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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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LIOC seeks to expand operations



by Ifham Nizam

Power and Energey Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday revealed that Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) had asked for permission to set up 50 new filling stations in the country and take over a certain number of petrol sheds currenlty under the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). The government had asked the LIOC to increases the supply of fuel, in case Sri Lanka agreed to the Indian proposal,Wijesekera added.

Sri Lanka was facing daunting challenges as regards fuel distribution and it might not be able to get rid of fuel queues anytime soon, Minister Wijesekera said.Speaking to journalists yesterday, in Colombo, Wijesekera said that plans were underway to introduce a token system for fuel dispensation.He said the new scheme could come into effect from today (27) and the Police, and the armed forces will help implement it.

He also said that four separate groups from the Ministry were working on petrol, diesel, crude / furnace oil, and jet fuel imports. “We asked Lanka IOC to increase fuel supply and CEYPETCO to purchase diesel from them. But they asked for a price revision before that according to the pricing formula. That’s why we revised the price in a situation where there was no fuel in the country.”

The moves came as the government increased fuel prices with effect from the wee hours of Sunday wee hours. Petrol (Octane 92) now sells at Rs 470 per litre and Octane 95 at Rs. 550 per litre. Auto Diesel sells at Rs 460 per litre and Super Diesel at Rs 520 per litre.The Minister said they were working on 130-plus proposals for fuel delivery to Sri Lanka.

“USD 500 million is something that Sri Lanka cannot afford at this juncture. Therefore, consumption will have to be slashed, and fuel for public transport prioritized. Two ministers will fly to Russia today for discussions on fuel and related matters,” he said.The Minister said that bunker suppliers had been granted permission to deliver fuel for industries that deal in US currency.

He also said that overseas fuel companies based in countries that produce fuel, would be invited to set up business in Sri Lanka, as the CPC alone could not import fuel.

He said the CPC would become a more service-provider-based institution to facilitate fuel imports, and it had 9000 MT of diesel and the IOC 10,000 MT while the CPC had about 6000 MT of Petrol and the IOC about 8000 MT, of petrol.He said the IOC was issuing about 300 MT a day and their next shipment was due only after 10 July.

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Economic crisis: Govt. MPs slam Cabinet, Finance Ministry



‘How come SLPA paid to Treasury just a faction of massive revenue earned in six years?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

T wo SLPP MPs, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Madura Vithanage have, at different forums, lashed out at the government for the rapidly deteriorating status of the public sector finance. Godahewa has warned that economic recovery will not be possible unless the government restructured nearly 400 loss making public sector enterprises or at least take tangible measures to cut down on recurring losses.The former Media Minister, who represents the Gampaha District, said so addressing a group of Gampaha-based professionals and entrepreneurs recently.

Alleging that the failure, on the part of the government to establish an all-party government, contributed to the further deterioration of the situation, Dr. Godahewa emphasized the urgent need to curb, what he called, unbridled corruption as part of the efforts to revive the economy.The Gampaha District MP asked whether the current dispensation has addressed the issues at hand with a sense of responsibility.The MP questioned the composition of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, especially the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier, in spite of his party having just one seat in Parliament, against the backdrop of even the government parliamentary group not being properly represented.

Dr. Godahewa warned that SriLankan Airlines, the Ceylon Electricity Board, and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) would deny the country an opportunity to recover as they remained a massive burden on taxpayers. The One-time top level private sector executive said that the Cabinet-of-Ministers lacked the strength to take crucial decisions. But, the situation would have been different if the Cabinet-of-Ministers included representatives of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other political parties. Dr. Godahewa declared that the government couldn’t take decisions on sensitive matters as long as it didn’t command political power.

Meanwhile, Colombo District MP Vithanage has questioned the responsibility, on the part of the Finance Ministry, in the overall deterioration of public sector finance with the focus on the handling of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) at a recent meeting of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The lawmaker alleged that the Finance Ministry had conveniently failed to make required intervention on behalf of the government, thereby deprived the opportunity to utilize SLPA profits.

Prof. Charitha Herath chaired the meeting. Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne attended the meeting whereas Ports and Shipping Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra led the SLPA team.Both MP Vithanage and Prof. Herath asserted that the Finance Ministry should have intervened on behalf of the people. The COPE examined how the SLPA continuously refrained from paying the Treasury at least the minimum amounts in spite of receiving massive profits over the years.  The Director General Public Enterprises, who has received that position recently, struggled to explain their failure to take up the non-transfer of SLPA profits to the Treasury. The COPE was told of Rs 69,686 mn revenue earned from 2016 to 2021, only 600 mn had been transferred to the Treasury.

Lawmaker Vithanage yesterday told The Island that the recent examinations of various enterprises and the Central Bank, by the COPE, as well as other watchdog committees, disclosed how the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and the Monetary Board contributed to the developing crisis. MP Vithanage pointed out even after the Covid-19 eruption devastated the economy, the SLPA had been able to withhold funds required by the Treasury for want of Finance Ministry intervention.Responding to queries, MP Vithanage said that the Parliament should act without further delay to ensure the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board acted responsibly.

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Ceylon Chamber distributes dry rations



The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Diwiyata Diriyak’ social initiative provided emergency relief, in the form of 10,000 essential dry ration packs, to vulnerable families in the Kegalle and Colombo districts.

A press release from the Chamber said: Mobilising the Chamber’s Membership to assist low-income families that are struggling to survive the current crisis, the initial distribution, which took place at the Kegalle District Secretariat, was the first phase of Diwiyata Diriyak, which aims to provide 5,000 relief packs.

Containing essential items such as rice, lentils, sugar, wheat flour, canned fish, etc., costing Rs. 5,000 each, vulnerable families, identified by the respective District Secretaries in the Warakapola, Galigamuwa, Mawanella and Rambukkana DS divisions, were among the initial beneficiaries.

CEO and Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber Manjula de Silva said that the Chamber was committed to supporting the public during this immensely challenging time, and would always strive to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.

Home Garden Starter Packs, sponsored by the CIC Group, were also distributed among the families, in order to assist and encourage home garden cultivation as a viable option to address the rapidly rising costs and predicted shortage of food items, the release said.

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