Diversifying the playing field with coloured asexual portrayals
The Billionaire actor-producer Gehan Cooray on
By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage
Los Angeles-based Sri Lankan-American independent filmmaker and classical singer Gehan Cooray, recently unveiled his debut feature length film ‘The Billionaire.’ The film is a contemporary, gender-swapped adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1930s play ‘The Millionairess,’ set in the modern day context of gay marriage and asexuality, but pays homage to the style of Classical Hollywood films. The film has been submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in late 2020, after becoming eligible for both Oscar and Golden Globe awards nominations. Previously the film was awarded the Best Comedy Feature Award at the Burbank International Film Festival. The film has received favorable reviews from select critics in the industry.
The film was directed by Michael Philip, but it was Gehan Cooray who wrote the screenplay and had final creative control. ‘The Billionaire’ was shot on location in Ontario, Canada and the cast includes the seven-time Emmy Award winning actress Heather Tom (from ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’), Jordan Belfi from the hit TV series ‘Entourage’, Davi Santos known for his work in the ‘Power Rangers’ TV franchise, and Randy Wayne from ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ and numerous Hallmark channel films.
The story follows Victor Ognisanti di Parerga, an exceedingly prudish young gay billionaire of Sri Lankan descent. He seems to be the ultimate narcissist too, but is in fact quite the old-fashioned romantic at heart. His late, beloved father had set daunting conditions for any man who wished to marry Victor, the suitor must turn $10,000 into $3 million in 6 months. Victor subsequently meets a handsome and almost ascetically religious French American doctor who strikes him as spouse material for being very pure and chaste, and indeed the attraction is mutual. Surprisingly, Victor also finds out that the would-be suitor’s deceased religious mother has set her own daunting conditions for any man who wished to marry her son! As things get complicated Victor and the doctor try to find out if they really are soul mates despite the striking incompatibilities between the two personalities.
Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Gehan Cooray is a past pupil of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo and a graduate of the University of Southern California (USC). He is a multitalented and multifaceted artist who made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2019 with a solo concert in New York, with the Chef de Cabinet to the United Nations Secretary General looking on as Chief Guest. Gehan’s love for the cinema began when he was introduced to Classical Hollywood films like ‘My Fair Lady,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ at a very young age. Gehan has produced and acted in short films that have been praised at many film festivals and ‘The Island’ was fortunate enough to speak to the talented actor-producer.
Q. How did you get involved in the world of cinema?
A: I grew up performing on the stage, but I didn’t consider becoming a filmmaker until I attended the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, which has the best cinematic arts school in the world and has produced Hollywood greats such as George Lucas.
I took as many film classes as possible and built an excellent foundation on cinema. Years later, a chance meeting with the famous director Jon Favreau got me into this field. Seeing my USC sweatshirt, he asked me if I’m a filmmaker, and at the time I was only an actor, I hadn’t produced or written a script. I made a few short films, which got into some famous film festivals and with the level of recognition I had received for my work, it was my mother who suggested I take the plunge and make a feature film. Making a feature film is an entirely different experience from making short films, and I believe that making feature films is what takes you to the next level as a filmmaker and an actor. I believe that filmmaking in this day and age, can help leave your mark. Immortalizing a performance on screen can benefit future generations.
Q. Why did you make The Billionaire?
A: To start off I’m a big fan of Bernard Shaw and his works, and one reason I began work on adapting the play is because I was drawn to the type of rich English language that Shaw used in his work. If you compare modern scripts, they tend to be very conversational, informal and sometimes profane, which is why I wanted to work on this particular project. In addition to the language aspect, I wanted my adaptation to relate to the modern era. I switched the genders around and renamed it ‘The Billionaire’ and while Shaw’s play had very sexual characters, here I bring in the theme of asexuality. In the film, I portray the role of the billionaire and chose the role because normally, when people hear the term, they immediately picture a white, heterosexual man, be it Donald Trump, Elon Musk or Bill Gates.
I wanted to step away from the norm and present a brown gentleman, who is also asexual. I’ve also addressed the stereotypical view where people assume that the rich and wealthy engage in promiscuous acts, by offering audiences a title character who is very pure and chaste. I wanted to present a complex character, who is pure and virtuous on the one hand, but is haughty and conceited on the other. Being an operatic singer, I incorporated singing into the film. For me, when singing opera, the emotions are grand, epic and larger than life and in the film the singing is a transcendent experience. One could even say that the singing is even better than sex.
Q. What is the significance of the theme of asexuality?
A: As someone who identifies as asexual even in real life, I’ve never seen a single movie or TV show in America or around the world that focuses on asexual characters. I wanted to champion that in my own art. I think that a small percentage of the population identifies as asexual but some aren’t even given the opportunity to discover that about themselves. Many are lead to believe that sex is the norm. Even in my own life I’ve received questions like ‘Oh Gehan, how are you going to find someone who doesn’t want to have sex?’ and my answer is that, if two people can connect emotionally, psychologically and romantically, sex doesn’t have to be the defining characteristic of a relationship or marriage. Today almost everyone is aware about heterosexuality and homosexuality, but asexual individuals have been left in the dark and, going forward I’d like to portray more asexual characters and provide role models for asexual individuals in society. I hope that people in the industry see colored people differently and engage in making the playing field more diverse.
Q. What challenges did you face?
A: Perhaps the first challenge was finding a good director who could bring my vision to life. My acting coach suggested I take on the role of director initially, but my mother actually pointed out that since this was my first time working on a feature length film while playing a lead role, it would be best that I find a good director. Eventually I found Michael who had his own production company in Canada, so we were able to shoot on location in Canada and gather a cast and crew as well. Michael was willing to give me a lot of freedom and control in the way I portrayed my character, and he allowed me to rehearse with the other actors on my own. His view was that since I wrote the script and since I knew the characters well, I could guide the other actors in their respective roles in order to bring my vision to life. Everything worked out beautifully as he directed everyone on set and gave me suggestions that made a significant difference.
Another challenge for me was getting to know the cast and crew, because this was my first time working with them. I had to discuss technical details, like how to ‘light’ a brown skin person in contrast to a white skin person. It was also challenging to explain my vision for the characters to some of the actors who took on the respective roles. As we worked our way through shooting, we came to really respect and admire each other more. Overcoming whatever challenges were thrown our way, the cast and crew really came together to create this masterpiece.
The real nightmare was post-production. The footage was held up in Canada for a long time and it took a while to get it down. I wasn’t happy with the post-production so I had to take it to Warner Bros. Studios and get it re-done. I felt like I would never reach the finish line but through perseverance and believing that the end product was going to be something of substance and quality, we made it. Winning the Best Comedy Feature Award at the Burbank International Film Festival, validated all our hard work and effort that went into creating this film.
Q. When will the film be released?
A: The film is yet to have its theatrical release. Ceylon Theatres reached out and is interested in distributing the film in Colombo and other areas as well, hopefully by the end of February or early March. While I was studying at USC, in one of my very first introductory cinema classes, we were told that movies were meant to be seen on the big screen, so I really didn’t want to take the Netflix route with this film. Big screens have a certain grandeur and it allows audiences to truly appreciate a good work of art. I’m old-fashioned that way but I’m happy with streaming on Netflix, after the theatrical run. I hope that audiences in Sri Lanka and in Los-Angeles will be able to see the movie on the big screen sometime soon. In Los Angeles, the Laemmle Theatres have chosen to release the film on its virtual platform, seeing as the cinema halls are still closed.
Q. What projects are in the pipeline? Will we see you as a director in the future?
A: With ‘The Billionaire’ reaching new heights, it brings in good exposure. I’ve managed to get in touch with a few big names in the industry. They are aware that a ‘Gehan Cooray’ exists, but getting an Oscar nomination will surely pave the way to working alongside veterans in the industry. I’m very happy about being given the opportunity to submit the film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It’s a great honour.
On a more independent level, I’m looking to work on a project that could be shot in Sri Lanka and engage our young and aspiring filmmakers, actors and cinematographers as well. I’m envisioning a project that will feature a big Hollywood actor or actress, but will promote our country at the same time. We have so many talented people in Sri Lanka, and while I’m in the country I hope to have some acting workshops for local groups of actors. I’d like to unearth some of our hidden talents and show our potential to the world, and bring in more Sri Lankans to the Hollywood film making industry. In addition, I have also recorded my first album, which will be released in 2021, which I cannot wait to share with everyone.
Directing is an art form in and of itself and going forward I do have certain story ideas where I might not take up the role of an actor. I wouldn’t necessarily direct on my own, in the coming years, but I might take on the role of co-director. Maybe when I’m in my 40s I’ll take up the role of a director and aspire to be like Jon Favreau.
The Oscars is around the corner and it’s certainly a nail-biting wait for Gehan and the cast and crew who worked on ‘The Billionaire.’ We will be seeing more of Gehan and his talent in the days and years to come as he plans his future projects with the hopes of creating a special place for Sri Lankans and for more representation for asexual individuals in Hollywood.
If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!
BY Dr. Gotabhya Ranasinghe
(MBBS, MD, FCCP, FRCP, FAPSIC, FACC, FESC)
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.
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!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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