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Encounter with leopardsmand a bear

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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.

Infra-red photography

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)



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Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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Features

A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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