring gathering of elephants, what would your answer be? You might think it is somewhere in Africa. And if I asked you for an easy and reliable location to see Blue Whales, the largest animals to have lived on Earth and once one of the hardest animals to see, what would it be? Or consider super-pods of Sperm Whales, the largest toothed carnivore. Is there a country where there is a chance of seeing one on a commercial whale watch? Or one of the best to photograph leopards or the Sloth Bear (possibly the largest tropical bear)? The surprise is that the answer to all of these is the same country; Sri Lanka. This is both impressive and surprising given that it is in contradiction to conventional island biogeography according to which a moderately sized island (65,610sq. km.) is unlikely to have large terrestrial animals.

Sri Lanka’s potential to be the best for big game safaris outside Africa (albeit on a different and smaller scale) is only now beginning to be discovered by wildlife photographers from both within and outside the island.

All-right, I hear you say; top marks for the big stuff. But what about biodiversity? Well, let me surprise you again and illustrate it with a recent statistic. First remember that it is well established that the larger the land area, the larger the number of species will be (the species-area relationship). Of course we also need to compare land areas from similar latitudes because species richness increases as one travels from high latitudes to the tropics. Let’s take inland snakes for example. Sri Lanka has 89 species in approximately 66,000sq. km. How much more would you estimate that other tropical islands which are approximately between nine to twelve times bigger will have?

The numbers are surprising: New Guinea (86 species in 786,000sq. km.), Madagascar (91 species in 578,000sq. km.) and Borneo (141 species in 734,000sq. km.). One would have expected these islands to have ten times as many species. But none manages even twice as much and the extent which Sri Lanka is above the species-area curve is conspicuous even if you factor in that more species are to be discovered in the bigger islands. The relative species per unit area is extraordinary and is repeated with many species groups.

So why is Sri Lanka off the curve?

Clearly there is something remarkable and special going on with the forces of speciation, about which the island has still received little international publicity, although that will change when wildlife film producers pay it more attention.

For many vertebrate species, Sri Lanka ranks high in terms of species per unit area. Let’s take a closer look at one vertebrate example where this may not seem to be the case. Costa Rica is synonymous with amphibians. With a land area of 51,000sq. km. it is fifteen per cent smaller than Sri Lanka and has more amphibian species; 199 versus the 120 from Sri Lanka. So is Sri Lanka not special with amphibians? Although Costa Rica is smaller as a political unit, it benefits from being part of the large physical unit of South America. Therefore in a wider sense the species-area still holds as it has benefitted from being a part of the vast South American continent. A better comparison for Sri Lanka would be a similar sized or larger island which is a natural bio-geographical entity. For example, Madagascar, which is nine times bigger, has only two and a half times as many amphibian species.

After mammals, birds are the most ‘touristy’ of animals. Sri Lanka has 33 species of endemic birds, largely confined to its lowland and highland wet zones. The number of endemic birds per unit area is high compared to Borneo (52 species) and Madagascar (106 species with a 51% endemism rate), but on par with New Guinea (320 species). A further fifty plus species of birds found in Sri Lanka are shared only with India (subcontinental endemics). Furthermore, it has a special avian spectacle in the Sinharaja Bird Wave. This is the longest continuously studied mixed species bird flock phenomenon in the world, with the largest average number of individuals in a flock from such studies and offers the most stable viewing of usually fast moving tropical bird waves. The island is the last stop on the Central Asian flyway and a million migrant shorebirds were counted one February in a land based census which suggests that Viddathalthivu in the Mannar region may even be the most important integral site for migrants on the Central Asian flyway. The shorebirds make landfall in Sri Lanka funnelling through the once powerful ancient seaport of Mannar through to the Palatupana Salterns and Bundala National Park in the South: the latter two offer some of the best close viewing of waders in the world.

As explained earlier, a three factor ‘business model’ has been at work to create this extraordinary richness and I will expand on this in the sections to follow.

Creating the perfect, super-rich wildlife destination

Imagine your goal was to create the perfect location for wildlife tourism. Sri Lanka would be a good example of how to go about it. You want to keep it small so that tourists don’t have to travel too far from one location to another. But not too small as small areas don’t have many animals and also cannot hold on to their animals. An island would be good as isolation allows species to evolve into new species. An ancient start would help. So let’s begin with Sri Lanka being split off from ancient Southern Gondwana, tethered to India and drifting north on the Indian tectonic plate, carrying an ancient cargo of species which results in affinities between species in Madagascar and Sri Lanka. Next, crash the Indian plate into the Asian land mass (creating the Himalayas) and allowing Palaearctic mammals such as the tiger to drift south into India. Anchor Sri Lanka nearby as a continental island to enable immigration of species from the Asian mainland. But leave the island isolated for sufficiently long interglacial periods (where sea levels rise cutting off the island) for the process of speciation to allow endemics to evolve.

Isolation and physical stresses have resulted in high levels of endemism (e.g. 100% freshwater crabs, 95% amphibians, 80% land molluscs, 53% freshwater-obligate fish, 52% of dragonflies, 25% flowering plants, etc.).These have been supplemented by the ‘immigrants’ from later land bridge connections. The down-side of repeat connections is that Sri Lanka does not have as high a proportion of endemic species or a number of endemic families as found on an island such as Madagascar.

Physical isolation is not enough and ecological isolation is also desirable, both from Asia and within the island. A good trick here is to create a central mountainous core, with two alternating and diagonally blowing monsoons (the Southwest and North-east) creating a very moist ‘wet zone’, distinct from a ‘dry zone’. The mountains also allow for a further vertical zonation, allowing more speciation to take place as some species diverge into sister species at different altitudes. Horton Plains National Park, the roof of Sri Lanka has many species confined to the highlands.

Build on this theme by up-thrusting a few more rugged, spectacular mountain ranges such as the Knuckles Wilderness creating elevated wet zone ‘islands ‘within the wet zone.This creates point endemics such as the Tennent’s Leaf-nosed Lizard in the Knuckles. For extra measure add a few mountainous edges to lowland rainforests like Sinharaja to create more point endemics like Karu’s and Erdelen’s Dragon-lizards in Eastern Sinharaja (15 of the 18 agamid or dragon-lizards are endemic). Indulge in more innovation by throwing up a mountain with a wet zone character; Ritigala, surrounded by a sea of dry zone with more point endemics and build a legend around it that it was a piece of medicinal herb rich mountain from the Himalayas dropped by the Monkey God Hanuman as told in the Indian epic of Ramayana. Culture and wildlife go hand in hand in this area of ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where the tallest archaeological brick buildings in the whole world; giant stupas, stand. Endemic Toque Monkeys wage ferocious tribal wars watched over by meditating saffron robed monks and are studied in one of the longest running zoological field studies in the world; the Smithsonian Primate Research project.

The process of speciation can be accelerated further by throwing in a few evolutionary tricks like direct development in the Rhacophorid Tree Frogs. This allows them to skip the stage of laying eggs in water and having tadpoles developing in water which leaves them vulnerable to periods when ephemeral bodies of water dry out. Instead, allow them to use foam nests in which the eggs develop into little frogs which plop out fully formed allowing one of the significant species radiations discovered in the 20th century to take place. There are many other examples of species radiations; for example all 20 of the forestdamsels described so far from the island are endemic. In fact Sri Lanka has four, five, and six times as many species of dragonflies per unit area than New Guinea, Borneo and Madagascar respectively. Geological turmoil and variations in the climate creating ‘ecological niches’ could also have created physical stresses that favoured evolutionary variation. In fact, although I have referred to Sri Lanka’s land area as 66,000 sq. km., most of the endemism is packed into an area of around 15,000 sq. km. ; less than a quarter of the total in what comprises the wet zone. This ‘localisation’ of small-range endemic species makes the endemicity (e.g. 740 endemic flowering plants in the wet zone) and the species richness in the wet zone even more remarkable.

Whilst all this is happening, keep stirring the evolutionary brew with fresh material. A few judiciously spaced out glaciations will lower sea levels forming a land bridge (Adam’s Bridge linking India to Mannar across the Palk Strait) allowing mainland species to immigrate and start anew to evolve into new species. Wildlife tourists like big stuff, so keep the land bridge open to get a good population in of the elephants, leopards and Sloth Bears. Ooops! Closed it too soon as enough tigers did not make it across to establish a viable population.

Having got the big stuff in, one may as well make an eco-tourism spectacle out of it. This requires some human intervention or anthropogenic factors for the technically minded. Throw in a liberal sprinkling of ancient kings who will usher a golden age of hydraulic civilisation. They will dot the island’s dry zone with grand civil engineering works, with vast lakes (e.g. the Sea of Parakrama) irrigating agriculture. Allow this to go to ruin and perfect conditions are made for the Elephant Gathering at Kaudulla and Minneriya in the North-Central Province where over 300 elephants may gather on the receding lakes in search of grazing, water, mates and social networking (elephants don’t use Facebook)! Allow the farmland in the South-East in Yala to turn to grassland where together with the man-made waterholes, conditions are perfect for high densities of Spotted Deer, in turn creating one of the highest densities of leopards. The over 2,000 man-made lakes or wewas create wildlife rich wetlands which pre-date the interventionist conservation efforts of the London Wetland Centre. In Yala at Buttuwa Wewa, this results in the largest seasonal concentration in the world of the Mugger or Freshwater Crocodile, the second largest land reptile in the world. Not far away, the soft sandy beaches are visited by five of the seven species of marine turtle including the Leatherback; a giant!

Introduce Buddhism and Hinduism, two great world religions with a respect for animal life. Most animals lose their fear of people and everything from leopards in Yala, Blue and Sperm Whales in the surrounding oceans to fighting Purple Swamphens in Talangama Wetland (close to the commercial capital Colombo) are embarrassingly curious and camera friendly for tourists.

With the top side sorted out, the marine side needs some attention as well. The trick here is to have deep water close to shore which suits the large whales (unlike an island like Britain which is covered with shallow seas or the islands of the Indonesian archipelago).

Improve on this by having the continental shelf pinching in at the South at Dondra Head near the fishery harbour of Mirissa so that Blue Whales can be seen easily close to shore on a morning whale watch from a coastline studded with luxury villas, boutique hotels and backpacker crash pads. Create a deep 400m depth isobath running north-south for Sperm Whales in Kalpitiya (the Sperm Whale Strip of E 79 35 to E 79 40). Slide a peninsula of golden sandy beaches out onto it so that the Sperm Whales are a mere fifteen minutes by boat. For those for whom boats are not their thing, thrust a deep submarine canyon into Trincomalee in the North-East so that Blue and Sperm Whales can be seen from ashore on some days from the temple atop Swami Rock or very rarely from the pool side of beach hotels. For extra good measure throw in a few more canyons on the east coast which are good for enigmatic and elusive beaked whales. All of this is being a bit greedy as the island also has shallow seas where it needs it most; close to the mainland, to allow intermittent land connections for the immigrant waves to supplement the speciation factory.

The island has the best of everything in terms of underwater topography; now add to this a generous mix of nutrients. Whales need food; lots of it. The two monsoons are in charge of the kitchen, driving a hundred and three river systems (yes, that’s right, 103) bringing down rich organic nutrients from the mountains, slow released from the lichen cloaked cloud forests to the lowlands creating nutrient rich soup around the island. The Blue Whales and the Cloud Forests are inter-connected. Not content with that, whip up some speed with the monsoons and create upwellings, which generate phytoplankton blooms which show up on Indian remote sensing satellites suspended in space in geo-synchronous orbits. All of this food creates fringing coral reefs which are rich in marine species.

Sri Lanka’s coastline which is 432km long has approximately 800 species of marine fish recorded. Sites better publicised for their marine wildlife such as the 1,126km long Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) has 700 species of fish. The Maldivian islands which stretch across 1,500km have around 1,200 species recorded and the Great Barrier Reef stretching over 2,600km has 1,500 species. If we consider the number of marine fish species per unit length, we can see that Sri Lanka has roughly treble the statistic for the Gulf of California and double that for the Maldives. This is a very crude measure but it helps to give a flavour to the layperson of the relative species richness. The nutrient rich water in Sri Lanka and the monsoons which lash the shores reduce visibility in the water.

The lack of good viewing has resulted in its species richness not being understood as almost everyone including dive operators in Sri Lanka think the waters are ‘poor’ for fish compared to other tropical destinations. I have come to realise that ‘poor viewing’ has been confused with ‘poor species richness’, which it is not.

To be clear about context, for big game safaris many countries in Africa are unmatched. Large tropical islands such as Madagascar and New Guinea, lack large land mammal herbivores such as elephants or large carnivores such as leopards (Borneo does not have leopards and the origin of its elephants is disputed) but in absolute terms of species, have huge biodiversity. However, from the viewpoint of commercial wildlife tourism, in terms of ease of access, tourism infrastructure, affordability and with a short time frame of say two weeks, there is no country which has the array of terrestrial big game, endemism-rich species density, spectacular marine wildlife, diverse landscapes and close-knit cultural bonds (love-hate with elephants) with wildlife that is found in Sri Lanka.

The proof of the pudding of the physical, evolutionary and human factors is in the viewing. A visit of mine in April 2012 is an example of good evidence. I had an amazing trip where in the space of two weeks I watched courting Blue Whales, scrumming Sperm Whales, had a mother and baby elephant pad silently past my vehicle and drove back to camp in the gathering dusk, passing leopards out on the hunt.

In this article, I have with some speculation on my part drawn together material that is known from Sri Lanka and the mechanics of large scale processes studied elsewhere. Science is dynamic and what is known and conjectured today can change. But the broad principles should hold true and I hope I have explained why Sri Lanka deserves more attention from both those viewing wildlife for pleasure as well as those studying how planetary forces and time, drive the great engine of evolution and biogeographical distributions. At this point I should add a gentle reminder that in reality evolution is a ‘blind process’ although I have for the purpose of telling a story, written it as if evolution had set out to make a super-rich wildlife destination.

I have to add that although it is arguably the best all-round country for multi-faceted wildlife viewing with ease, it comes with a caveat.

Sri Lanka does need improvement in terms of better interpretation and better facilities for visitors at parks and reserves and more responsible guiding. Finally and alarmingly, less than 8% of its biodiversity rich wet zone remains forested and more attention is needed both locally and internationally to lay emphasis on how special this island is for its wildlife.

Island Magic: A summary of how Planetary Physics, Evolution and Ancient Cultures forged a super-rich wildlife destination

  1. Physical Factors
    Continental Island – Permitted intermittent land connection with mainland allowing immigrant waves (see below). Also continental islands usually inherit a rich stock of species unlike oceanic islands created from volcanic activity.
    Origin – Benefits from an ancient stock of species which have become island endemics but shows affinities to groups as far away as in Madagascar.
    Two diagonally blowing monsoons and a central mountain range – Highly distinct and extreme climatic zones found more typically on large continental masses.
    Isolation – Despite the intermittent land connections and proximity to the mainland, the creation of a climatically distinct wet zone, allowed speciation to operate in the manner it does in isolated environments.
    Mountain ranges – The central mountains together with the monsoons have created a topographical and climatic complexity, driving evolutionary forces to create more species. Some mountain ranges have ‘point endemics’ and they create pockets of isolation all over the island.
    Deep seas close to shore and shallow seas with mainland. Best of both. – Sri Lanka violates the rule about continental islands having shallow seas around them by having deep seas and submarine canyons (except where it needs shallow seas the most, near the mainland to form intermittent land bridges). The deep seas create conditions for Blue Whales and Sperm Whales to be very close to shore, within sight of naked eye at times.
    River Systems – The 103 river systems drain a vast flow of organic nutrients into the deep seas around the island. Per unit length of distance, the coral reefs have more species than more famous marine reserves such as the Gulf of California and the Great Barrier Reef. But rich nutrient load and silt results in poorer visibility than other dive destinations.
  2. Evolutionary factors
    Intermittent land bridge connections to mainland – Allowed successive immigrant waves from mainland to boost the number of species in the island and to a lesser extent supply a speciation factory with new material. Later colonisers if successful may evolve into new species if they penetrated ‘pockets of isolation’ in the wet zones. Sri Lanka breaks the rule that moderately sized or small islands don’t have large animals thanks to the intermittent land bridge.
    Species Radiations – For example, rainforest tree frogs in the genus Philautus have evolved direct development, skipping egg laying and tadpoles in the water allowing them to radiate into new species. Other groups such as the Shadowdamsels have all 20 plus species endemic to the island. Evolutionary forces have resulted in Sri Lanka breaking the species-area relationship for islands. Land bridges may have played a part, although present evidence is that it has been a small influence.
  3. Human factors
    Ancient Civilisations and Religion – The Elephant Gathering and the high density of Leopards in Yala are both results of intense agricultural farming. A religious respect for other living beings means Blue Whales and Sperm Whales swim up to boats. Birds and other animals are prolific and tame.
  4. Result
    Wildlife spectacles, high proportion of endemism, large number of species, large animals and easy viewing Sri Lanka is the best in world for some of the most charismatic or desired species (e.g. Blue Whale –largest animal, Sperm Whale super-pods – largest toothed carnivore) or has special spectacles (e.g. the largest recurring elephant gathering, the Sinharaja Bird Wave, high density of Leopards) all in a compact island with good tourism infrastructure and good specialist guides.

Ice Ages and Speciation

The table below summarises a 5 stage process in which a continental island like Sri Lanka would have benefitted by ice ages in enhancing species diversity. This assumes that ice ages acted to lower sea levels in the tropics but did not cover the land with ice sheets as it did in temperate latitudes with islands like Britain. If an island is covered with ice sheets, it will kill species and leave it poor. Britain for example has only 35 species of trees which are native. On the other hand a tropical island like Sri Lanka which was not covered in ice would benefit from a two way exchange of species with the mainland. The dry zone has benefitted from this connection and has species which are found in Southern India and in the northern half of Sri Lanka. The island also has large land mammals such as the elephant and large carnivores such as the leopard not typically found on moderately sized islands.

Puzzlingly and inconveniently, the phylogenetic studies on plants and animals suggest that radiation of species in Sri Lanka took place in the Tertiary age before the series of ice ages in the Pleistocene Epoch (in the Quaternary Period) with the last land bridge connection being as recent as 10,000 years ago. This poses two questions. Firstly, we see that evolutionary events happened in Sri Lanka so many millions of years ago that have left it richer in species compared to much larger tropical islands. New Guinea and Borneo also have varied topographies and have the structural complexity and physical stresses that Sri Lanka has.

If evolutionary events happen because of physical factors combining with random mutations in genes, why has the species per unit area not remained proportionate? Secondly, during the recent ice ages in the Quaternary Period, did the wet zone remain isolated from the Indian mainland surrounded by a sea of dry zone? For answers to the latter question more work will need to be done on the fossil record on plant pollen to understand the extent of different types of forest on the island. The five stage process I have outlined below is a useful general model, but based on what is known at present does not provide the evolutionary answers for Sri Lanka being super-rich in species. This is still a puzzle.

How ice ages could drive a 5 stage speciation process

  1. Connect
  2. Import
  3. Isolate and Disperse
  4. Stress
  5. Speciate
    Repeat to enhance species richness

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Pyron, R.A., Kandambi, H.K.D., Catriona, R.H., Pushpamal, V., Burbrink, F.T. & Somaweera, R. (2013). Genus-level phylogeny of snakes reveals the origins of species richness in Sri Lanka. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2012.12.004.
Quammen, D. (1996). The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an age of extinction. Pimlico an Imprint of Random House: London. Pages 702.
Rasmussen, P. C. & Anderton, J. C. (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Vols 1 and 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions, Washington , D.C. and Barcelona. Vol 1: 180 colour plates, 378 pages. Vol 2: 683 pages.
Raxworthy, C.J. (2003). Introduction to the Reptiles. In Goodman, S. M., & Benstead, J.P. (Eds). (2003). The Natural History of Madagascar. University of Chicago Press. Pages 1709.
Sparks, J.S. & Stiassny, M.L.J. (2003). Introduction to the Freshwater Fishes. In Goodman, S. M., & Benstead, J.P. (Eds). (2003). The Natural History of Madagascar. University of Chicago Press. Pages 1709.
Van Tol, J. (2009). Phylogeny and biogeography of the Platystictidae (Odonata). Doctoral thesis. Leiden University.

Acknowledgements

Structural improvements were made to the article from comments from Pippa Jacks (Managing Editor of Travel Trade Gazette) and other useful comments were received from Tara Wikramanayake who also performed an extensive copy edit. Many others were used as a sounding board by me before I wrote this article. None of these people necessarily agree with the views and speculation the author makes in this article. My thanks to Keith Wijesuriya and his team at OMD Sri Lanka for designing the booklet which was released on 1 July 2014. The graphics showing the relative species richness is reproduced with permission from the Sunday Times: Sri Lanka and was prepared by Nalin Balasuriya. This article was first published as two articles in the Sunday Times Sri Lanka on 20 April 2014 and 27 April 2014. This version has been amended and expanded. The citations for the original articles are given below.
de Silva Wijeyeratne. G. (2014). Why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife. Sunday Times: Sri Lanka. Sunday Times Plus. Page 8. Sunday 20 April 2014. Part 01.
de Silva Wijeyeratne. G. (2014). Creating a super-rich wildlife destination. Sunday Times: Sri Lanka. Sunday Times Plus. Page 8. Sunday 27 April 2014. Part 02.

Citation

The following citation is suggested for the expanded version of the articles which was released as a pdf.
de Silva Wijeyeratne. G. (2014). Why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife. Pdf, circulated electronically. Version 1 July 2014.

Continue reading ‘Super-Rich Wild Life’

Adopt an AbaY dog

Originally published 10/01/2010 (5 years ago)
But this issue is now even more urgent.

At remote Arugam Bay, a few hundred homeless dogs are waiting to be adopted by caring animal lovers. Please help to save them.

Adopt an Arugam Bay dog !

A sponsor has already been found to provided a suitable, safe  vehicle.
To take them to Colombo or elsewhere on the island.
All animals will be collected, fed, treated and transported with the outmost care & respect
All the Community needs is an address to deliver them to.
Please, animal Lovers:
Please do come forward and let us know where to send them to.
Before even more are run over by speeding and careless drivers on our new fast roads!
The Social Networks are buzzing.
With appeals and online petitions to stop a rumored animal cull.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/stop-the-sri-lankan-government-from-killing-millions-of-stray-dogs/
We support this initiative!
But. What to do?
At Arugam Bay four costly  sterilization programs have been carried out, since the 2004 Tsunami.
In our  remote Bay residents and visitors are unsure if any success can be reported.
Many people are simply too scared to walk on the beach or indeed the road, specially at night. Due to large packs of hungry dogs around.
Below is a copy of one of the stories we covered 5 years ago.
The writer of this article has personally observed that one  particular, disabled bitch alone has had a litter every year since and produced 60 or so pups, most of which appear to be unwell or/and  mentally unstable …..
Something has to be done – This situation is out of control.

The article below was first published 6th Marc, 2007:
The Tsunami Animal People Alliance (TAPA) has, in the true sense of the word: emBarked on a dog sterilization program at Arugam Bay.
Operation Theater
Vets at work @ SVH
In total 300 – 400 dogs are being treated locally.
Arugam.info is informed that about 10,000 have been spayed island wide already.
It is said to be the best and most humane method of controlling stray and infected animals.
The visiting, all Sri Lankan team consists of 4 qualified vets and 7 assistants, a van, and a mobile clinic.
Arugam.info is informed that a budget of 18$/dog has been secured by foreign donors, most of which (10$) will be used for quality drugs and medicines.
Take a look at the work in the attached photo album. Continue reading ‘Adopt an AbaY dog’

Arugam Bay Taxi Initiative News

Satisfied Passengers
Have made their decision!
The Arugam Bay Taxi Initiative’s
Trusted Taxi Sub-Contractors have set new,
HIGH standards:

Satisfied Passenger Comments


Above is just a small selection of nice feed-back from our passengers and guests.

This is in answer to unprofessional so-called local “Drivers”:

The  helpful “Taxi” Mafia of Arugam Bay
Has vandalized the innovative , popular
Taxi Sharing Board.
We should name & shame those guys.

Someone is spoiling it. For everyone.

Visitors: The Choice is Yours !
How you will travel and
Whom you give your business to.
In future.
Remember. That We don’t get one single Rupee out of this Initiative.
It is in your own interest – and everyone else’s. In the Bay.
In the long run it will be good for everyone.
Sadly, some guys don’t yet realise that. As Yet.

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Mind the Wild Life

Two die in jumbo attacks

Two men who went into the jungle to collect bee hives, died after being attacked by an elephant in Lahugala (nr. Arugam Bay) and Wellawaya on Thursday. E. A. Ajith Senaratne, 33, of Kirivehera road faced the mishap when he went into the Lahugala Forest Reserve to collect honey.

Wild Elephants are often seen on the A4 main Road to Arugam Bay

The body was sent to the Lahugala Hospital morgue for the post-mortem. Pottuvil Police are investigating. Meanwhile, D.A. Premadasa, 56, of Thanamalwila was attacked by an elephant near Kumbukkote tank in Aragama. He was pronounced dead at Wellawaya hospital.

The body was handed to his relations after the post-mortem. Wellawaya Police are investigating.

– See more at: http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=police-legal/police-log-10052014#sthash.4XhvwIiE.dpuf

All is possible @ remote AbaY

True.
Non of those photos have been taken in Arugam.
But
They could have been.
All is possible to experience in a condensed little corner of our island:
At Arugam Bay !

That sort if incident did happen. At Lahugala. On the Main A4 road. Take care!

That does happen. Every day. At Kumana. Where the Arugam Road ends at the BIG river. Across from Yala

That does happen. Every year. When weird one day flies hatch. It looks like fog clouds actually, specially around a light source

THAT. And an even BIGGER swell did happen. At Arugam Bay. End 2004 ....;-((

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This weekend @ AbaY

A busy and very important weekend ahead.

H.E. The President. Expected at Arugam Bay.

Preparations, repairs, construction, cleaning up and painting operations are in progress all around Arugam Bay and nearby PottuVille Town.
It seems that a New Beach Approach Road is going to be opened.
This picturesque road leads to one of the island’s perhaps most important Temple site:
“Muhudu Maha Vihara”

Muhudu Maha Vihara (ancient Temple) Road

PottuVille has a huge potential.
To become yet another Tourist and Pilgrim destination
Next to famous Arugam Bay

A New Bus & car park

New Temple near the ancient, historical site

The perhaps oldest Temple on the island?

Arugam Information -SUMMARY-

Arugam Bay, the surfer’s paradise

(March to October)
a useful summary & description.

Surf, Beach, Lagoon, Village, Beautiful Inland Landscape, Jungle, Elephant Rock & Crocodile Rock

Arugam Bay is one of the TOP 10 surf points in the world. It is also a pristine sandy beach of stunning natural beauty. Arugam Bay’s proximity to Lahugala National Park & Yala East National Park makes it a unique surfing beach.

Ladies & Lady Surfers are happy in remote AbaY

Location

Arguam Bay is located 320 km from Colombo. Some 60km due east from Monaragala, Arugam Bay is a tiny fishing village 3km south of the small fishing village of Pottuvil (12000 inhabitants) at the remote southern end of the Eastern coast & on the edge of Yala East National Park.

To the beach

The journey to the beach here takes you across some attractive meadows teeming with wildlife.

Orientation

The bay lies between two headlands & is excellent for surfing.

Beach

The wide, sweeping sandy beach in front of the village is an attraction for swimming all year-round. The beach is usually deserted, except at the southwest corner, where some fishing boats & thatch huts reveal the tiny fishing village of Ulla, just to the south of the guest house area. This is also the safest area for swimming.

Surf

‘The Point’ in Arugam Bay is regarded as a top world surf destination. It is a well lined up right hand point break, generating a clean peeling glassy wave that barrels a surfer a 400m ride right through to the inside. Additionally there are four or five high quality breaks within a radius of 30 minutes. Continue reading ‘Arugam Information -SUMMARY-‘

Nitteawo

Ceylon’s extinct race

Just a 3ft - 1 meter tall race

Just few miles due South of Arugam Bay a mystery cave with an amazing history might exist.
Arugam’s
new High Tech Geocaching Initiative hopes to shine some light onto this legend.
Geocatching is a respected, non intrusive GPS Sat . Navigation . To locate, pinpoint & map interesting places. NOTHING will ever be disturbed or interfered with on any given location.

Background:

The Nittaewo, (sometimes spelt without the a or as Nittevo) were said to be a small tribe of small bigfoot or Yeti type homins. Pliny the Elder mentioned the Nittaewo as a small, hairy tribe of people living in the country of Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka. They lived at the same time as the Veddha.

VEDDAH & Nittaewo inhabited Ceylon

The Veddhas are a tribe which still live, mainly as farmers, on the island of Sri Lanka and, their legends say they are responsible for wiping out the Nittaewo roughly 250 years ago. According to the Veddha tradition recorded by Frederick Lewis in 1914, the Nittaewo were approximately three feet (1 metre) tall, the females being shorter than the males. They walked erect, had no tails and were completely naked. Their arms were short and they had talon like nails, lived in trees, caves and crevices and caught and ate small animals like the hare, squirrel and tortoise. They lived in groups of 10 or 20 and their speech was like the twittering of birds. They were said to be exterminated in the late eighteenth century by the Veddhas because the both tribes were constantly fighting and the Nittaewo began to take the Veddha’s children. The elders of the Veddha’s decided that something had to be done. The Nittaewo were trapped in a cave, which the Veddhas blocked the entrance to with wood and set it a blaze killing all that remained of the Nittaewo.

The actual cave has never been found. As yet.

Could this be an ancient man ?

These remains are at Kubumingala Cave monastery. It seems to be a fully grown adult, but very small

In 1887, British explorer Hugh Nevill documented recent tales of the warfare occurring between the Veddhas and the Nittaewo. The Nittaewo being extinct at this point in time. Continue reading ‘Nitteawo’

Rough Guide to AbaY

ARUGAM BAY

There’s not much to ARUGAM BAY village itself: just a single main road running parallel to the beach dotted with guesthouses, cafés and shops, including some of Arugam Bay’s trademark quirky homespun architectural creations – rustic palm-thatch cabanas, teetering treehouses and other quaint structures (not to mention the distinctive wooden pavilion restaurant and red British telephone box of the landmark Siam View Hotel ).
The beach is now looking better than ever following recent clearances during which the authorities ordered the removal of all buildings within 20m of the waterline (albeit at considerable cost to local hoteliers and other residents, who were forced to watch as the government bulldozers rolled in and summarily razed significant slices of prized real estate).

A-Bay also marks the rough border between the Sinhalese-majority areas to the south and the mainly Tamil and Muslim areas further up the coast, and boasts an unusually eclectic but harmonious mix of all three ethnic groups – as well as a growing number of Western expats. Fears that the village’s uniquely (for Sri Lanka) alternative and slightly off-the-wall character will be erased by larger and more mainstream tourism developments remain, however, especially given the forthcoming opening of the new Hambantota airport, which will make the village significantly easier to reach for international visitors. For the time being, however, Arugam Bay preserves its own enjoyably eccentric charm.

ARUGAM BAY AND AROUND

Easygoing Arugam Bay is by far the most engaging of the east coast’s resorts. A-Bay, as it’s often known, has long been popular with the surfing fraternity, who come here to ride what are generally acknowledged to be the best waves in Sri Lanka. It’s also a good launching-pad from which to explore the gorgeous surrounding countryside and its varied attractions, from the elephant-rich Lahugala National Park and the little-visited Yala East National Park to the atmospheric forest hermitage at Kudimbigala.

SURFING AT ARUGAM BAY

With waves fresh from Antarctica crashing up onto the beach, Arugam Bay is sometimes claimed to be one of the top ten surf points in the world, and periodically plays host to international tournaments. The best time for surfing is between April and Oct/Nov.

WHERE TO GO

There are several breaks close to Arugam Bay, plus others further afield. The biggest waves in A-Bay itself are at The Point Continue reading ‘Rough Guide to AbaY’

Tuskers without Borders

Spotted by Dhammika.

Wild Elephants without Borders

On the side of the main road to PottuVille.

Beautiful East Coast Tusker

Crossing Lahugala, 15 min. due West of Arugam Bay
source:
http://www.jokeroo.com/pictures/animal/wild-elephant-of-sri-lanka.html

May. In the Bay

Sunny. Bright, Dry, Calm
Arugam Bay just before the main Surf Season


Ancient wedding @ Arugam Bay?

The Ceylon Traveller Magul Maha Viharaya, Lahugala
(about 10 min. West of Arugam Bay)

….. “the actual location where the wedding took place is the nearby Muhudu Maha Viharaya at Arugam Bay” …..

Another view of the Magul Maduwa, Small stupa near the entrance, Ruins of a stupa, Stone pillars, Preaching hall (dharma shalawa) , Children attending sunday school at the temple and Stone carving of a monkey


Text and Photos by Sachini Perera

(https://www.facebook.com/sachiniphotography)
I visited Magul Maha Viharaya in Lahugala back in 2009. It is yet another place that has so much history behind it and lots of interesting tidbits but is not flaunting any of it, preferring to exist quietly.
Lahugala is ten miles inland off the East Coast town of Pottuvil, an area believed to have been part of the Ruhunu kingdom. It is home to several tanks, beautiful green vegetation, a National Park (with a good chance of seeing elephants frolicking near the road) and the Magul Maha Viharaya, which is also known as Ruhunu Maha Viharaya.
During the war, many civilians from adjoining villages had left the area for safety and it is only now that the temple is once again being patronised regularly and is visited by pilgrims and tourists. Continue reading ‘Ancient wedding @ Arugam Bay?’

Jet Ski trials at Arugam Bay

Navy The S.L. Navy recently entered the lucrative Tourist market. In a big way, with cruises, boat trips, hospitality and whale watching,

Army The Army also has been taking keen interest in the sport of Surfing. Locally based, Commissioned Officers are said to have been observed to Surf Arugam Bay.

Air Force Jet Ski trials at AbaY

STF – Special Tusk Farce The STF is already actively engaged in life-saving duties and Fishery protection excercises

Fishy protection Duties

Air Farce Not to be outdone, arugam.info has learned that SLAF is now also set to enter the lucrative Tourist sector. So far, none of the Armed Forces appear to be profitable. As jet.

Recently, secret trials were held in the area. Just West of Arugam Bay.

Rigorous training program. Earlier attempts were promising

Jokey Club Furthermore, it is understood that other organisations are considering to jump on the popular Surfing “Band Wagon”

Even the Sri Lanka Jockey Club seems to be considering to divert into some off shore activities:

Jockey Club training session @ Arugam Bay

AbuDubai Race Horses Rulers from the UAE have also spotted Arugam’s potential. Already they have send some of their best Race Horses to be conditioned and trained in the clean air of Arugam’s beaches. Apparently, the humidity and the heat will give Arab based horses a distinct advantage over European competitors in forthcoming races in Dubai’s high Tech race course.

Dubai Horse Race training & conditioning at Arugam Bay

Chinese Interest The Chinese meanwhile have copied popular Jet Ski Designs by Yamaha, Suzuki and Bomadier. Seen here on HD sea trials at AbaY

Ps.: NAAFI? Navy, Army & Air Forces Institutes in action at Arugam Bay 1st April, 2012

Combined Forces. At work in AbaY

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Arugam Bay: Sri Lanka’s last frontier?

http://siyambala.com/2012/03/04/arugam-bay-sri-lankas-last-frontier/
© Siyambala 2012
….“Don’t write about this place,” the chubby little man admonished Supem De Silva sternly. “People will come here and spoil everything.”…..

According to industry expert Supem De Silva, you’ll find more family-friendly places to go and fun things to do within easy driving range of Arugam Bay than there are around almost any other travel destination in Sri Lanka.

“Don’t write about this place,” the chubby little man admonished Supem De Silva sternly. “People will come here and spoil everything.”

The agitated speaker was Manik Sandrasagra, the late auteur of Sri Lankan cinema, but Supem hadn’t known who he was back then. This was in 1998, and Supem had been gathering information for Arugam Bay’s first online directory of hotels and other services. He’d seen Sandrasagra sitting by himself at another table at Chutti’s Place Restaurant. Since the movie director was barechested, with a towel draped over his shoulders, Supem had assumed he was one of the local beach bums.

The baby waves at Whiskey Point are perfect for beginning surfers. Lessons cost around $20 an hour.

Supem chuckles as he recounts this story, shaking his head as he adds that Manik had been a consultant to the Sri Lanka Tourist Board at the time (I could just picture this scene, having encountered the mercurial director and his larger-than-life personality when I wrote the ads for Rampage, Manik’s 1978 movie about a homicidal elephant; my colleague Chris Greetwrote the movie’s tagline, “Can an elephant plan and execute a murder?”).

In a way, Supem notes, his encounter with Manik Sandarasagra neatly illustrates one of the reasons why Arugam Bay has been overlooked as a tourist destination. On the one hand there are those who’ve been coming to Arugam Bay for years, and who are apprehensive about the notion of it becoming discovered as a resort. And on the other, there are those who should know about Arugam Bay and don’t. Among this latter group are travel industry experts who aren’t even aware that there’s hotel accommodation here.

Johnson Ratnasingham’s new Amigo Surf School charges around $20 an hour for lessons (that’s Farook painting the sign in February). I forgot to ask Johnson whether he named the school after his dog Amiga, a personable pooch.

Arugam Bay is a black hole as far as many people in the travel industry are concerned,” says Supem ruefully. “They have no idea what’s available here.”

That’s too bad, because the fact is that there are quite a few good hotels in Arugam Bay. And there are going to be even more, what with a number of plans for hotels underway (scroll down to the bottom of this post for information on a really cool new place to stay in Arugam Bay for around $9 a day).

Elephants are supposed to need 300 pounds of fodder a day, but at the rate this fellow was stuffing himself with water plants at Lahugala National Park (twelve miles from Arugam Bay), I’d say they eat a great deal more.

Supem himself is an unassuming guy whose mind is a jackdaw’s nest of fascinating facts about Sri Lanka. He’s also able to step out of the Sri Lankan mindset and see the country from a tourist’s perspective.

He knows, for example, that you’re not coming here to be bored out of your skull by sitting through a harangue on Sri Lanka’s religious history and cultural heritage; you’re coming here to enjoy yourself and have an unforgettable time. He gets that.

Supem De Silva created Arugam Bay’s first online directory of hotels and other services, and was the first webmaster of the first site dedicated solely to news about the area. The Sri Lanka Tourist Board is using his case study on Arugam Bay as the basis for its plans for the area’s future. In case you wondered, there are no tall buildings within fifty miles of Arugam Bay; took this picture outside Supem’s office in Colombo.

As a senior travel industry professional—among other things, he lectures trainee tour guides on Sri Lanka’s east coast attractions—Supem has seen the glazed eyes and the jeez-what-did-I-get-myself-into look of Continue reading ‘Arugam Bay: Sri Lanka’s last frontier?’

A wild afternoon at Kumana

A wild afternoon at Kumana

This leopard’s expression reminded me of that famous line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Jesus, who are those guys?” (Our drivers scared the daylights out of this young male as he was sunning himself on a rock).

“Have you guys ever done this before?”

That’s the first thing I should have asked our drivers before we headed into Kumana National Park,  about twenty miles south of Arugam Bay on the east coast of Sri Lanka.

I know how Robert Capa must have felt after seeing prints of the pictures he took on Omaha Beach on D-Day (June 6, 1944) in Normandy. We had happened upon a small herd of elephants when our drivers lost it and started excitedly yelling “Aliya, aliya, aliya” (the Sinhala word for elephant). The animals bolted, trumpeting indignantly (they were protecting at least two baby elephants). I just had enough time to capture a few blurred images before they disappeared into the jungle.

And yes, we had two drivers: the first guy was the one who drove us from Arugam Bay to Panama in his three-wheeler scooter taxi, and the second guy was the one who drove us from Panama to Okande and Kumana in his jeep. They both sat upfront in the cab (Tyrone and I and the guide from the wildlife department were in back) and between them they managed to startle a leopard and spook a small herd of elephants.

The young buck’s antlers are still in velvet. Kumana’s huge deer population keeps the park’s leopards fat and happy.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because Tyrone and I had the greatest time (you really can’t have a bad day in Kumana). Besides, the drivers are both good guys, and I’ll hire them again without hesitation the next time I’m in Arugam Bay. So what if they were just learning the ropes of the safari business? At least they weren’t learning to drive.

Sir Samuel Baker hunted sambhur (Cervus unicolor) with hounds in Ceylon in the 1840s. Sambhur, often mistakenly called elk by 19th Century British sportsmen, are not as numerous as the spotted deer in Kumana.

Hey, it’s Arugam Bay. If you want to be happy here, just let it happen.

Copyright © David Graham
The person who probably knows this best is Continue reading ‘A wild afternoon at Kumana’

Siyambala

“Places to go and things to do”

Kudumbigala cave Monastery & its wild life

Brothers David & Tyrone Graham returned to Arugam Bay after many years.
“Siyambala” is their web site and blog which  gives unique and detailed insights into our island’s hidden treasures and culture.
We hope to cover more of their amazing observations on this page soon!

Take a look at their work:

http://siyambala.com/