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Conservation – a rational basis and early visits to Yala



Excerpted from the authorized biography of Thilo Hoffmann
by Douglas. B. Ranasinghe

Over the decades Thilo Hoffmann has been persistent not only in labouring to protect the environment, flora and fauna of Sri Lanka, but also, in writings and speeches, persuading others to do so, and explaining the rationale for doing so.

A good general summary of the reasons to conserve nature is seen in an article by him published in Loris, adapted from his address as President of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) at its Annual General Meeting held December 1972. Titled The Need for a Policy’, it is reproduced here as Appendix I. He stated:

“Politicians and administrators alike regard wildlife and conservation even in this day and age as matters of little consequence, and those who care for the environment in Sri Lanka are belittled as ‘enthusiasts’, more or less harmless cranks who need not be taken seriously. Yet the conservation of the country’s natural resources has already become a major national issue, and for the good of the people, the most serious notice should be taken of the present situation and of our duty to conserve at least what is left of some important natural resources and to rebuild the lost ones.

“One most pertinent question has been neither posed nor answered. What will happen to our national parks and reserves in the years to come when the population will double again in less than a quarter of a century, when within one generation there will not be twelve but twenty-five million people in this island? Will there be room for national parks and sanctuaries, or for animals, as some would put it. The unthinking will have a quick and ready answer, and that answer is a plain: “No, there will be no room for wild animals. We must look after the needs of the people. The people must come first.” Such answers only serve to display a lack of appreciation of the issues involved and the absence of vision of those who hold these views.”

He stressed that the opposite is true, that National Parks and other protected areas are basic necessities for the people, which grow in importance as the population increases and as the country and the land become developed.

“We must decide and define,” he contended, “why wildlife and nature reserves, forest reserves, scenic and landscape reserves, catchment areas and water reserves, coastal and marine reserves are needed. He listed these purposes in order of importance for Sri Lanka:

“1. Recreational. Human well-being. People need to re-charge the system when run down from stresses and strains. There is aesthetic appreciation of free nature; there is enjoyment, healthy pleasure.

2. Scientific. All National Parks are of scientific value present and future, also especially Sinharaja, Ritigala, Hakgala, and a number of ecosystems which were then not protected, such as coastal swamps, wetlands, marine habitats, hilltops in the low-country and mountain forests.

3. Cultural. Free nature, plants, flowers, animals, reptiles and insects, the land, the water and the air have from time immemorial played an important role in the arts, the philosophy, the sciences and religions of people all over the world, and perhaps particularly so in Sri Lanka. We cannot lose or sacrifice these Sri Lankan cultural values.

4. Productive. Some of the reserves mentioned – such as forests, coral reefs and mangroves – are directly and economically productive but only so long as they are protected, cared for and kept in a natural state. They are also indirectly productive through their influence on human well-being and the human environment.”

At Yala

Thilo Hoffmann remembers well his earliest jungle visit. It was to the Yala East Intermediate Zone, in 1947, when it was a favourite place for ‘sportsmen’. Controlled hunting with permits was allowed, he was young, he was not a member of the Wildlife Society and he joined a small group of Ceylonese friends.

The conservation areas in modern Ceylon were instituted at the beginning of the 20th century. Then there were three Sanctuaries, namely Wilpattu, Wasgomuwa and Yala, and a Resident Sportsmen’s Reserve, the present Ruhunu National Park Block I. Outside these the killing of wild animals for gain or sport was freely allowed.

In 1938 the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance created Strict Natural Reserves, National Parks and Intermediate Zones. The last mostly bordered Parks and served as buffers. Shooting was allowed anywhere else of animals harmful to agriculture, such as wild boar, and within these Zones also certain others on permit.

During the second such visit an unusual incident left a lasting impression on Thilo. It is appropriate that, as a result, he would be the person most responsible for the incorporation of Intermediate Zones into the National Parks by the Wildlife Department, for removing the claim which supported hunting in the constitution of the Wildlife Society, and later for the initiation of the so-called ban on shooting (its prohibition by the State).

Thilo has always felt compassion for all living things, including plants. He went on the two trips in a spirit of adventure and exploration. Hunting was then not only legal but a widespread recreation. Yet, he shot very few animals and prevented others from being hit. He describes the visit and experience:

“In those days Baurs, like other European firms in Sri Lanka, expected its expatriate employees to spend the annual leave of two weeks up country so as to make them available again for work in a fit state. However, all my leisure hours and holidays and weekends were spent in the low-country jungles.

“My earliest real stay in the jungle was during the drought of 1947, when I went to Okanda with my Swiss colleague Hans Sigg and three Ceylonese friends of similar age, Ben Hamer, Anton Soertz and Douggie de Zilwa. We spent two weeks there, with the single-roomed Forest Department circuit hut as our headquarters. A tracker and a cook were recruited at Panama.

“The Game Ranger at Okanda was Mr Overlunde, a very large and very friendly Burgher, who lived in this remote place with his wife and baby daughter. I remember him most vividly by the mountains of rice and curry he used to heap on his plate at the Arugam Bay resthouse when we went there for provisions.

“Our party shot a leopard and other animals, with permits, including hare and jungle-fowl for the pot. One day, armed with rifles three of us were sitting on the bund of a dry tank in the Bagura area. It was really a bad drought, with not a drop of water for miles around. Three wild boars came trotting towards us. We decided that each of us take one. We counted one, two, three, and three shots went off more or less together.

“Only one boar was hit. It fell and was screaming. The other two ran off instinctively. Then they came back to their fallen companion and tried to raise the wounded animal on its legs. But its spine was broken above the shoulder. The return despite the danger was like a very human reaction. Because of it the two also met with their deaths. It made an impression on me and from then on I never shot another animal. (To attribute human actions to animals is called anthropomorphism, a common intellectual failing.)

“The dead leopard taught me a jungle lesson. It had been shot around midnight at a rock water hole deep inside the forest. At dawn, when we were preparing to return to camp, I patted it on the head, as I would a dog. I paid for this gesture of sympathy. Some time later my right arm and shoulder were teeming with ticks, which had been leaving the dead body. The most painful experience with these tiny insects is when you walk into a ‘nest’ of larvae on a twig. Hundreds of these parasites the size of a grain of sand then bore into your skin, causing painful swelling and lasting irritation.

“We may note here that bears make poor trophies because the fur is shaggy, but males were and are sometimes shot for their well-developed penis bone!

“The following year again we spent our annual holidays at Okanda, this time accompanied by Mae. One night after the breakdown of our car we walked from Panama to Okanda, a distance of over 12 km, then mostly jungle. We arrived as dawn was breaking.”

It needs to be mentioned here that up to 1950 the Department of Wildlife, created in 1938 under the new Ordinance, was a part of the Forest Department and administered by it. The Conservator of Forests, then Mr J. A. de Silva, was also Acting Warden of the Department of Wildlife.

Only in 1950 were financial provisions made for a separate Department of Wildlife. Some Forest staff were then transferred to it: an Assistant Warden, 10 Forest Guards and 33 Forest Watchers. Newly, 30 Game Rangers were recruited, followed in 1951 by another 30 Game Guards and 57 Game Watchers, most of them from the vicinity of the Reserves. Mr C. W. Nicholas was appointed the first Warden of the independent Department.

It may be added that in those early years there were only two bungalows in the entire Yala complex of Reserves. The old Yala bungalow stood under large trees high over a bend in the Menik Ganga, and was a delightful place. It had been built at the beginning of the 20th century by H. E. Engelbrecht, the Boer ex-prisoner of war, after he was appointed the first guardian of the Yala Resident Sportsmen’s Reserve.

This was unceremoniously demolished when the present two-storey monstrosity was built to replace it. Remnants of the foundation can still be seen. Although the river was eating into the bank at that time, the old building was never in acute danger. The other bungalow was at Buttawa.

In other ways, too, Yala has changed greatly. Over-provision of visitor facilities and over-visitation by local and foreign tourists has by now greatly damaged the character of Yala as a prime nature conservation area. Even in the materialistic West it has now been realized that sanctuaries for nature must be allowed to exist in peace and tranquility, that visitation must be curbed and the observation of wildlife be discreet and cautious. But we continue to set visitor records year after year.

In the late 1960s the Ceylon Tourist Board proposed a string of hotels along the Yala coast. The Wildlife Protection Society (presently WNPS: see p.162) opposed this, and in general the setting up of special tourist facilities within National Parks. They argued that for good reasons only the State, through the Wildlife Department, should provide and operate visitor amenities in conservation areas.

There was a conference on the issue, summoned by the Minister of State – the Wildlife Department was then under this Ministry – J. R. Jayewardene. Thilo spoke for the Society as its Honorary Secretary. Eventually their view prevailed, when the Minister decided that hotels cannot be built and operated inside protected areas.

As Thilo was driving off with the President of the Society, E. B. Wikramanayake, he was stopped by Upali Senanayake, a member of the Tourist Board and chief promoter of the hotel project. This dialogue followed:

“I don’t see how we can take you [sic], Thilo!”

“What do you mean?”

“We, the Ceylonese.”

“If that is what you feel, Upali, you should not be in tourism!”

Much later, a somewhat similar situation developed in respect of the Gal Oya National Park, when a foreign company wanted to manage parts of it. This too was prevented, with Thilo at the helm of the Society. The principle was reaffirmed that conservation areas are mainly for the people of Sri Lanka and cannot be misused to provide special facilities for tourists or general infrastructure.

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If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!



BY Dr. Gotabhya Ranasinghe
Consultant in General & Interventional Cardiology, NHSL

Tobacco harms practically all of the body’s organs and is a key risk factor for heart disease!

Smoking can impact all aspects of the cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. I know from my experience over the years that about 25% of the patients who seek treatment from me for heart conditions smoke.

Is there a strong link between smoking and heart disease?

Of course, there is! Smoking definitely contributes to heart disease. The majority of smokers experience heart attacks.

Some claim that the only people at risk for heart attacks or strokes are those who are classified as heavy smokers. Although this is the case, did you know that smoking even one or two cigarettes a day might result in heart attacks?

Young smokers are on the rise, which unfortunately brings more cardiac patients between the ages of 20 and 25 to the cardiology unit.

Why is tobacco poison for your heart?

The harmful mix of more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, can interfere with vital bodily functions when inhaled.

When you breathe, your lungs absorb oxygen and pass it on to your heart, which then pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the blood arteries. However, when the blood that is circulated to the rest of the body picks up the toxins in cigarette smoke when you breathe it in, your heart and blood arteries are harmed by these substances, which could result in cardiovascular diseases.

What does cigarette smoke do to your heart?

Atherosclerosis (Building up of cholesterol deposits in the coronary artery)

Endothelium dysfunction leads to atherosclerosis. The inner layer of coronary arteries or the arterial wall of the heart both function improperly and contribute to artery constriction when you smoke cigarettes. As a

result, the endothelium-cell barrier that separates the arteries is breached, allowing cholesterol plaque to build up. It’s crucial to realize that smoking increases the risk of endothelial dysfunction in even those who have normal cholesterol levels.

Heart Attacks

The plaque accumulated in the arteries can burst as a result of continued smoking or other factors like emotional stress or strenuous exercises. Heart attacks occur when these plaque rupture and turn into clots.

Coronary artery spasm

Did you know you can experience a spasm immediately after a puff of smoke?

A brief tightening or constriction of the muscles in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the heart is referred to as a coronary artery spasm. Part of the heart’s blood flow can be impeded or reduced by a spasm. A prolonged spasm can cause chest pain and possibly a heart attack.

People who usually experience coronary artery spasms don’t have typical heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. However, they are frequent smokers.


An erratic or irregular heartbeat is known as an arrhythmia. The scarring of the heart muscle caused by smoking can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat.Additionally, nicotine can cause arrhythmia by speeding up the heart rate.

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking!

Did you know the positive impacts start to show as soon as you stop smoking?

After 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your heart rate begins to slow down.

In just 12 hours after quitting, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood returns to normal, allowing more oxygen to reach your heart and other vital organs.

12 to 24 hours after you stop smoking, blood pressure levels return to normal.

Your risk of developing coronary heart disease decreases by 50% after one year of no smoking.

So let us resolve to protect and improve heart health by saying no to tobacco!

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Religious cauldron being stirred; filthy rich in abjectly poor country



What a ho ha over a silly standup comedian’s stupid remarks about Prince Siddhartha. I have never watched this Natasha Edirisuriya’s supposedly comic acts on YouTube or whatever and did not bother to access derogatory remarks she supposedly introduced to a comedy act of hers that has brought down remand imprisonment on her up until June 6. Speaking with a person who has his ear to the ground and to the gossip grape wine, I was told her being remanded was not for what she said but for trying to escape consequences by flying overseas – to Dubai, we presume, the haven now of drug kingpins, money launderers, escapees from SL law, loose gabs, and all other dregs of society.

Of course, derogatory remarks on any religion or for that matter on any religious leader have to be taboo and contraveners reprimanded publicly and perhaps imposed fines. However, imprisonment according to Cassandra is too severe.

Just consider how the Buddha treated persons who insulted him or brought false accusations against him including the most obnoxious and totally improbable accusation of fatherhood. Did he even protest, leave along proclaim his innocence. Did he permit a member of the Sangha to refute the accusations? Not at all! He said aloud he did not accept the accusations and insults. Then he asked where the accusations would go to? Back to sender/speaker/accuser. That was all he said.

Thus, any person or persons, or even all following a religion which is maligned should ignore what was said. Let it go back and reside with the sayer/maligner. Of course, the law and its enforcers must spring to action and do the needful according to the law of the land.

One wonders why this sudden spurt of insults arrowed to Buddhism. Of course, the aim is to denigrate the religion of the majority in the land. Also perhaps with ulterior motives that you and Cass do not even imagine. In The Island of Wednesday May 31, MP Dilan Perera of Nidahas Janatha Sabawa (difficult to keep pace with birth of new political parties combining the same words like nidahas and janatha to coin new names) accused Jerome Fernando and Natasha E as “actors in a drama orchestrated by the government to distract people from the real issues faced by the masses.”

We, the public, cannot simply pooh pooh this out of hand. But is there a deeper, subtler aim embedded in the loose talk of Jerome and his followers? Do we not still shudder and shake with fear and sympathy when we remember Easter Sunday 2019 with its radical Muslim aim of causing chaos? It is said and believed that the Muslim radicals wanted not only to disrupt Christian prayer services on a holy day but deliver a blow to tourism by bombing hotels.

Then their expectation was a backlash from the Sinhalese which they hoped to crush by beheading approaching Sinhala avenging attackers with swords they had made and stacked. This is not Cass’ imagination running riot but what a Catholic Priest told us when we visited the Katuwapitiya Church a couple of weeks after the dastardly bombing.

It is believed and has been proclaimed there was a manipulating group led by one demented person who egged the disasters on with the double-edged evil aim of disrupting the land and then promising future security if … Hence, we cannot be so naïve as to believe that Jerome and Natasha were merely careless speakers. Who knows what ulterior moves were dictated to by power-mad black persons and made to brew in the national cauldron of discontent? Easiest was to bring to the boil religious conflict, since the races seem to be co-living harmoniously, mostly after the example of amity set before the land and internationally of Sri Lankans of all races, religions, social statuses and ages being able to unite during the Aragalaya.

We have already suffered more than our fair share of religious conflict. The LTTE exploded a vehicle laden with bombs opposite the Dalada Maligawa; shot at the Sacred Bo Tree, massacred a busload of mostly very young Buddhist monks in Aranthalawa. This was on June 2, 1987, particularly pertinent today. They killed Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Katankudy after ethnically cleansing Jaffna and adjoining areas of Muslim populations.

The Sinhalese, led by ultra-nationalists and drunken goons ravaged Tamils in 1983 and then off and on conflicted with Muslims. Hence the need to nip all and every religious conflict in the bud; no preachers/ Buddhist monks/overzealous lay persons, or comedians and media persons to be allowed to malign religions and in the name of religion cause conflict, least of all conflagration.

Comes to mind the worst case of religious intolerance, hate, revenge and unthinkable cruelty. Cass means here the prolonged fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie (1947-), British American novelist of Indian origin who had a ransom set aside for his life declared by the then leader of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, soon after Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses was published in 1988. The British government diligently ensured his safety by hiding him in various places. After nearly two decades of tight security around him, he ventured to the US on an invited visit. He settled down in New York, believing he was now safe from the fatwa and mad men. It was not to be. In New York on stage to deliver a lecture in 2022, Rushdie was set upon by a lone assailant who stabbed him in the eye, blinding him in that eye and necessitating his wearing an eye band. What on earth was his crime? Writing a fictitious story to succeed many he had written and won prizes for like the Booker.

Religious fanaticism must never be permitted to raise its devilish head wherever, whenever.

Farmer’s fabulously rich son

Often quoted is the phrase coined by the Tourist Board, Cass believes, to describe Sri Lanka. Land like no other. It was completely complementary and justified when it was first used. We were an almost unique island where every prospect pleased, particularly its smiling, easy going people and the wonderful terrain of the land with varying altitudes, climates and fauna and flora.

Then with the decline of the country engineered and wrought by evil, self-gratifying politicians, their sidekicks and dishonest bureaucrats, disparities became stark. Sri Lanka is now in the very dumps: bankrupt, its social, economic and sustainability fabric in shreds and people suffering immensely. But since it is a land like no other with a different connotation, only certain of its population suffer and undergo deprivation and hardship. Others live grand even now and have money stashed high in–house and overseas in banks, businesses and dubious off shore dealings. Some lack the few rupees needed to travel in a bus but most political bods drive around in luxury cars; infants cry for milk and children for a scrap of bread or handful of rice. Plain tea is drunk by many to quell pangs of hunger while the corrupt VIPs quaff champaign and probably have exotic foods flown over from gourmet venues.

And most of those who drive luxury cars, eat and drink exotically and live the GOOD life, did not inherit wealth, nor earn it legitimately. Young men who had not a push bike to ride or Rs 25 to go on a school trip to Sigiriya are now fabulously wealthy. Cass does not want to list how they demonstrate immense wealth possession now.

One case in the news is Chaminda Sirisena, who seems to be very, very wealthy, wearing a ring that is valued at Rs 10 million, and then losing it to cause severe damnation to its stealer. Goodness! Cass cannot even imagine such a ring. Well, he lost it and 5,000 US $ and Rs 100,000. The suspect is his personal security guard. Having never heard of this brother of the ex Prez and he not being the paddy multimillionaire owning hotels, Cass googled. Here is short reply, “Chaminda Sirisena. Owner Success Lanka Innovative Company, Sri Lanka, 36 followers, 36 connections. (The last two bits of info completely incomprehensible and no desire at all to verify). He sure is comparable to Virgin Airways Branson and other top global entrepreneurs to become so wealthy being a son of a man who served in WWII and was given a small acreage to cultivate paddy in Polonnaruwa. When his brother Maitripala became Prez of Sri Lanka it was with pride the comparison was brought in to the American President who moved from log cabin to the White House.

Hence isn’t our beloved, now degraded Sri Lanka, a land like no other with Midases around?

We now have another maybe thief to worry about. No further news of the poor mother whose life was quashed for the sake of a gold ring, leaving three children motherless and probably destitute. When we were young, we were told very early on that if we lost anything it was more our fault; we were careless and placed temptation to less fortunate persons. The Tamil woman who died after being in remand was such a one who needed extra protection from temptation. To Cass her employer is more to blame for the probable theft and for the tragedy that followed.

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Snakes of Sri Lanka



By Ifham Nizam

Snake bites are a serious public health issue in Sri Lanka. It has been estimated that nearly 80,000 snake bites occur here every year.Due to fear and poor knowledge, hundreds of thousands of snakes, mostly non-venomous ones, are killed by humans each year.The state spends more than USD 10 million a year on treating snake bite patients.

According to health sector statistics between 30,000 and 40,000 snake bite patients receive treatment in hospitals annually, says Dr. Anjana Silva, who is Professor in Medical Parasitology, Head/ Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Rajarata University.

To date, 93 land and 15 sea snake species have been recorded from Sri Lanka. While all 15 sea snakes are venomous, only 20% of the land snakes are venomous or potentially venomous.

The term, ‘venomous snakes’ does not mean they cause a threat to human lives every time they cause a bite. The snakes of highest medical importance are the venomous ones which are common or widespread and cause numerous snakebites, resulting in severe envenoming, disability or death,” says Dr. Silva who is also Adjunct Senior Research Fellow – Monash Venom Group,Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University and Research Associate- South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya.

Only five snakes could be considered to be of the highest medical importance in Sri Lanka: Russell’s viper, Indian krait, Sri Lankan cobra, Merrem’s hump-nosed viper and Saw-scaled viper. All but Merrem’s hump-nosed vipers are covered by Indian Polyvalent antivenom, the only treatment available for snake bites in Sri Lanka.

There are another five snake species with secondary medical importance, which are venomous snakes and capable of causing morbidity, disability or death, but the bites are less frequent due to various reasons (Sri Lankan krait, Highland Hump-nosed viper, Lowland hump-nosed pit viper, Green-pit viper and Beaked sea snake)

The snakes of highest medical importance in Sri Lanka are as follows:

  1. Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) (Sinhala: Thith Polanga/ Tamil: Kannadi viriyan)

Medically the most important snake in Sri Lanka. It is found throughout South Asia. It is responsible for about 30% of snake bites in Sri Lanka and also about 70% of deaths due to snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Some 2-5% bites by Russell’s viper are fatal. Widely distributed throughout the country up to the elevations of 1,500m from sea level. Highly abundant in paddy fields and farmlands but also found in dry zone forests and scrub lands. Bites occur more during the beginning and end of the farming seasons in dry zone. It can grow up to 1.3m in length. Most bites are reported during day time.

Over 85% of the bites are at the level of or below the ankle. It is a very aggressive snake when provoked. Spontaneous bleeding due to abnormalities in blood clotting and kidney failure have life-threatening effects.

Dr. Anjana Silva

  1. The Sri Lankan Russell’s vipers cause mild paralysis as well, which is not life threatening. Indian Polyvalent antivenom covers Russell’s viper envenoming. Deaths could be due to severe internal bleeding and acute renal failure.
  2. Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) (Sinhala: Thel Karawala/ Maga Maruwa; Tamil: Yettadi virian/ Karuwelan Pambu)

It is distributed in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is found across the lowland semi-arid, dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. Almost absent in the wet zone. Usually, a non-offensive snake during the daytime; however, it could be aggressive at night.

Common kraits slither into human settlements at night looking for prey. People who sleep on the ground are prone to their bites.

Most common krait bites do occur at night. Bites are more common during the months of September to December when the north-east monsoon is active. Most hospital admissions of krait bites follow rainfall, even following a shower after several days or months without rain.

Since most bites do occur while the victim is asleep, the site of bite could be in any part of the body.

As bite sites have minimal or no effects, it would be difficult to find an exact bite site in some patients. Bite site usually is painless and without any swelling. Causes paralysis in body muscles which can rapidly lead to life threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty).

  1. Sri Lankan Cobra (Naja polyoccelata; Naja naja) Sinhala: Nagaya; Tami: Nalla pambu

Sri Lankan cobra is an endemic species in Sri Lanka. It is common in lowland (<1200m a.s.l), close to human settlements. Cobras are found on plantations and in home gardens, forests, grasslands and paddy fields. It is the only snake with a distinct hood in Sri Lanka.

Hood has a spectacle marking on the dorsal side and has two black spots and the neck usually has three black bands on the ventral side. When alarmed, cobras raise the hood and produce a loud hiss.

Cobra bites could occur below the knee. They are very painful and lead to severe swelling and tissue death around the affected place. Rapidly progressing paralysis could result from bites, sometimes leading to life-threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty). Deaths could also be due to cardiac arrest due to the venom effects.

  1. Merrem’s hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) Sinhala: Polon Thelissa/ Kunakatuwa; Tamil: Kopi viriyan.

Small pit-vipers grow up to 50cm in length. Head is flat and triangular with a pointed and raised snout. They are usually found coiled, they keep the heads at an angle of 45 degrees. Merrem’s Hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) is the medically most important Hump-nosed viper as it leads to 35-45% of all snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Merrem’s Hump-nosed vipers are very common in home gardens and on plantations and grasslands. Bites often happen during various activities in home gardens and also during farming activities in farmlands in both dry and wet zones. Hands and feet (below the ankle) are mostly bitten. Bites can often lead to local swelling and pain and at times, severe tissue death around the bite site may need surgical removal of dead tissue or even amputations. Rarely, patients could develop mild blood clotting abnormalities and acute kidney failure. Although rare, deaths are reported due to hypnale bites.

  1. Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus), Sinhala: Weli Polanga; Tamil: Surutai Viriyan

This species is widely distributed in South Asia. However, in Sri Lanka, it is restricted to dry coastal regions such as Mannar, Puttalam, Jaffna peninsula and Batticaloa. In Sri Lanka, this snake grows upto 40-50cm. It is a nocturnal snake which is fond of sand dunes close to the beach. It could be found under logs and stones during daytime. Bites are common during January and February.

It is a very aggressive snake. A distinct, white colour ‘bird foot shape’ mark or a ‘diamond shape’ mark could be seen over the head. When alarmed, it makes a hissing sound by rubbing the body scales. Although this snake causes frequent severe envenoming and deaths in other countries, its bites are relatively less severe in Sri Lanka. Bites could lead to mild to moderate swelling and pain on the affected place and blood clotting abnormalities and haemorrhage and rarely it could lead to kidney failure.



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