by Ravi Samarasinha
(Continued from last week)
During the latter part of 1999, my friend Jehan and I joined Mike Birkhead, wildlife film producer, as consultants to advise and assist in the production of a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary about leopards at Yala National Park. Mike, co-producer of the recent award winning BBC wildlife series, “Land of the tiger”, acquired the services of cameraman Gordon Buchanan who had experience filming jaguar in South America and lion in Africa, for the challenging task of filming leopard in Sri Lanka.
Leopards are most active at night, and in Sri Lanka little is known of their nocturnal activities. To reveal this unknown feature, we obtained special permission to film at night using infra-red lighting, which is invisible to man and most animals. The use of an infra-red sensitive camera enabled us to observe and record the nocturnal behaviour of leopards with minimal disturbance to them.
After several months of preparation, Mike and Gordon arrived in Sri Lanka in March 2000. A jeep belonging to a game guard at Yala was selected and suitably modified to enable filming from either side. Filming began in mid-March. During the subsequent one and a half years, Gordon spent more than 200 days filming at Yala. Jehan and I, who were present most of the time, gained an intriguing insight to wildlife film making, and shared many memorable wildlife experiences with Gordon.
Dead wild boar
One such unforgettable experience occurred during the third month of filming. After a week in Colombo I returned eager to join Gordon who had remained filming at Yala. As I drove up to the park office the game guards had thrilling news for me. During the early hours of the morning a large wild boar with severe facial injuries had been seen struggling feebly below the Buttuwa tank bund, while a few metres away a concealed leopard had been watching patiently!
A short while later game guard Sunil and I approached Buttuwa tank with intense anticipation. A mongoose, startled by our approach, scurried away from the dead pig, which lay 10 metres to our right. A gust of wind aroused the dormant flies, and brought the overpowering smell of rotten flesh to us. The pig lay in a small clearing in the jungle with the three-metre high tank bund to its left. Beyond, and to the right of it, the ground sloped upward to a rocky ledge, which was partially covered by thick, thorny acacia bushes. Using the binoculars I carefully scrutinized the surrounding thorny scrub for any sign of the leopard seen that morning. If present it was well concealed. Disappointed, I focused the binoculars on to the pig. The pig’s extensive injuries to its now partially decomposed snout, was suggestive of a failed crocodile attack at the nearby tank.
Leopard versus crocodile
After a brief period of observation, I decided to move on hoping to locate Gordon. When we returned close to 6 pm, I was thrilled to see Gordon’s vehicle ahead, with his camera aimed towards the pig’s carcass. As I cautiously drove nearer, my swiftly beating heart received a jolt when Sunil touched my arm, and whispered kotiya (leopard). I quickly turned around and could not believe my eyes, for not one, but three leopards were seated on a mound in the gravel pit on our left! Hoping that Gordon would be able to record this unique sighting, I quickly drove up alongside. As Gordon, a true professional, continued filming, I shifted my attention to the carcass where his camera was aimed. I saw an incredible sight! A snarling leopard, its withdrawn lips exposing its canines embedded in the pig’s neck, was attempting to drag the latter away from a massive 10-foot crocodile, who lunged forward with jaws agape and hissing loudly.
The leopard, releasing its grip on the pig, reared back snarling. Then she sprang forward with a ferocious growl, her paw with unsheathed claws raised to strike. The combatants, each unwilling to give in, stood face to face, snarling and hissing at each other. This spellbound moment was shattered by the high-speed arrival of a rattling tourist jeep, whose driver, on seeing us, brought it to a screeching halt. As its occupants pointed and cried out in excitement, the startled leopard fled into the nearby scrub, while the crocodile with surprising speed disappeared under a korakaha bush.
As dusk approached only Gordon and I finally remained. Since it was a moonless night, it became dark rapidly and soon the light was inadequate to see the carcass. Suddenly a sambhur called urgently from our right, while Gordon hastily set up his infra-red equipment. Then the langurs began calling and jumping from branch to branch in the tall pallu trees just beyond. The leopard’s day had only just begun!
I soon knew Gordon had his infra-red system on, as the light from his video monitor dimly lit the rear of the jeep as he panned the lights in search of the leopards. I switched my video to the infra-red mode and peered in hopefully. Immediately, the twin beams of searching light invisible to the unaided eye sprang into view. A few seconds later the light illuminated four leopards seated at the edge of the clearing. The big female got up and walked to the carcass while the three large cubs sat watching. As the leopard seized the pig a swarm of buzzing flies took wing forcing her temporarily to let go the carcass.
She shook her head irritably, and then grasping the pig dragged it into the open while the disturbed flies settled on the surrounding shrubs. Having got rid of most of the flies she now began to feed hungrily, tearing and pulling at the carcass while the three cubs watched impatiently. The biggest cub unable to restrain itself, crept up to the carcass, and submissively attempted a tentative lick. With a terrifying growl the mother leopard sprang onto the cub and dealt it a swift blow with her paw! As the subdued cub slunk away she continued feeding. When she was replete she sat nearby licking her paws, and then rolled over contentedly. The cubs ran up to the carcass and growled at each other as they tore into it.
Suddenly, there was a rustling of leaves and instantly all the leopards were alert staring keenly towards the tank bund. The mother leopard stood up snarling and growling, tail raised, while the three cubs backed away from the half eaten carcass. Gordon slowly panned the light towards the bund to reveal a wave of crocodiles descending down the bund! The outnumbered leopards could only watch as the carcass disappeared into the writhing mass of hissing crocodiles.
A near skirmish with a bear
A different and potentially dangerous episode occurred a few months later. Whenever we could, Gordon and I would explore the numerous rocky outcrops scattered throughout the park, hoping to find and film a new scene, which would show future viewers the great beauty of the landscape.
That morning Gordon and I accompanied by trackers Kusumpala and Dalpay, set off shortly before noon to explore a 30-metre high rock situated about a kilometre away. The first part of the journey was through scrub forest consisting of andara, katupila, and korakaha with its electric blue flowers. Further on, the track narrowed with lantana encroaching and partially obliterating the pathways in sections. As we forced our way through, scratching our bare arms and legs in the process, I failed to notice the eraminiya creeper until its curved thorns hooked my earlobe, bringing me to a painful halt. Kusumpala, who obligingly rescued me, continued to lead the way, with a solid stick held firmly in his right hand. Once we arrived at the rock, we walked around it looking for a way to the summit.
Bear in a cave
On the western aspect we found a cave made by a 14-metre high boulder, which rested against the main rock. Within this enclosure, old whitened bones and antlers were plentiful, while numerous animal tracks criss-crossed in the fine sand lining the floor. Just beyond, a huge pile of fallen boulders provided a difficult path to the summit. As I was recording the scene with my video camera, Gordon, Kusumpala and Dalpay went ahead. Kusumpala climbed halfway and waited as I made my way towards him. As I came up to him I saw below me, an opening in a cave situated between the main rock and the boulder I was climbing. Naturally curious, I peered in, only to recoil in horror as a black shape came at me with a bloodcurdling roar. I stood there petrified, as Kusumpala shouted and lashed out with his stick. The sound of its claws raking the boulder below came to me as the bear fell back, unable to reach me. It then rapidly descended and disappeared into the jungle. Laughing in relief, we joined the others at the summit.
(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka – Experiences and encounters, compiled by CG Uragoda)
Is it impossible to have hope?
So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.
Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.
You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.
I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.
As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.
Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?
There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.
Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.
Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line
Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.
While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.
The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.
As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.
Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.
The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.
Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.
It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.
Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.
Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.
For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.
The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.
The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.
Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.
The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.
Doing it differently, as a dancer
Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently
According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.
had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:
* How did you start your dancing career?
Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.
* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?
Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.
* What made you chose dancing as a career?
It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.
* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?
Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.
* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?
I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.
* What is your opinion about reality programmes?
Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.
* Do you have your own dancing team?
Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.
* What is your favourite dancing style?
I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.
* Why do you like this type of dancing?
I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.
* How would you describe dancing?
To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.
* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?
Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.
* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?
Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.
* Are you a professional dancer?
Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.
* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?
I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.
* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?
To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.
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