SRI LANKA NEWS (JANUARY 2020) – Compiled by Victor Melder
Three more endemic species have been added to the Sri Lanka’s endemic gecko list. With this Sri Lanka now has 39 endemic species of gecko. In 2019, 13 endemic species were discovered. More new endemic gecko species will be discovered in 2020 with the ongoing research studies. The team of scientists that discovered the latest three species are S. Karunarathna, A de Silva, M. Botejue, D. Gabadage, L. Somaratna, A Hettige, N Aberathna, M. Madawala, G. Edirisinghe, N. Perera, S. Wickramaarachchi, T. Surasinghe, N. Karunarathna, M. Wickramasinghe, KDB. Ukuwela and AM. Bauer. Three new day gecko species of the genus Cnemaspis Strauch were found in three isolated granite cave habitats in Bambaragala (Ratnapura District), Dimbulagala (Polonnaruwa District), and Mandaramnuwara (Nuwara-Eliya District). One of the Chief Scientists of the study, Suranjan Karunaratna told The Island that all of those new species were assigned to the kandiana clade based on morphology. These species are small (28–35 mm) in size. Each of these species are categorized as Critically Endangered (CR) under IUCN Red List criteria. Due to their restricted distributions (as point endemics), the habitats of these specialist species are vulnerable to fragmentation, edge effects and anthropogenic activities. Therefore, these isolated forest patches in Sri Lanka are in need of special conservation attention and management, the scientists said. (Daily Island, 2.1.2020)
The Department of Wildlife on Tuesday said that two wild elephants had been electrocuted when they came into contact with an electric fence around a house at Dematawewa, Horowpothana. The elephants were more than nine feet tall and in the ages of 20-25 years, according to officials. The house owner has been arrested by the Horowpothana Police and Horowpothana Wildlife Department office are conducting further investigations into the matter. (IN) (Daily Island, 2.1.2020)
Four SLAF personnel died in an air crash at Tambipillai mawatha, Haputale, yesterday morning, after engaging in an aerial observation mission. They were identified as Squadron Leader Buddhika Weebadde, Flight Lieutenant Lankapura Kulathunga, Sergeant I W R W Kumara and L.A.C. Hettiarachchi. The ill-fated aircraft––a Chinese built Y 12 –– was returning to its base at Weerawila when it went down. SLAF headquarters said that an inquiry was underway, though a technical fault was suspected. Villagers tried to put out the fire on the crashed aircraft. A resident saw the aircraft flying over her home shortly before it crashed close to her garden. SLAF acquired Y 12 in the 80s. The aircraft capable of taking off from short runways can carry 16 passengers. (Daily Island, 4.1.2020)
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has announced yesterday that he accepted United National Front (UNF) MP Sajith Premadasa as the Opposition Leader of the 4th Session of the 8th Parliament. He also announced that Ministers Dinesh Gunaradena and Johnston Fernando had been appointed as the Leader of the House and the Chief Government Whip respectively while announcing UNF MP Gayantha Karunatileka as the Chief Opposition Whip. Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena and Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando assumed duties in their respective positions last morning. (Daily News, 4.1.2020)
Sri Lanka tea exports for November 2019 totaled 21.9 M/kgs, showing a marginal gain of 0.6 M/kgs vis-à-vis 21.3 M/kgs of November 2018, a new report showed. Packeted tea has shown a growth YOY, whilst bulk tea has remained static, Forbes and Walker Tea Brokers said in their monthly report. “Meanwhile, tea bags have shown a decline compared to November 2018.” Total revenue of Rs. 18.2 B for November 2019 has remained static compared to the corresponding month of 2018. Total FOB value, however, of Rs. 832.70 for November 2019 has shown a decrease of Rs. 22.92 vis-à-vis Rs. 855.62 of November 2018. Turkey has secured the No. 1 position as the largest importer of Sri Lankan Tea for the period under review, followed by Iraq and Russia. Other noteworthy importers are Iran, Libya, China, Azerbaijan, Syria and UAE. Meanwhile, destinations such as USA, Germany, India and Saudi Arabia have shown a significant growth in 2019 compared to the corresponding period of 2018. (Daily Island, 5.1.2020)
Giving a taste of what awaits Sri Lanka in the next five years, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday outlined core policies of his Government, centering on significant changes to develop Sri Lanka’s economy, including revamping the public sector, infusing technology in agriculture, and plans to improve investment and reduce poverty. President Rajapaksa inaugurated the fourth session of the eighth Parliament on Friday morning, inviting all to join hands to develop the country, establish peace and harmony without neglecting national security, and reject the role played by minorities as kingmakers. The President reached the Parliament Complex at 9.30 a.m. with two security vehicles escorted by three police motorcycles deviating from traditional motorcades and mounted police. Taking part in a simple ceremony which lacked a guard of honour, the 21-gun salute, and traditional drums and dancers, the President and First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa were received by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Secretary-General Dhammika Dassanayake, and Sergeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando. The quorum bell was rung at 9.55 a.m., and the President arrived in the Chamber along with the Speaker and the secretaries. He was seen being greeted by lawmakers on both sides. The President commenced his Policy Statement at 10.05 a.m. and it lasted for 35 minutes. He adjourned the House at 10.40 a.m. at the end of the Throne Speech till 1 pm to make room for the Parliament sitting. During the speech, he touched on the importance of restoring the respect of Parliament and the long political history of his family. President Rajapaksa devoted the lion’s share of his speech to discuss the economic challenges before Sri Lanka and the need to focus on achieving greater expectations of the public. He pointed out that the first steps to turning around Sri Lanka’s economy has already been taken with the stimulus package, loan moratorium and restrictions on imports of spices, but insisted that much more needs to be done. “We must ensure that the benefits of development reach every group of people. We must employ modern methodologies and indicators to gauge whether the needs of the people are truly being met and whether they are happy. It is no longer necessary to wait for elections to find out how people feel about the work program of the Government,” he said. “We need everyone’s support for our efforts to reduce the cost of living of the people. The corporate sector must ensure that some percentage of the benefits of the tax concessions recently provided to them are passed on to the public as well. Accordingly, we expect a reduction in the price of all goods and services on which taxes have been reduced.” The President emphasised that the main aim of the stimulus package is to ensure economic stability for all citizens, provide equal opportunities for citizens, to establish a clean and efficient State sector that is committed to public service, and to protect and empower local entrepreneurs. “In order to successfully establish a people-centric economy, it is important that every official from the highest to the lowest level of government becomes aware of our vision and aims. That will enable them to perform their duties more productively.” He backed implementing a special program to combat corruption and fraud. He also said legal action must be taken promptly against all who engage in corrupt practices, irrespective of their status. “Today, most countries have employed technology as a means of enhancing the efficiency of the State sector. Through this, it will also be possible to provide equal opportunities for all. As such, we will pay special attention to increasing the use of technology in government institutions. “If we work according to a proper plan, we will be able to encourage international businesses to locate themselves in Sri Lanka and supply goods and services to regional neighbouring countries. To encourage such investors, we must be prepared to swiftly provide all the facilities they require within Sri Lanka.” Continued improvement of infrastructure would also be necessary and will remain a focus of the Government, Rajapaksa said. It will be broadened to include train travel and improve urbanisation issues, such as traffic. (Daily Financial Times, 4.1.2020)
A young male leopard, with its limbs and several teeth missing, was found dead close to the 14th-milepost outside the Udawalawe National Park on January 1, Udawalawe National Park Warden said. He said the leopard was a well-grown specimen, 157 cm long. It was found at the end of the canal connecting to the Mau-Ara Tank. Wildlife officer had later removed the body for investigations. “We suspect foul play as the cause of the death of the leopard,” said adding that several deaths of leopards was reported some two years ago. He said the body was handed over to the Veterinary Department of Udawalawe Ath Athuru Sevana (Elephant Transit Home) to conduct a postmortem examination. According to a survey less than ten leopards were found at this National Park. Wildlife Conservation Department spokesperson Hasini Sarachchandra said there were more than 1,000 leopards found in national parks and surveys are ongoing. (Daily Mirror, 5.1.2020)
The seal which was seen resting among the rocks in the sea off Bambalapitiya has gone missing since December 18, the Wildlife Conservation Department said. The department’s spokesperson Hasini Sarachchandra said yesterday there were no signs of the seal which was last seen on December 18. “The seal must have returned to its home grounds,” she said. Ms. Sarachchandra said the seal had completed moulting when it was last seen and said it was first spotted in the sea off Mirissa on November 21 later in the sea off Bambalapitiya. She said these creatures moult once a year, usually after the breeding season and during this period the seals cannot enter the water because they lack the insulation to keep them warm and approach land to have their skin exposed to sunlight. Wildlife veterinary officers, wildlife western regional officers, coast conservation department officers and navy personnel were deployed to protect the seal during its stay off Bambalapitiya. (Daily Mirror, 5.1.2020)
More than 21,800 people had sought treatment against rabies at the Kalubowila Teaching Hospital in the past year. Hospital Director Dr Asela Gunawardena, told the Sunday Times that 21,820 persons had been given the anti rabies vaccine following incidents of dog bites, and scratches by cats in 2019. He said the number of anti rabies injections administered to patients differed according to the place of the injury, the bite and the condition of the wound. Dr Gunawardena pointed out some patients were administered a series of six injections, for which government spent over Rs 4,000. He added that doctors had to use immunoglobuilin injections on a patient, if an animal which attacked the victim died following the attack. He added immunoglobuilin vaccines were much more expansive than the anti rabies vaccines. Explaining further Dr Gunawardena said there are two varieties of anti rabies vaccines. He said government spends around Rs 18,000 to provide Equine Immunoglobulin vaccine (ERIG) per patient who have allergic reactions to the vaccine.(Sunday Times, 5.1.2020).
Four individuals including two hunters were arrested last Sunday in connection with the death of a young but fully-grown leopard at the Udawalawe National Park. The carcass with its limbs severed and teeth missing was found on January 1 in close proximity to the 14th milepost outside the Udawalawe National Park. The police have now launched a probe to determine what exactly happened in this regard . The suspects were arrested based on information gathered by the police investigations division. The suspects had set up a trap for animals but unfortunately, the leopard had got caught in it. It was when one of the suspects took the carcass home and his family asked him to dispose it that he, along with the other suspects, hired a trishaw and threw the dead animal to the canal connecting to the Mau-Ara tank. According to Udawalawe National Park Warden R.G.R.S. Ranatunga, the carcass had been handed over to the Veterinary Department of Udawalawe Ath Athuru Sevana (Elephant Transit Home) on January 1 for an autopsy. The suspects were ordered to be remanded till January 17 when they were produced in the Embilipitiya Magistrate’s Court yesterday. (Daily Mirror Online, 7.1.2020)
The death toll of yesterday’s , bus accident in Badulla has arisen to 12, police said noting that 30 individuals had been injured in the incident. The bus, belonging to the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), had toppled down a slope for about 200 metres after tumbling off a precipice along the Passara – Madulsima road.. It is believed that the bus had veered off the road while attempting to allow another vehicle to overtake it. A post-mortem examination is to be carried out on the deceased victims which includes two school children, at the Badulla General Hospital. Four police officers are among the injured victims. The Police and the SLTB have launched an investigation into the incident. (Times Online, 7.1.2020)
Workers’ remittances have declined by 7.2%, year-on-year in November to $ 515 million, Central Bank said on Friday. On a cumulative basis, workers’ remittances declined by 5.9% to $ 6.05 billion during the first 11 months of 2019, compared to the corresponding period of 2018.The dip in November comes after workers’ remittances grew by 1.3%, year-on-year, to $ 607 million in October 2019 and by 3.3% year-on-year to $ 516 million in September 2019. (Times online, 20.1.2020)
Wildlife Department has recorded the presence of a black leopard in Sri Lanka during a research conducted in the major .wildlife reserves in the country. The images of the leopard was captured by a camera placed in the forest. Earlier it was believed that the species was extinct in the country. Malaka Abeywardena, a veterinary surgeon attached to the Wildlife Department, said, the leopard, seen in the central hills, is a male. Abeywardena said, they had received information that there were black leopards living in several places in the central hills and the Sinharaja forest range. The cameras were placed after that. Earlier parts of carcasses of two black leopards killed by hunters were found in Pitadeniya in Sinharaja and on another occasion the body of another black leopard caught in a trap was found. (Daily Island, 21.1.2020.
The black leopard found in the wilds of Sri Pada recently is not a different species of leopard and it has got dark skin due to melanism, undue development of dark-coloured pigment in the skin, the Department of Wildlife Conservation says. Department’s Publicity Officer, Hasini Sarathchandra told The Island that it was definitely not a different species but a colour variation. ‘We found similar type of a leopard in Sinharaja World Heritage Forest sometime ago. However, the Department would continue with ongoing research programmes to find whether there were other species in the cat family or species closely related to our leopard species -Panthera pardus kotiya.” Cat species expert, Dr. Sriyanie Miththapala, also believes that the black leopard is not a new species of leopard. Quoting directly an extract about black panthers by Dr. John Seidensticker and Dr. Susan Lumpkin, she said ,‘Everyone has heard of a black panther, which in reality, is just a leopard with black background fur, which obscures the cat’s spots. It is not a separate species; in fact, black furred and spotted cubs can be siblings born of the same litter. Known as melanism, black fur in leopards and domestic cats is the result of a single recessive gene for coat colour, whereas in jaguars it results from a single dominant gene. Melanistic or black individuals appear in many, if not all species [of wild cats] but do so frequently among leopards, jaguars, margays, ocelots.’ Of the eight species of panthers living in the world, the sub-species, Sri Lankan Panther is extraordinary due to its very limited population. An investigation into them was held recently, headed by Dr. Malaka Abeywardene and Dr. Manoj Akalanka of the Wildlife Department. Abeywardene said: “The reason for these animals being black is mainly an adaptation for hunting purposes and for protection of their kind since they mostly roam in cold and dark places. We request the general public to come forward to protect these animals since they are an important gift given by Mother Nature”
Of the 23 individuals suspected to have been infected by the new coronavirus and were admitted to the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) since last Friday (January 24), only 16 individuals are now in the IDH. The condition of the Chinese tourist who tested positive for the Coronavius is improving. She had a mild sickness at the time of admission to the IDH. Samples collected from eight patients were sent to the Medical Research Institute (MRI) for testing, and the reports of three patients were negative. Only one female Chinese National had been positive. Students and all other people returning from China are advised to stay at home for 14 days and seek medical treatment immediately from the 12 hospitals designated for Coronavirus Treatment if they show symptoms of the virus. They should inform the MOH and PHI immediately. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi stated on Tuesday that the National Action Committee appointed under the direction of President meets every day and discuss the measures that need to be taken to prevent coronavirus infections and ensure the safety of the country. Everything is done according to the International rules and regulations and the rules and regulations recommended by the WHO. According to the 8th Situation Report issued by the WHO on Monday, January 28 a total of 4,593 confirmed coronavirus patients had been reported from around the world while 4,537 of them are from China with 106 deaths. Outside China, there were 56 cases from 14 countries in the world. According to the WHO Risk Assessment, China is in the Very High Risk category while the risk exists at Regional and Global level. (Daily News, 30.1.2020)