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Fishing cats also targeted by villagers following leopard attack at Panama fearing they are dangerous



by Ifham Nizam

With the killing of a man by a leopard at Panama in Ampara recently, the relatively harmless fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) are being targeted by villagers, who fear the animals as a ‘diviya’ in Sinhala means a leopard.

The Sinhala term for fishing cats is ‘Handun Diviya’, which gives the jitters to many villagers who fear that the animals are akin to leopards and are a threat to them, says researcher cum conservationist Chaminda Jayasekara.

With the human-leopard issue that has emerged with the Panama attack, fishing cats are also being targeted and killed in some parts of the hill country, he says.

“In some parts of Nawalapitiya, children fear to go out when word gets around that ‘Handun Diviyas’ were lurking in the vicinity,” he said.

The killing of fishing cats happen primarily because some people assume that they could harm them as the animals are often misidentified as leopard cubs. This happens especially in the tea plantation areas due to the lack of knowledge on this species, he remarked.

Fishing cats, an elusive feline in the Wetlands, suffer mostly in the dry zone when they sneak into poultry farms or roam in the vicinity. “Poisoning these animals is common especially in areas where poultry farms are located. Poisoning is considered as one of the biggest threats apart from being hit by vehicles in areas such as Sigiriya, when they cross roads to hunt, Jayasekara explained.

This is a big threat to all three small cat species in Sri Lanka, he pointed out.

There is also information that fishing cats are also killed for native treatment of asthmatic patients, he said.

Jayasekara, the Assistant Manager of Jetwing Vil Uyana, further said they built a forest habitat for fishing cats with two lakes on 28 acres. Within last year, seven young cubs were sighted there.

Unlike other cat species, fishing cats prefer an area close to water, he said. “They don’t mingle with domestic cats as jungle cats do. When encountered, they kill domestic cats”.

Of the 40 species of wild cats in the world, four are found in Sri Lanka. Three of them are considered small cats. Apart from the magnificent leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), Sri Lanka is also home to three of its smaller, but equally threatened, cousins. The fishing cat, jungle cat (Felis chaus) and rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) are found in the wetlands and jungles around the island. Their secretive, elusive nature, smaller size and often nocturnal habits make their sightings difficult.

Fishing cats are small to medium sized felines found in countries in South and South East Asia. They have been given a Latin name because of their viverrine or civet like appearance. They are larger than domestic cats and are one of the most elusive small cat species in the world, as well as in Sri Lanka. They are also a threatened species due to habitat destruction.

Unlike other cat species, fishing cats love to be in the water and wetlands and are good swimmers and tree climbers. The size of a fully grown fishing cat is 57 to 85cm in length, with a 25 to 30cm tail. Their weight varies from six to 12 kilograms. The males are slightly bigger than the females. As they are solitary creatures, males and females come together mostly for mating.

Globally, the fishing cat is classified as “Vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List and in Sri Lanka, it is considered “endangered”. They can be found in Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

They have a stocky and powerful body that is quite long in comparison to their short legs. Their short and coarse coat of fur is olive grey to ashy grey and patterned with solid black spots that run the length of its body and often with black lines along the spine.

Fishing cats typically live near water in thick vegetation. They are not commonly found near fast moving and deep water bodies. This is one of the unique habitat adaptations of fishing cats because, unlike the other wild cat species in the world, they spend most of their life close to the water hunting and are well adapted for an aquatic lifestyle.

They are found in Sri Lanka in habitats like forests, shrubs, grasslands, reed beds, lakes, river, wetlands, paddy fields etc.

Fishing cats are territorial and they live and hunt alone. The size of their territory also varies due to climatic conditions. Especially during the dry season, as most water reserves in the dry zone go dry, they expand their territories for their survival. During the rainy season as they have plenty of food in a small area, they do not expand their territories much. Both females and males overlap their territories.

Mostly within the dry zone of the country, they have suitable habitats and enough food because the dry zone of the country is rich with wetland areas including man-made lakes, canals and paddy fields.

Fishing cats are carnivorous but their main food is fish. They also prey on frogs, snakes, rats and also nocturnal birds like night herons.

They use different techniques to catch fish. They have been observed hunting along the edges of water courses. Once a fish has been spotted, they jump into the water and catch it with their paws. Sometimes they stay in shallow water areas to catch their prey.

When they stay at the edge of the water, they slightly tap the surface of the water by using a paw to imitate a struggling insect to attract fish. When the fish is close enough, they quickly jumps into water and catches it and drags it to the ground, reeds or dense area.

Their gestation period is nearly 70 days and they give birth to one to four kittens at a time. The babies stay with their mother in more dense vegetation areas.

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Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill



… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory

Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.

Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.

Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.

The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.

Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.

Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.

The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties

Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.

Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.



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Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander



An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.

Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.

“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.

The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.

“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.

Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”



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‘UNHRC missive exposes UK duplicity in grave accountability matters’



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the United Kingdom’s policy of double standards has been challenged by no less a person than UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Bogollagama said that the Bachelet warning couldn’t have been issued at a better time as the UK stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The former FM was responding to Bachelet’s declaration on April 12 that the proposed new Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, in its current form, would undermine key human rights obligations that the UK has committed itself to respect.

The UK is a member of the UNHRC. Bogollagama pointed out that Bachelet had called for amendments to the proposed Bill to ensure that it didn’t protect British personnel deployed overseas for acts of torture and other serious international crimes.

The Bill is now reaching its final stages in the legislative process, and will shortly be debated again by the House of Lords, the UK’s upper chamber, where amendments may still be made.

In the run-up to the Geneva vote on a resolution spearheaded by the UK on March 23, SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof G.L. Peiris questioned the rationale in British actions. Prof Peiris asked how the UK sought protection for its armed forces deployed outside their territory whereas it sought punitive measures against Sri Lanka for fighting terrorism in its own land.

Bogollagama said that British double standards should be examined taking into consideration the UK’s current membership in the UNHRC as well its role as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group. The Core Group members include Germany and Canada.

Bogollagama who served as the Foreign Minister during the fourth phase of the war (2007-2010) alleged that the UK adopted an extremely hostile position primarily because of domestic political reasons. Wikileaks disclosed the true extent of Tamil Diaspora influence on the British political establishment, Bogollagama said. So much so, the UK allowed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to announce its formation in the House of Commons in early 2010, the former Minister said. Would the UK accept Geneva advice as regards the proposed Bill, Bogollagama asked, those who voted for the resolution moved against Sri Lanka and abstained to realise that the UK’s stand in respect of Colombo was political.

The UK succeeded the US as Sri Lanka Core Chair in 2018 after the latter quit the Geneva body in a huff calling it a cesspool of political bias.

The purpose of the controversial British Bill is stated as being “to provide greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to claims and potential prosecution for historical events that occurred in the complex environment of armed conflict overseas.” British Forces played significant roles in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill seeks to achieve this, in particular, by introducing new preconditions for the prosecution of alleged offences covered by the Bill.

“As currently drafted, the Bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes,” the UNHRC statement dated April 12 quoted Bachelet as having said.

It stated that in its present form, the proposed legislation raises substantial questions about the UK’s future compliance with its international obligations, particularly under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the 1949 Geneva Conventions. These include obligations to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts such as torture and unlawful killing, and make no distinction as to when the offences were committed.

Responding to another query, Bogollagama said that Bachelet’s statement exposed the British hypocrisy. While demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lankan military on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, the British deprived Geneva of wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from its High Commission in Colombo in a bid to facilitate the campaign against Sri Lanka, former minister Bogollagama said.

The British exposed their hostile intentions when London turned down Sri Lanka’s request to hand over those dispatches to Geneva, the ex-lawmaker said, urging the government to continuously highlight the need for examination of all available evidence by the proposed new Geneva inquiry unit appointed at a cost of USD 2.8 mn.

Bachelet’s request to the UK was interesting, Bogollagama said. The former minister was referring to Bachelet’s appeal: “I urge UK legislators in both Houses of Parliament, and the Government, to take these concerns fully into account when reviewing the Bill, and to ensure that the law of the United Kingdom remains entirely unambiguous with regard to accountability for international crimes perpetrated by individuals, no matter when, where or by whom they are committed.”

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