by Ifham Nizam
Shipping lanes to the south of Dondra pose the threat of ships colliding with whales as the area has very rich marine life which also attracts whale watching boats, says prolific wildlife writer and photographer Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, author of the recently published ‘A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka’.
He says international shipping industry organizations have written to the government to push back the existing shipping lanes and if no action is initiated, there is the danger of whale watching boats colliding with vessels.
Dr. Susannah Calderon and her colleagues at the University of Ruhuna have recommended the shipping lanes be moved 15 nautical miles south. The cost impact to all concerned will be negligible, but it significantly improves safety at sea, especially at night when the sea is dotted with the lamps from hundreds of small fishing crafts in the path of giant container carriers.
“It is primarily a safety issue though an important secondary impact will be that it reduces fatal collisions with whales, while generating favourable publicity for the government of Sri Lanka. It boils down to moving the shipping lanes further south and saving lives, Wijeyeratne stressed in an interview with The Sunday Island.
Asked what’s special about his latest publication, he said: “This is the first photographic field guide which covers nearly all of the mammals found in Sri Lanka. It covers 96 per cent of the land and marine mammals. The book, which is portable and affordable, also contains a large number of images from 40 photographers which are practically useful in the field to identify a mammal to species level. It also covers a number of small, discrete, nocturnal mammals whose existence that even many local wildlife enthusiasts will not be aware of.”
On the book’s coverage of the marine mammals, Wijeyeratne said there are two noteworthy aspects. Firstly, it covers all the species recorded in Sri Lankan waters expect for one, the Omura’s Whale. This will be included in a second edition. Secondly, it uses images of the whales and dolphins (cetaceans) which will show the animals the way a whale watcher will see them on the surface.
Artwork that shows the whole animal is important, but in field conditions, they are often of limited value to identify cetaceans which only show a little of their upper body in sections at a time they surface.
Q: You were the first to publicize that Sri Lanka was the best location for Blue Whale sightings and offered the best chance to see a superpod of Sperm Whales. Can you explain briefly how you set about branding Sri Lanka as a top international destination for whale watching?
I started with field work to ascertain the facts and launched a media campaign initially with Jetwing Eco Holidays and Jetwing Hotels which was supported over many years by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) and others in the media and tourism business. I have published 37 articles on whale watching in Sri Lanka. The first, in May 2008, was pivotal as it boldly stated that Sri Lanka was best for Blue Whales. This set everything in motion. My articles give due credit to many people who were a part of this amazing story. This includes Dr. Charles Anderson who first told me it would be feasible to see Blue Whales from the South.
A Belgian millionaire philanthropist who prefers to remain anonymous and helped create the infrastructure for whale watching by 13 tsunami affected fishing youth who set up Mirissa Water Sports and Sue Evans who was important for connecting all of us and Anoma Alagiyawadu (the Jetwing Lighthouse Naturalist) whom I tasked with collecting the initial data for the Encounter Rates I publicized in the media.
Remarkably, no Sri Lankan marine biologist played any role in publicizing whale watching in the early years. However, soon after, they benefited by being thrust into the media spotlight by film crew researchers who had read the publicity which began with my various widely disseminated articles. Having read them, and sometimes after conversations with me, the film crews and the press came to Sri Lanka and incorporated local marine biologists into their story.
At the time I broke the first story, I do not think any of the local marine biologists had even one image of a Blue Whale of a publishable standard or had any idea that Sri Lanka was the best place in the world to see Blue Whales. Hopefully, the increased profile of local marine biologists has made it easier for them to raise the funds needed for their important research.
Q: Did the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau help your efforts with publicity and branding?
Yes indeed. At the start of the publicity campaign, we produced a series of informative and attractive publications designed by Chandrika Maelge. These were printed and distributed at key consumer and travel trade fairs such as the Bird Fair, WTM and Destinations where a number of important press and tour operators were informed about Sri Lanka being a good place for whales. At some of the press drinks events in London hosted by Jetwing Eco Holidays, around 35-45 press people would attend. These events were held in collaboration with the London Office of the SLTPB.
In some years, As many as three of these press events were held allowing personal interaction with a wide pool of media people. Another important and later development is the role played by Nalin Perera who ran the SLTPB office in London for several years and attended many consumer and travel trade fairs. I had developed media briefs for him which he would print and distribute. In one conversation, he estimated that he had printed and distributed over 10,000 copies of this material.
There were others who also disseminated my stories to the international press; a notable example being Chitral Jayatilake who shared my publicity pdfs with various wildlife documentary makers he invited to Sri Lanka.
Q: Did everyone readily embrace your ideas?
It took a couple of years. I remember even into the second year of the publicity campaign there were doubts from the big companies in tourism.
I remember Srilal Miththapala who was then President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka speaking to me and joining a celebrity whale watching event I was leading with Shyamalee Tudawe. This was organized by Olivia Richli of the Amangalla in Galle.
Srilal wanted to report back to the association if there was any truth to the claims being made by me about how easy it was to see Blue Whales. On the coastline, the people running small guesthouses readily embraced the story as tourists who were reading my stories turned up with copies of my articles and asked for boats to take them whale watching. The international press also readily took it on as I provided credible data.
Q: What do you say to criticisms that whale watching needs better regulation?
I agree on the need for better regulation and higher standards. The tourism industry has played its part in publicizing whale watching. Other state agencies also need to step up their efforts to regulate the industry in a way that is good for the welfare of the animals and provide a good visitor experience.
Q: What do you expect ‘A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka’ to achieve?
I would like people to understand that there is still a lot to be discovered about Sri Lanka’s mammals and I hope this portable and affordable guide will find its way into the hands of local naturalists and inspire more research and more practical steps to conserve habitats and species.
“ForHer” campaign for breast cancer awareness
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Street Burger -home of Sri Lanka’s original gourmet burger-, launched its inaugural annual “ForHer” initiative, in collaboration with the Indira Cancer Trust and Suwara Arana -the first paediatric palliative care centre in Sri Lanka. The campaign kicked off on the 1st of October, and for the entire month the restaurant chain committed to donating a portion of every order placed at its outlets towards breast cancer research, medication, and support.
The ForHer campaign was initiated with the intention to not just raise funds, but also increase awareness on breast cancer – the most common type of cancer among females in Sri Lanka-, with the aim to also create a real and tangible impact on how we can steer conversations on the disease to the focus. Throughout the month of October and at all of its outlets –Bambalapitiya, Ethul Kottte, and Mt.Lavinia-, employees wore the iconic pink ribbon as part of their uniform, and all Street Burger customers were given the opportunity to participate and support this health campaign just by purchasing a meal.
“The statistics on breast cancer in Sri Lanka are alarming,” said Mafas Saheer, Operations Manager of Street Burger. “The launch of our ForHer campaign was our way of honouring the women in our communities, and doing our part to provide as much support as we can by raising both awareness and funds for the cause.”
Although launched to coincide with “Pink Ribbon Month”, Street Burger hopes to keep the campaign going well beyond October, with more initiatives to educate and engage its customers and the public for the benefit of all women in Sri Lanka.
Born from humble beginnings from a food truck on Marine Drive, but bolstered by a passion for innovation and love for burgers, Street Burger has now cemented for itself a reputation as the pioneers of gourmet burger culture in Sri Lanka. Street Burger sources the freshest premium-quality ingredients for the preparation of its intensely flavoursome and wide range of signature hand-crafted burgers, fries, and shakes – all made in-house; contributing to the ultimate gourmet burger experience. The brand now operates from three dine-in outlets across Colombo: Bambalapitiya, Ethul Kotte, and Mt. Lavinia.
Top bridal designer of today
Indi’s bridal designs design are renowned for its distinctive use of colours, quality of fabrics, intricate embroideries and a glorious rich Sri Lanka culture.Indi is included in the list of best Sri Lankan bridal designers and she is one designer who is acknowledged on the international pedestal for her different and unique designs of bridal ensembles. Her designs are elegant, her taste heavily inspired by local culture
Indi’s reimagination of traditions and styles is what sets her apart. And rightly so according to her the quintessential Indi’s bride is the one who’s self assured, highly confident and well aware of the craft and art.
A bridal attire is no charm if it is not designed under the signature label of popular designers. Indi is one designer whose collection provides ease with style. She creates magic when she puts together her mind and creativity to design any bridal attire.
To the Ends of the Earth
by Rajiva Wijesinha
Before the recent publication of Off the Beaten Track, Godage & Bros in this same year produced To the Ends of the Earth, yet another book by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha about his travels in exotic places.
That earlier book looked at four continents, North and South America, Africa and Asia but, as the title indicates, it was about the lesser known extremities of those areas. Beginning with Brazil, the book explores seven countries in South America, and also Mexico and three other countries in Central America along with three in the Caribbean. The travels there began in 1986 and concluded in 2019 with a journey to Bolivia.
That first visit hooked him as it were with the range of people and places he saw, for Brazil ‘struck me not as a melting pot, where everyone strives to settle within particular confines, but rather as a sort of fondue, where individual fiavours can be retained, while a common thread that provides reassurance adheres to each segment.
Being in effect a continent rather than a country does help. There is room for the Teutonic farmers of Rio Grande do Sul, with their expansive ranches and the fabulous churrascarias where one can pig oneself on all sorts of meats cooked in all sorts of ways, while animated conversations, characteristically Latin one would say, flow from all the tables around one; the blacks can have their energetic carnivals in Salvador, only to be outdone by the range of races in Rio who have made a multi-ethnic version of that art form emphatically their own; the mestizos, initially those of mixed American Indian and white blood, grow increasingly darker as one moves northward, and one finds too groups of oriental Indians and Chinese, adding their own characteristics to the mix; while out in the Mato Grosso and the Amazon areas to the west, pure Indians still live, some with lifestyles just the same as those their ancestors had practised for generations before Columbus sailed. ‘
In Peru and Ecuador he found fascinating the blend of Indian art and Christian imagery, the San Ignacio Chapel in Arequipa, decorated by a devoted Indian artist in murals that recreated the delicate plumage of tropical birds, in natural dyes that had survived over two hundred years, later the statues and pillars in many churches in Quito, the exciting capital of Ecuador.
But what entranced above all in this continent was the magnificent civilization of Aztecs and Incas and above all the Mayas. In Mexico he had a glimpse of a continuity of culture when at the great pyramids of Teotihuacan he came across a ritualistic dance, hundreds of young men dressed in evocative traditional costumes, headbands and elaborate cloaks, bare strips of cloth at the waist and intricate leggings, moving or rather stamping energetically in a complex rhythm, up and down, forward and back, persistently, powerfully, to the relentless beating of drums. They continued while he climbed up the pyramids of both the Sun and the Moon, and were still at it when he got back, an absolutely breathtaking sight, close up as well as from the heights that placed the pattern in even more vivid perspective.
And then there were the Mayas, the Temple of the Magician at Uxmal, a pyramid that somehow also had an oval shape, that took his breath away. That motivated another visit, this time to Guatemala, where a helpful consul at the border let him in without a visa to see the great complex at Tikal, deep in the jungle, which he wandered through on his own, to the sounds and sights of exotic birds, toucans and coucals and the colourful Peten turkey.
There were also other sorts of jungle adventures, jumping into the confluence of the two rivers that make up the Amazon at Manaos, fishing for piranhas for supper in the Kumaseva river near Iquitos in Peru, walking in the jungle there while his guide swung on lianas Tarzan fashion in dripping rain.
There are jungle trips in Africa too, crowded safaris in Tanzania and Uganda, tailor made trips in Mozambique and Angola, which allowed for lingering over glorious sunsets over river and sea. More unusual were the religious fantasies of Ethiopia, what was supposed to be the palace of the Queen of Sheba at Axum, the Debre Dammo monastery which had to be reached by climbing a rope, which he was dissuaded from trying to do, a long trek up a steep hill to see the Mariam Korka church, an impressive small building with wonderful paintings on its walls, and its neighbour the Daniel Korka church which required slithering along an open cliff.
There were too the fantastic rock hewn churches of Lalibela, and the monasteries nearby, one a long cave under a rocky ledge, with pilgrims clad in white and swaying gently to the relentless gentle rhythm of wonderful chanting. And there were beautifully illustrated bibles, which the priest held open for inspection without allowing them to be touched. These, and exotic crosses, which you were permitted to kiss, were drawn from ramshackle cupboards with total nonchalance.
Then there was rocking across the crocodile infested Nile in a coracle in Sudan, to see the multiple remains on Sai Island, a temple from the days of the pharaohs, a Byzantine Cathedral and the remains of an Ottoman fort. And nothing had prepared him for the pyramids of the Sudan, not one cluster but two, framed against a large rock at Karima, framed against the sunset at Begrawiya. That had followed a sight of whirling dervishes far outside Khartoum, a whole host walking round and round the open area in the middle, whirling and chanting, while the surrounding crowd joined in what seemed a marvelous frenzy.
Lions and hippos in the Serengeti pale in comparison, though that visit to Tanzania also included the beautiful architecture of Zanzibar and its quaint palaces. As exotic was the hilltop capital of King Moshoeshoe in Lesotho, a surprisingly beautiful country, which even boasted dinosaur footprints.
The Asian sections, looking only at the island nations in the east, provide equally unusual experiences, including ferries through the Moluccas islands, ending in New Year on a far away beach in the Kea Islands, abounding in giant tortoises and colourful starfish.
There were several visits to the Philippines, but the most exciting was the first, when he explored on his own, taking a bus up to Baguio and then to the underground caves at Sagada and the terraced rice fields of Banaue. Very different were several meetings with Ninoy Aquino, President of the Philippines from 2010, including a lunch when he had to make conversation in lieu of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister who gazed blandly into the middle distance.
The range of experience is splendidly illustrated, pages of lively colour and black and white pictures which capture the lines of the different arts and crafts of the different continents.
Embassy officer arrested at BIA remanded
Easter Sunday terror attack suspect hacked to death
Rail service between Mahawa and Jaffna to be suspended for five months
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Opinion6 days ago
Rohan Abeywickrema – A pioneer in transport professionalism
News4 days ago
GCE O/L results to be released today
Opinion6 days ago
Rise against state repression: A call to the people
News5 days ago
Public protests: Alles claims UN pleased with police response
Features7 days ago
Are we out of touch with reality?
Business6 days ago
SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka joins ‘Karuna.lk’ powered by Dialog Foundation
News2 days ago
SLPP dissidents ask govt. to bring back USD 35 bn ‘parked’ overseas
Opinion7 days ago
Yes indeed, Hippocrates is turning in his grave