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Scientists identify new plant species endemic to Lanka

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By Ifham Nizam

Sri Lankan scientists have discovered a new species of Nelu, Strobilanthes medahinnensis (Acanthaceae) based on morphological and molecular data, from the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve.

The species named “Strobilanthus medahinnensis Nilanthi”.

The research team includes Nilanthi Rajapaksa, Nuwan Jayawardena of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Prof. Cyril Wijesundera of the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, Prof. Pradeepa Bandaranaike of the University of Peradeniya and Hiruna Samarakoon.

Nearly 450 species of Nelu spread around the world, most of which are found in tropical and subtropical Asia. With the discovery of the new species, there are about 33 species of Strobilanthus found in the natural environment in Sri Lanka, of which 27 species are endemic to Sri Lanka. Fourteen of these species are protected by the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

Lead Scientist, Nilanthi Rajapakse, first observed several of this species in September 2015 in the Medahinna area of the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve.

Subsequently, the research team found that the height of the reserve ranged from about 1400 m to 1500 m. This new species bears a striking resemblance to the Strobilanthus anceps Nees. The flowers of both species are white, the leaves are oval, the tips of the inflorescences are bent backwards to protect the inflorescence, and the yellow glands are located on the underside of the leaves.

Chloroplasts used as DNA barcoding to distinguish the new plant species from the other closest plant species, S. anceps. Furthermore, it explains how these two plant species separated into two species 0.33 million years ago.

The team told The Island Nelu has medicinal value for many ailments. Allowing the growth of other flowering plants in the forest due to the death of flowering plants from time to time plays an important ecologically role. It also helps maintain soil moisture. Young plucked plants are a delicacy of deer. Many birds and bees come to drink the nectar of the harvested flowers. Nelu is the host plant of some butterfly species.

The species has the ability to be used as a mature woody twig. Dyes such as indigo, are produced from the leaf extract of most harvested species. Land use for economic crops, illegal use of land, deforestation due to development projects, invasive plant growth, collection for firewood, arson, and climate change threaten plants. Due to these reasons, about 21 species of Nelu that are endemic to Sri Lanka are threatened with extinction.

Although the population was not flowering at that time, this appeared distinct in leaf characters of its morphologically closest ally S. anceps Nees (1837: 312). “We conducted extensive plant explorations across the entire distribution range of Strobilanthes in Sri Lanka covering 21 administrative districts from January 2012 to September 2020. However, this new plant was not found in any other location except Medahinna and we visited Medahinna several times to study this population since 2015. Finally, on 29th June 2020, we could observe flowers in the population at Medahinna,” the team pointed out.

After a closer examination of the specimens and critical study of the literature, comparison of the specimens at National Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya (PDA), and online herbaria. “We found that it is different from all known species of Strobilanthes in the world. In addition to the preparations of distribution map, superlative photographs, and meticulously illustrated line drawings, the complete chloroplast genomes of this interesting material and S. anceps were also analysed. According to morphological and molecular evidence, it could not be assigned to any previously published species; hence it is described as a new species,” the team added.

The team thanked the Director General, Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka (DWC) for the constant encouragement and facilities provided. They also thanked and Department of Forest Conservation, for permitting those to collect samples and the Agriculture Biotechnology Center, the University of Peradeniya for molecular analysis and the National Herbarium (PDA), the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya for the assistance in specimen examination, to Rukmal Ratnayake for the line drawings and acknowledged the Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (EACAMP) for financial support.



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Explanation sought over Monetary Board Secy.’s sudden transfer

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Rohini calls for social media campaign against govt. move

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has sought an explanation from the government over the sudden removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, K.M.A.N. Daulagala on16 Sept.

Matale District lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne yesterday (19) questioned the rationale behind Assistant Governor Daulagala’s removal. The former UNP MP emphasised that Daulagala had played a critically important role in the Central Bank’s response in the wake of Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016. Therefore, her removal was quite suspicious and might facilitate efforts to suppress those scams as well as future frauds as well.

MP Kaviratne represented the UNP during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister (2015-2019).

Declaring that Daulagaha had been at the forefront of the efforts to create a clean administration, Kaviratne stressed that she was second only to Rohini Nanayakkara of the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) and earned the respect of all for courageously taking a stand against fraudulent practices.

The SJB spokesperson said that Daulagala, in her capacity as the head of the non-banking sector financial institutions, handled the ETI investigation at the onset (2010-2012) of the probe. In the wake of her recommendations pertaining to the ETI being rejected by the Central Bank, she received a transfer to another section, MP Kaviratne said.

The Monetary Board is responsible for making all policy decisions related to the management, operation and administration of the Central Bank. It comprises Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle, Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, Dr (Mrs) Ranee Jaymaha and Samantha Kumarasinghe.

Cabraal, who served as the Governor (2006-2014) recently replaced W.D. Lakshman on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request.

Kaviratne asked who had benefited from the removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board?

MP Kaviratne said that Daulagala had been involved in the internal process following the first Treasury bond scam and the subsequent developments, including the coordination between the Central Bank and the Attorney General’s Department pertaining to the Treasury bond scams. Urging women’s organsations, civil society and law abiding citizens to take up Daulagala’s removal through social media, lawmaker Kaviratne said that the issue at hand should receive attention of the parliament.

“The Parliament is responsible for public finance. The Parliament cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on in the Central Bank. The national economy is in such a perilous state every effort should be made to investigate past frauds and thwart future adventures,” the MP said.

MP Kaviratne also recalled the role played by Deepa Seneviratne, Superintendent of Public Debt at the time of the first Treasury bond scam in exposing the then Governor’s culpability. “Unfortunately, we seem to be unable to change the direction regardless of exposure of past misdeeds,” she said.

Declaring that she had no intention of protecting any wrongdoer under any circumstances, MP Kaviratne said that the incumbent government should ensure transparency and accountability in public finance.

Examination of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) proceedings revealed a frightening picture, lawmaker Kaviratne said. Shocking revelations made by the watchdog committee should be examined against the backdrop of overall deterioration of the national economy over the past several years, the MP said.

She said that it would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to blame the current crisis on the raging Covid-19 epidemic. Acknowledging the difficulties caused by the economic downturn, MP Kaviratne said that the country was paying a huge price for unbridled waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence.

The MP asserted that the citizenry could play a bigger role in a political campaign on social media. The vast majority of those who use social media strengthened democratic opposition, she said. Removal of Daulagala could be a rallying point, she said, urging public onslaught on the SLPP government.

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Those responsible for Easter carnage will be haunted eternally – Bishop Galle

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA

The Chief Celebrant of the 114th annual feast of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Matara, Bishop of the Diocese of Galle, Rev. Dr. Raymond Wickremasinghe told a virtual congregation that the conscience of those responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage would never be at peace and it would haunt them eternally.

 The celebrations of the 114th annual Feast of the National shrine of Our Lady of Matara commenced on 05 September with the raising of the flagstaff and ended on Sunday 12 September. This year’s feast was held in keeping with strict health guidelines sans public participation.

 Rev Dr. Wickremasinghe reiterated that it was the wish of the general public, especially all Christians that those who carried out and those masterminded and those who knew but did not prevent the Easter Sunday carnage would be exposed and Justice served. “It is our prayer that the divine father guides the authorities in their endeavours” the Bishop added

 Rev. Wickremesinghe also called upon every person including decision-makers to heed the advice of the experts and act intelligently to overcome the pandemic.

 The Marian procession carrying the miraculous statue of our lady of Matara. accompanied by clergy and security personnel paraded the town, concluding this year’s festivities.

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Wild jumbos destroy houses in search of newly harvested paddy

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BY CYRIL WIMALASURENDRE

KANDY— Herds of wild elephants raid Ududumbara and Minipe area sdestroying houses in search of newly harvested paddy.

Farmers of Minipe, Hasalaka and Udadumbara keep paddy in their houses as they are without proper storage facilities.

Kandy District Secretary Chandana Tennakoon visited the house of a farmer destroyed by elepheants in Kongahaela, Hasalaka.

The victim informed the District Secretary Tennakoon that a herd of elephants including young ones were roaming had attacked his house.

Similar complaints were made to the District Secretary by farmers at Minipe, Hasalaka, Welgala, Ulpathagama and Udunuwara.

The farmers said at least they should be provided with an adequate number of elephant crackers to scare the elephants away. The farmers had to travel about 30 km to the Randenigala Wildlife Office office to receive one cracker each, they said, adding that they needed many more.

District secretary Tennakoon told the farmers that steps would be taken to resolve the issue this year by putting up an elephant  fence around the affected villages of Ududumbara, Medsadumbara, Minipe and Hasalaka sector.

The project would cost about Rs. 100 million. The length of the fence would be about 43 km, he said.

Divisional Secretary of Minipe Nuwan Hemachandra and Deputy Director of Plan Implementation Palitha Rajapakse were present.

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