25th June,  2006  Volume 12, Issue 50

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


New perspective on amphibians

By Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando

Knowledge of Sri Lanka’s amphibians has advanced in leaps and bounds in the past de-
cade, since the Wildlife Heritage Trust team embarked on amphibian research.

Prior to that, only about 40 species of amphibians were recognised from Sri Lanka and this fauna was not regarded as particularly rich by world standards.

Total of 103 species

Today, knowledge of the country’s amphibians has developed enormously, as shown in the book just released, Sri Lankawe Ubhayajeeveen (The Amphibians of Sri Lanka), by Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi and Rohan Pethiyagoda. A total of 103 species have been described in the book. This means almost two percent of the world’s 5,000 species of frogs are found in Sri Lanka, and most of them only in this island, a remarkable statistic for so small a country.

The book heralds a new era in scientific publications in Sinhala, setting a new standard. Previous publications of a similar nature have been very limited, and have not attempted such complex topics on scientific species descriptions. This is a serious hardcover book of 440 pages plus 88 colour plates, with detailed descriptions of every species, as well as their behaviour and distribution, threats and conservation status.

The text is well complemented by Kelum’s highly detailed line drawings that must indeed be called a labour of love. The distribution maps are informative and concise, allowing at a glance to see where each species occurs. The colour plates contain photos of every one of the 84 living amphibian species, that would aid the casual observer identify them without having to delve into the intricacies of morphology.

The book is well organised and chapters preceding the species descriptions provide an excellent overview of studies on Sri Lankan amphibians, geological and climatic history, and descriptions of habitats in the island. The colour plates of the different habitat types provide an excellent overview. The chapter on amphibian studies is particularly instructive with well laid out descriptive diagrams explaining the intricate measurements and characters used in species diagnosis.

The provision of the corresponding English term facilitates the authors’ stated aim of providing knowledge of amphibia to those who have studied science in Sinhala, providing a bridge to pursuing further studies in English.

Printing and finish

The colour printing, and finish of the book is up to the familiar high standards in nature publications set by WHT Publications. A surprising feature of the book is that it has been published only in Sinhala. It is hoped that the authors would also publish an English version so that a wider readership in Sri Lanka and internationally will be able to enjoy the benefit of their monumental work.

An important message in the book, is that almost 20 frog species have become extinct in Sri Lanka since 1860s. A finding of even greater significance when one considers that they represent the majority of Bush frog species known from Sri Lanka prior to the new descriptions by the WHT team. These species are known only because specimens were preserved during British times and deposited in natural history museums in Europe. Today, these specimens are the only record we have that they once inhabited Sri Lanka. Similar to other groups of plants and animals, it is the island’s wet zone that contains the vast majority of endemic frog species.

Habitat destruction for cultivation and settlements in the wet zone have been the major cause of extinction. Most of the new species described in the text are found only in a few localities.

Causing extinction

Every time we clear a patch of forest in the wet zone of Sri Lanka for a cultivation plot or to build a house, we probably cause the extinction of species that are not found anywhere else on earth. Many of them are still unknown to science and are passing away unsung and unmourned, and without us even knowing that such species ever existed. As a specie, ourselves, we cannot be guilty of a greater crime than to cause the extinction of other entire species, but this is unfortunately practically a daily occurrence not given a thought, and for the most mundane of reasons.

Sri Lankawe Ubhayajeeveen is a book that should be on the shelves of every serious student of biodiversity in Sri Lanka and every school library. It would doubtless be the spark that lights the fire to forge a new generation of amphibian researchers in this country. The book will facilitate conservation planning for endangered amphibians as it indicates the category of threat for each species, and the localities they are found.

Solid foundation

However, like many of our laws for the protection of fauna the current blanket protection for amphibians is meaningless. What is needed is not to say that everything is protected, but to find out which species are actually threatened, provide meaningful protection for them, and address any threats that are identified. Such an approach needs an enormous amount of information, study and planning.

The book lays a solid foundation for the conservation of amphibians in Sri Lanka, by empowering and encouraging future generations to embark on studies of amphibia that could provide the basis for their meaningful conservation. Hats off to Kelum and Rohan for a gem of a book!

Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando is a conservation biologist who has an abiding interest in the fauna of Sri Lanka. He has published widely in international scientific journals and is a Research Associate of the Columbia University, Wildlife Trust, and the Smithsonian Institution. He is based in Sri Lanka and also serves as the chairman and a scientist at the Centre for Conservation and Research.

Musical fiesta by Academy of Organ Music

By Nirmala Kannangara

The Academy of Organ Music, Colombo 5, will be holding a musical fiesta involving 191 students. This fiesta would no doubt be an extravagant event in the field of music.

We’ve Got The Beat will go on stage on July 1 and 2 at the Lionel Wendt theatre from 7 p.m. onwards and the profit of the concert will be remitted to the ‘Women In Need’ charity project against child abuse.

Shyama Perera — Licentiate Honours in Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London who is the founder of the Academy of Organ Music told The Sunday Leader that 191 students who are performing on stage on July 1 and 2 will not only present very popular melodies of ’80s and ’90s but also will entertain the audience with perfect singing and dancing.

"A combination of organ and guitar music too would be included and the popular rock and roll hits of Beetles and Bee Gees will be performed. Not forgetting Sinhala folk dancing and free style dancing the students are well trained and bubbling with enthusiasm," claimed Shyama.

The academy that has been in existence for the last 20 years has held 10 -12 concerts up to date and since the first show the profits had been remitted to a charity for a worthy cause.

The concert was to go on board last year, had to be postponed due to the tsunami and the children have been untiringly practising for the concert for the last two months.

There would be 10 electronic organs on stage for the performance, and all the students are getting ready for their professional London exams that are affiliated to London College of Music and Trinity College of Music, London.

According to the organising committee the perfect music would soothe your ears while the dances would no doubt be a treat to the eye.

The tickets will be available from June 26 at the Wendt.

Travelling on paper

By Risidra Mendis

He has travelled to many parts of the country and has studied some of the most unusual and historic monuments, places of interest and the rich culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.

But what makes Royden O.Gibbs different from you and me, is that whatever he sees and studies he puts down in breathtaking form on paper.

Some of his paintings are today valued by many historians, painters and nature lovers as these scenes and places of interest recorded by the artist no longer exist.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Gibbs said many beautiful places he painted are no longer visible today as they were destroyed by the 2004 tsunami.

"I believe in travelling to many places that people are yet to discover in the country. The experience and thrill I gain from walking for miles looking for a special place or building cannot be explained in words. For many people walking miles and miles in the hot sun could be an unpleasant experience. But for me the thrill of painting comes from the experience and hardship of the knowledge gained while travelling to these unheard of places," Gibbs said.

Gibbs interest in painting started during his school days. "After I left school I worked at many advertising agencies as an Art Director. In the early 1970s I started freelance painting," Gibbs said.

Gibbs first started his career in painting as a portrait painter. He learnt the rudiments of drawing and painting at the Amerasekere Academy.

"I want to record the beautiful and historic places in the country for other people to appreciate. It is very sad to see that many people do not appreciate the rich historic and cultural wonders in the country. Sri Lanka has so many beautiful and unheard of places that are yet to be explored," Gibbs said.

Among the places visited by Gibbs are: Jaffna, Kandy, Mannar Dutch Fort, Batticaloa Fort, Trincomalee and Lankathilaka among others.

Gibbs who has won many awards for his paintings would be holding his eighth exhibition soon.

An Odyssey In Water Colour and Pastel Paintings by Royden O Gibbs will be held at the Harold Pieris Gallery, Lionel Wendt Colombo 7 on June 24 from 12 p.m to 7 p.m. and on June 25 and 26 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Young talent in action

By Ranee Mohamed

It is not often that one can see children just above five years singing Brown Girl On The Ring, on stage, just as well as Boney M.

Here, at the Bishop’s College Auditorium on Friday, June 16, things got even better with time as all the teachers and management of Gateway College blended the little talent they hold so safely in the bank of talent that is called Gateway College.

From toe-tapping music from Bollywood by the little ones to a professional dance performance by the junior school teachers did not just mean little talent; for the show oozed with talent. You Fill Up My Senses and I Thank You Very Much by the teachers of the primary school, came as a pleasant shock by teachers who we thought otherwise sang Baker Busy Baker.....

Many performances are described as hot in today’s world. But in this context, Little Talent in Action was cool, especially the Drip Drop song in which the little ones in raincoats and umbrellas took us to a different rhythm with the pattering rain. Spread for three days, all children of the primary school were up there, dressed to portray their role at its best. There were no camera-shy people here at Gateway’s concert, even though they were so little and so eager in their roles that they almost fell off the stage.

Special mention ought to be made of the singers of the bus song. This performance educated us not only on the parts of the bus but about the people therein. The little girls who sang this song downstage were a special treat. Usually sound is appreciated with our ears, but the performance of Kamini on the piano was breathtaking. One could not help but notice how much of her soul she put into the recital.

The different nationalities also came on stage, dancing to special tunes. But in true communal harmony all the little ones who portrayed different nationalities danced even to the tunes of the others,

Writing a review without mentioning the work of celebrated dramatist Sashi Mendis is an impossible task; it is akin to trying to stage a play without actors. Sashi Mendis who took the drama fans of this country to a different world at different times; on this Friday night showed us what true harmony is.

Paradise Island, came on stage at the most appropriate time. With natural actors and natural disasters Sashi Mendis brought home with ease the message of unity. Though the play and the players had the grace of swans, it was obvious how much paddling had gone on underwater, days and weeks before the curtain opened.

Seldom is talent concentrated this way. On a closer look, it has taken many dedicated teachers to bring out this talent. The management of Gateway has let talent blossom freely and the teachers have guided these little ones into complete fruition, and the fragrance of all this would live in our hearts and minds forever.


Letter from a most yeligible bachellar

Hey fellas,

Chee Chee loved Kottangchena. In fact he rarely ventured out of his home turf. A very cosmopolitan town Kottangchena was. There were people from every ethnic background living cheek by jowl.

No not now but upto the ’80s. Chee Chee got talking to Velu the young maths teacher just out of Uni. A gay bachelor, Velu showed Chee Chee his reply to an advert in the paper for on:

An open letter from a Most Yeligible Bachellar


I am an olden young uncle living only with myself in Kottangchena. Having seen your advertisement for marriage purposes, I decided to press myself on you and hope you will take me nicely.

I am a soiled son from inside Atchuveli but living in Kottangchena. I am nice and big, six foot tall and six inches long. My body is filled with hardness, as because I am working hardly. I am playing hardly also.

Especially I like cricket and I am a good batter and I am fast baller. Whenever I come running in for balling, other batters start running. Everybody is scared of my rapid balls that bounce a lot.

I am very nice man. I am always laughing loudly at everyone. I am jolly. I am gay. Especially ladies, they are saying I am nice and soft. I am always giving respect to the ladies. I am always allowing ladies to get on top. That is how nice I am.

I am not having any bad habits. I am not drinking and I am not sucking tobacco or anything else. Every morning I am going to the gym and I am pumping like anything.

Daily I am pumping and pumping. If you want you can come and see how much I am pumping the dumb belles in the gym.

I am having a lot of money in my pants and my pants is always open for you. I am such a nice man, but still I am living with myself only.

What to do? So I am taking things into my own hands everyday. That is why am pressing myself on you, so that you will come in my house and take my things into your hand.

If you are marrying me madam, I am telling you, I will be loving you very hard every day. In fact, I will stop pumping dumb belles in the gym.

If you are not marrying me madam and not coming to me, I will press you and press you until you come.

So I am placing my head between your nicely smelling feet and looking up with lots of hope. I am waiting very badly for your reply and I am stiff with anticipation.

K. K. Velu, B. Sc.

*** *** *** *** ****

Chee Chee related this one which happened to the Holdenbottles, his neighbour.

Pamela, who is 21years tells her mom that she feels a certain heavyness in her stomach for two months.

Very worried, the mother goes to the Greenlands Pharmacy and buys a test kit. The test result shows that the girl is pregnant.

Shouting, cursing, crying, the mother says, "Who was the pig that did this to you? I want to know!" The girl picks up the phone and makes a call. Half an hour later a TR 3 stops in front of their house; a mature and distinguished man with grey hair, impeccably dressed in a very expensive suit, steps out of the car and enters the house.

He sits in the living room with the father, the mother and the girl (with Chee Chee eavesdropping) and tells them, "Good morning, your daughter has informed me of the problem.

"I can’t marry her because of my personal family situation, but I’ll provide support.

"If a girl is born, I will bequeath her two retail stores, a townhouse, a beach villa and a Rs. 1,000,000 bank account.

"If a boy is born, my legacy will be a couple of factories and a Rs.2,000,000 bank account.

"If it is twins, a factory and Rs.1,000,000 each.

"However, if there is a miscarriage, what do you suggest I do?"

At this point, the father, who had remained silent, places a hand firmly on the man’s shoulder and tells him, "Then you try again."

Ta Ra and see you next week.

— Rabbada Aiya

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