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Sybil : the colourful nonconformist



Sybil Wettasinghe was not merely an example of an imaginative, quality illustrator of her generation, but much more. A journalist, a creative artist, a woman of many roles, she was a trendsetting global-Lankan. As the first death anniversary of this well known writer/illustrator approaches, we remember her life and times.

by Randima Attygalle

The six-year-old Sybil de Silva who left Gintota for her English convent education in Colombo with a head full of ‘aththamma’s folk tales’ and memories of Seedakka’s hopper-making and Yakdehi Muththa’s devil dancing found wrestling with forks and spoons in her convent refectory a futile effort. She wouldn’t compromise the flavour of her favourite lunch of rice with prawns and murunga and would wait till the nuns left the dining room and relish the meal, eating with her fingers amid protests from her schoolmates who would threaten to report her! During art class, she would horrify the Irish nuns at Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya, replicating her sculptor-grandfather’s female figures.

Despite resistance from school, teachers and her mother, Sybil continued to defend her dream of becoming a professional painter. She was not impressed by her mother’s efforts to make her an architect. Her father who encouraged his daughter’s art, submitted her work for an exhibition at the Colombo Art Gallery. The 15-year-old’s work impressed H.D. Sugathapala, Headmaster of the Royal Primary School, who handpicked Sybil to illustrate his Nava Maga Standard 5 Reader. The book which launched her artistic career was also the first book to be printed in colour here in Sri Lanka.

‘Sybil’ was a prophetess in Greek mythology – a woman who claimed to be able to interpret the wishes of the gods through their oracles. But this Sybil Wettasinghe was her own prophet. She was a rebel too. At 19, she knew she was ready for much more than pottering around with paint and brushes. Journalism was her next calling. It was on April 1, 1948 that draped in a new saree her mother had bought for the occasion, her hair in a formal konde, the 19-year-old was presented to D.B.Dhanapala, the Chief Editor of Lankadeepa.

The youngest and the only female staffer then at Lankadeepa, she was assigned a weekly ‘Saturday Strip’, giving life to characters and tales from her Gintota childhood. “Most readers believed the creator of this strip of folk poems and illustrations was a man, misreading my name and when news spread that it was a young girl, there were inquisitive visitors to the Lankadeepa office,” she once recounted.

The visits ended when Dhanapala ran a newspaper account of his gifted new recruit with her photograph. Turning a deaf ear to those who urged the editor to ‘drill some sense’ to the girl who was sketching ‘gibberish, nonsensical figures’, he cheered her on to discover her own metier, never altering her style to please the masses. “Some even proposed Heywood mentoring for me and Mr. Dhanapala wouldn’t hear any of it,” the self-taught artist would say.

Bored with just her weekly Lankadeepa strip and with enough time to spare to buy books with her monthly salary of Rs. 60, Sybil one day boldly strode into the offices of Sita Jayawardena who compiled the then Times of Ceylon Women’s Page and asked for additional work. Soon she was illustrating Sooty Banda’s caricatures of Colombo socialites for The Times.

Moving to the newly launched Janatha Sinhala evening paper of the Lake House Group in 1952 was a turning point for Sybil both personally and professionally. While the Chief Editor Denzil Peiris gave her free rein, young Chief Sub Editor, Dharmapala Wettasinghe implored her to write a children’s story for his sake! Not only was a story born which still keeps girdling the globe, but a romance too bloomed culminating in the nuptial knot between Dharmapala Wettasinghe and Sybil de Silva in 1955. “He was my best fan and my best critic,” Sybil would often say and credit her fame as a globally acclaimed writer to her late husband.

The children’s story Kuda Hora (Umbrella Thief) which Sybil initially wrote and illustrated for ‘his sake’ in the Janatha, became a book which is now translated into several languages. In Japan it was once judged the best foreign book published there and also the most popular children’s book. At a time when Sinhala literature for children meant direct translations of European children’s stories and school texts with a ‘scattering of illustrations’, Kuda Hora with its unforgettable antics of the mischievous monkey ushered a new era in children’s literature. Critic Regi Siriwardena once remarked that, ‘Kuda Hora was the first Sinhala book to completely marry words and pictures.’

‘Kosgama kuda ne, minissu kuda dekalawath ne’

(Kosgama people don’t have umbrellas nor have they ever seen any) set the scene for Kuda Hora. From Habarala leaves which served as umbrellas, a half eaten bunch of bananas in the village tea kiosk, the bulath heppuwa, hiramanaya to the cat on the Sinhala ulu-tiled roof, all her work breathed and celebrated the Sri Lankan flavour at its best. She often lamented that these ‘roots’ were missing in most contemporary Sri Lankan children’s literature.

Challenging the West-aping, servile mentality, the writer who defined the shape and form of Sri Lanka’s children’s literature for nearly 70 years, was bold enough to question, “why glorify apple trees and snow-capped mountains when we are part of a rich heritage.” In all her scores of much loved books including Hoity the Fox, Weniyan kalu weniyan, Sooththara Puncha, Runaway Beard, Poddai-Poddi and Meti gedara lamai, the authentic Sri Lankan flavour had been her credo. In a digital era where aththamma’s kitchen is only an image from the past, ‘googled’ and found, her documentation of an era gone by is priceless. Moreover her work impel a generation living in a cultural vacuum to revisit a value system fast eroding.

Sybil’s proficiency in English, her convent education and her exposure to English speaking circles of Colombo did not drive her to become yet another Anglo-Sri Lankan, a trait she shared with her journalist-husband. On the contrary, she would be skeptical of elaborate hats, gowns and parasols. Her social satire built around the character of Kusumalatha which she wrote and illustrated for the Sarasaviya paper was an index of this. In taking the authentic Sri Lankan landscape in which a distinct value system thrived, to the global platform, she would not compromise her style for any affinity with a particular ideology. For this, she was lauded by the world. She was one of the earliest Lankan writers and illustrators to go international long before ‘international citizenry’ became a buzz word.

Besides several state literary awards, and honorary titles, her work won a number of coveted international awards including the Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture 2012, Isabel Hutton Prize for Asian Women Writers, the Best Foreign Book Award in Japan in 1986 (for Kuda Hora). Her documentation of her childhood- Child in Me won the Gratiaen Prize for the most Creative English Book in 1995. She also won a Guinness world record in 2020 with her book Wonder Crystal a few months before her death at the age of 92, for having the most number of alternative endings which were solicited from young readers.

Accepting the Nikkei Asia Prize 2012 in Tokyo in recognition of her ‘magnificent contribution to enrich people’s lives in the region’ and first time bestowed on a Sri Lankan, Sybil remarked that although she had five grandchildren of her own, she considered all the world’s children hers. “Children are the spice of my life,” she remarked. Deeply moved by her love for children, Nikkei Inc. President & CEO Tsuneo Kita noted that her presence ‘bestowed a magical atmosphere’ at the event.

A woman with a fiercely independent mind who called herself her own ‘best friend’, Sybil did not bend the rules by which she lived. This was true of her artistic style as well. While most of her contemporaries would align themselves with a particular ‘school’, Sybil remained unaware of ‘current trends’ as she hardly stepped into Colombo’s galleries. She was never an understudy. “It never bothered me not to belong to any school or group,” she would say. With only her artistic DNA in her, the gene passed down by her sculptor-grandfather, Sybil went on to evolve her style of ‘talking pictures’ enthused by the fine nuances of a childhood spent in the South and people and places of her everyday life. A strong promoter of nurturing the inherent talent of children and allowing it to evolve naturally, she believed that ‘green skies’ and ‘blue trees’ were very much a part of this process.

Knowing Aunty Sybil or Sybil nenda as a nation of children called her, was a journey of discovery. Her cozy little home was my sanctuary. With each passing hour in her wise, wonderful company I rediscovered a phenomenal woman of iron will living in a slight frame. Seated at her weathered kitchen-table, I would spend many happy hours with her. “If only this table could talk,” she would often gleefully tell me. From the cat family which she lured with her ‘magical recipe’ of milk, sprats and bread to floating saucepans in her flooded drawing room (as a result of a tap left running throughout the night) her mischievous wit offered me constant amusement. Neither of us had any inkling that the breakfast of kiribath, lunumiris, ginger-tea and hakuru she treated me to a few weeks before her death was to be our last shared meal.

There were ‘story times’ too when the child in me would surface true to her mantra that ‘there is a wonder child living in all of us’. I would sit at her feet, she in her rocking chair telling me stories in her beautifully modulated story-teller voice. The one of the mermaid living six lives and realizing she is made only to be a mermaid remains one of my favourites. “A child is like that, we cannot make them live the lives we want, we have no right to realize our unrealized dreams through them, for they have their own destined paths,” she would tell me in the end. Then there were stories to which I was treated beyond her illustrated pages; trials and tribulations of a mother and a career woman, her measure of hurt and betrayal and so much more.

Long before ‘work-life balance’ for women was heard of, at a time when most of her contemporaries would abandon their vocations to raise a family, Sybil juggled both. To use a present day cliché, she ‘shattered the glass ceiling’ unconsciously. She was among the pioneering professional Sri Lankan women to have pioneered a path that generations of young women could follow. When her husband, the famous editor, Dharmapala Wettasinghe, became a political victim and lost his job, it was Sybil, then a mother of four young children, who kept the home fires burning. The batik business she set up during their dark hour not only helped her make ends meet but eventually rose to be an enterprise in which many took delight.

Sybil herself was a chronicle of history, her life intersecting with almost a century of changing socio-political and cultural milieu of the nation. Soon to turn 93, Sybil nenda kept herself busy at her desk everyday immersed in the child’s world, surrounded by her pots of ink and birds who would chirp outside her window. A verse from her popular book Child in Me would resonate;


A child and a grown up

Live as one

In perfect, perfect harmony

Within me.

She remained the six-year-old ‘Gintota girl’ until the very end…..

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If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!



BY Dr. Gotabhya Ranasinghe
Consultant in General & Interventional Cardiology, NHSL

Tobacco harms practically all of the body’s organs and is a key risk factor for heart disease!

Smoking can impact all aspects of the cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. I know from my experience over the years that about 25% of the patients who seek treatment from me for heart conditions smoke.

Is there a strong link between smoking and heart disease?

Of course, there is! Smoking definitely contributes to heart disease. The majority of smokers experience heart attacks.

Some claim that the only people at risk for heart attacks or strokes are those who are classified as heavy smokers. Although this is the case, did you know that smoking even one or two cigarettes a day might result in heart attacks?

Young smokers are on the rise, which unfortunately brings more cardiac patients between the ages of 20 and 25 to the cardiology unit.

Why is tobacco poison for your heart?

The harmful mix of more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, can interfere with vital bodily functions when inhaled.

When you breathe, your lungs absorb oxygen and pass it on to your heart, which then pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the blood arteries. However, when the blood that is circulated to the rest of the body picks up the toxins in cigarette smoke when you breathe it in, your heart and blood arteries are harmed by these substances, which could result in cardiovascular diseases.

What does cigarette smoke do to your heart?

Atherosclerosis (Building up of cholesterol deposits in the coronary artery)

Endothelium dysfunction leads to atherosclerosis. The inner layer of coronary arteries or the arterial wall of the heart both function improperly and contribute to artery constriction when you smoke cigarettes. As a

result, the endothelium-cell barrier that separates the arteries is breached, allowing cholesterol plaque to build up. It’s crucial to realize that smoking increases the risk of endothelial dysfunction in even those who have normal cholesterol levels.

Heart Attacks

The plaque accumulated in the arteries can burst as a result of continued smoking or other factors like emotional stress or strenuous exercises. Heart attacks occur when these plaque rupture and turn into clots.

Coronary artery spasm

Did you know you can experience a spasm immediately after a puff of smoke?

A brief tightening or constriction of the muscles in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the heart is referred to as a coronary artery spasm. Part of the heart’s blood flow can be impeded or reduced by a spasm. A prolonged spasm can cause chest pain and possibly a heart attack.

People who usually experience coronary artery spasms don’t have typical heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. However, they are frequent smokers.


An erratic or irregular heartbeat is known as an arrhythmia. The scarring of the heart muscle caused by smoking can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat.Additionally, nicotine can cause arrhythmia by speeding up the heart rate.

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking!

Did you know the positive impacts start to show as soon as you stop smoking?

After 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your heart rate begins to slow down.

In just 12 hours after quitting, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood returns to normal, allowing more oxygen to reach your heart and other vital organs.

12 to 24 hours after you stop smoking, blood pressure levels return to normal.

Your risk of developing coronary heart disease decreases by 50% after one year of no smoking.

So let us resolve to protect and improve heart health by saying no to tobacco!

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Religious cauldron being stirred; filthy rich in abjectly poor country



What a ho ha over a silly standup comedian’s stupid remarks about Prince Siddhartha. I have never watched this Natasha Edirisuriya’s supposedly comic acts on YouTube or whatever and did not bother to access derogatory remarks she supposedly introduced to a comedy act of hers that has brought down remand imprisonment on her up until June 6. Speaking with a person who has his ear to the ground and to the gossip grape wine, I was told her being remanded was not for what she said but for trying to escape consequences by flying overseas – to Dubai, we presume, the haven now of drug kingpins, money launderers, escapees from SL law, loose gabs, and all other dregs of society.

Of course, derogatory remarks on any religion or for that matter on any religious leader have to be taboo and contraveners reprimanded publicly and perhaps imposed fines. However, imprisonment according to Cassandra is too severe.

Just consider how the Buddha treated persons who insulted him or brought false accusations against him including the most obnoxious and totally improbable accusation of fatherhood. Did he even protest, leave along proclaim his innocence. Did he permit a member of the Sangha to refute the accusations? Not at all! He said aloud he did not accept the accusations and insults. Then he asked where the accusations would go to? Back to sender/speaker/accuser. That was all he said.

Thus, any person or persons, or even all following a religion which is maligned should ignore what was said. Let it go back and reside with the sayer/maligner. Of course, the law and its enforcers must spring to action and do the needful according to the law of the land.

One wonders why this sudden spurt of insults arrowed to Buddhism. Of course, the aim is to denigrate the religion of the majority in the land. Also perhaps with ulterior motives that you and Cass do not even imagine. In The Island of Wednesday May 31, MP Dilan Perera of Nidahas Janatha Sabawa (difficult to keep pace with birth of new political parties combining the same words like nidahas and janatha to coin new names) accused Jerome Fernando and Natasha E as “actors in a drama orchestrated by the government to distract people from the real issues faced by the masses.”

We, the public, cannot simply pooh pooh this out of hand. But is there a deeper, subtler aim embedded in the loose talk of Jerome and his followers? Do we not still shudder and shake with fear and sympathy when we remember Easter Sunday 2019 with its radical Muslim aim of causing chaos? It is said and believed that the Muslim radicals wanted not only to disrupt Christian prayer services on a holy day but deliver a blow to tourism by bombing hotels.

Then their expectation was a backlash from the Sinhalese which they hoped to crush by beheading approaching Sinhala avenging attackers with swords they had made and stacked. This is not Cass’ imagination running riot but what a Catholic Priest told us when we visited the Katuwapitiya Church a couple of weeks after the dastardly bombing.

It is believed and has been proclaimed there was a manipulating group led by one demented person who egged the disasters on with the double-edged evil aim of disrupting the land and then promising future security if … Hence, we cannot be so naïve as to believe that Jerome and Natasha were merely careless speakers. Who knows what ulterior moves were dictated to by power-mad black persons and made to brew in the national cauldron of discontent? Easiest was to bring to the boil religious conflict, since the races seem to be co-living harmoniously, mostly after the example of amity set before the land and internationally of Sri Lankans of all races, religions, social statuses and ages being able to unite during the Aragalaya.

We have already suffered more than our fair share of religious conflict. The LTTE exploded a vehicle laden with bombs opposite the Dalada Maligawa; shot at the Sacred Bo Tree, massacred a busload of mostly very young Buddhist monks in Aranthalawa. This was on June 2, 1987, particularly pertinent today. They killed Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Katankudy after ethnically cleansing Jaffna and adjoining areas of Muslim populations.

The Sinhalese, led by ultra-nationalists and drunken goons ravaged Tamils in 1983 and then off and on conflicted with Muslims. Hence the need to nip all and every religious conflict in the bud; no preachers/ Buddhist monks/overzealous lay persons, or comedians and media persons to be allowed to malign religions and in the name of religion cause conflict, least of all conflagration.

Comes to mind the worst case of religious intolerance, hate, revenge and unthinkable cruelty. Cass means here the prolonged fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie (1947-), British American novelist of Indian origin who had a ransom set aside for his life declared by the then leader of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, soon after Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses was published in 1988. The British government diligently ensured his safety by hiding him in various places. After nearly two decades of tight security around him, he ventured to the US on an invited visit. He settled down in New York, believing he was now safe from the fatwa and mad men. It was not to be. In New York on stage to deliver a lecture in 2022, Rushdie was set upon by a lone assailant who stabbed him in the eye, blinding him in that eye and necessitating his wearing an eye band. What on earth was his crime? Writing a fictitious story to succeed many he had written and won prizes for like the Booker.

Religious fanaticism must never be permitted to raise its devilish head wherever, whenever.

Farmer’s fabulously rich son

Often quoted is the phrase coined by the Tourist Board, Cass believes, to describe Sri Lanka. Land like no other. It was completely complementary and justified when it was first used. We were an almost unique island where every prospect pleased, particularly its smiling, easy going people and the wonderful terrain of the land with varying altitudes, climates and fauna and flora.

Then with the decline of the country engineered and wrought by evil, self-gratifying politicians, their sidekicks and dishonest bureaucrats, disparities became stark. Sri Lanka is now in the very dumps: bankrupt, its social, economic and sustainability fabric in shreds and people suffering immensely. But since it is a land like no other with a different connotation, only certain of its population suffer and undergo deprivation and hardship. Others live grand even now and have money stashed high in–house and overseas in banks, businesses and dubious off shore dealings. Some lack the few rupees needed to travel in a bus but most political bods drive around in luxury cars; infants cry for milk and children for a scrap of bread or handful of rice. Plain tea is drunk by many to quell pangs of hunger while the corrupt VIPs quaff champaign and probably have exotic foods flown over from gourmet venues.

And most of those who drive luxury cars, eat and drink exotically and live the GOOD life, did not inherit wealth, nor earn it legitimately. Young men who had not a push bike to ride or Rs 25 to go on a school trip to Sigiriya are now fabulously wealthy. Cass does not want to list how they demonstrate immense wealth possession now.

One case in the news is Chaminda Sirisena, who seems to be very, very wealthy, wearing a ring that is valued at Rs 10 million, and then losing it to cause severe damnation to its stealer. Goodness! Cass cannot even imagine such a ring. Well, he lost it and 5,000 US $ and Rs 100,000. The suspect is his personal security guard. Having never heard of this brother of the ex Prez and he not being the paddy multimillionaire owning hotels, Cass googled. Here is short reply, “Chaminda Sirisena. Owner Success Lanka Innovative Company, Sri Lanka, 36 followers, 36 connections. (The last two bits of info completely incomprehensible and no desire at all to verify). He sure is comparable to Virgin Airways Branson and other top global entrepreneurs to become so wealthy being a son of a man who served in WWII and was given a small acreage to cultivate paddy in Polonnaruwa. When his brother Maitripala became Prez of Sri Lanka it was with pride the comparison was brought in to the American President who moved from log cabin to the White House.

Hence isn’t our beloved, now degraded Sri Lanka, a land like no other with Midases around?

We now have another maybe thief to worry about. No further news of the poor mother whose life was quashed for the sake of a gold ring, leaving three children motherless and probably destitute. When we were young, we were told very early on that if we lost anything it was more our fault; we were careless and placed temptation to less fortunate persons. The Tamil woman who died after being in remand was such a one who needed extra protection from temptation. To Cass her employer is more to blame for the probable theft and for the tragedy that followed.

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Snakes of Sri Lanka



By Ifham Nizam

Snake bites are a serious public health issue in Sri Lanka. It has been estimated that nearly 80,000 snake bites occur here every year.Due to fear and poor knowledge, hundreds of thousands of snakes, mostly non-venomous ones, are killed by humans each year.The state spends more than USD 10 million a year on treating snake bite patients.

According to health sector statistics between 30,000 and 40,000 snake bite patients receive treatment in hospitals annually, says Dr. Anjana Silva, who is Professor in Medical Parasitology, Head/ Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Rajarata University.

To date, 93 land and 15 sea snake species have been recorded from Sri Lanka. While all 15 sea snakes are venomous, only 20% of the land snakes are venomous or potentially venomous.

The term, ‘venomous snakes’ does not mean they cause a threat to human lives every time they cause a bite. The snakes of highest medical importance are the venomous ones which are common or widespread and cause numerous snakebites, resulting in severe envenoming, disability or death,” says Dr. Silva who is also Adjunct Senior Research Fellow – Monash Venom Group,Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University and Research Associate- South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya.

Only five snakes could be considered to be of the highest medical importance in Sri Lanka: Russell’s viper, Indian krait, Sri Lankan cobra, Merrem’s hump-nosed viper and Saw-scaled viper. All but Merrem’s hump-nosed vipers are covered by Indian Polyvalent antivenom, the only treatment available for snake bites in Sri Lanka.

There are another five snake species with secondary medical importance, which are venomous snakes and capable of causing morbidity, disability or death, but the bites are less frequent due to various reasons (Sri Lankan krait, Highland Hump-nosed viper, Lowland hump-nosed pit viper, Green-pit viper and Beaked sea snake)

The snakes of highest medical importance in Sri Lanka are as follows:

  1. Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) (Sinhala: Thith Polanga/ Tamil: Kannadi viriyan)

Medically the most important snake in Sri Lanka. It is found throughout South Asia. It is responsible for about 30% of snake bites in Sri Lanka and also about 70% of deaths due to snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Some 2-5% bites by Russell’s viper are fatal. Widely distributed throughout the country up to the elevations of 1,500m from sea level. Highly abundant in paddy fields and farmlands but also found in dry zone forests and scrub lands. Bites occur more during the beginning and end of the farming seasons in dry zone. It can grow up to 1.3m in length. Most bites are reported during day time.

Over 85% of the bites are at the level of or below the ankle. It is a very aggressive snake when provoked. Spontaneous bleeding due to abnormalities in blood clotting and kidney failure have life-threatening effects.

Dr. Anjana Silva

  1. The Sri Lankan Russell’s vipers cause mild paralysis as well, which is not life threatening. Indian Polyvalent antivenom covers Russell’s viper envenoming. Deaths could be due to severe internal bleeding and acute renal failure.
  2. Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) (Sinhala: Thel Karawala/ Maga Maruwa; Tamil: Yettadi virian/ Karuwelan Pambu)

It is distributed in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is found across the lowland semi-arid, dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. Almost absent in the wet zone. Usually, a non-offensive snake during the daytime; however, it could be aggressive at night.

Common kraits slither into human settlements at night looking for prey. People who sleep on the ground are prone to their bites.

Most common krait bites do occur at night. Bites are more common during the months of September to December when the north-east monsoon is active. Most hospital admissions of krait bites follow rainfall, even following a shower after several days or months without rain.

Since most bites do occur while the victim is asleep, the site of bite could be in any part of the body.

As bite sites have minimal or no effects, it would be difficult to find an exact bite site in some patients. Bite site usually is painless and without any swelling. Causes paralysis in body muscles which can rapidly lead to life threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty).

  1. Sri Lankan Cobra (Naja polyoccelata; Naja naja) Sinhala: Nagaya; Tami: Nalla pambu

Sri Lankan cobra is an endemic species in Sri Lanka. It is common in lowland (<1200m a.s.l), close to human settlements. Cobras are found on plantations and in home gardens, forests, grasslands and paddy fields. It is the only snake with a distinct hood in Sri Lanka.

Hood has a spectacle marking on the dorsal side and has two black spots and the neck usually has three black bands on the ventral side. When alarmed, cobras raise the hood and produce a loud hiss.

Cobra bites could occur below the knee. They are very painful and lead to severe swelling and tissue death around the affected place. Rapidly progressing paralysis could result from bites, sometimes leading to life-threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty). Deaths could also be due to cardiac arrest due to the venom effects.

  1. Merrem’s hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) Sinhala: Polon Thelissa/ Kunakatuwa; Tamil: Kopi viriyan.

Small pit-vipers grow up to 50cm in length. Head is flat and triangular with a pointed and raised snout. They are usually found coiled, they keep the heads at an angle of 45 degrees. Merrem’s Hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) is the medically most important Hump-nosed viper as it leads to 35-45% of all snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Merrem’s Hump-nosed vipers are very common in home gardens and on plantations and grasslands. Bites often happen during various activities in home gardens and also during farming activities in farmlands in both dry and wet zones. Hands and feet (below the ankle) are mostly bitten. Bites can often lead to local swelling and pain and at times, severe tissue death around the bite site may need surgical removal of dead tissue or even amputations. Rarely, patients could develop mild blood clotting abnormalities and acute kidney failure. Although rare, deaths are reported due to hypnale bites.

  1. Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus), Sinhala: Weli Polanga; Tamil: Surutai Viriyan

This species is widely distributed in South Asia. However, in Sri Lanka, it is restricted to dry coastal regions such as Mannar, Puttalam, Jaffna peninsula and Batticaloa. In Sri Lanka, this snake grows upto 40-50cm. It is a nocturnal snake which is fond of sand dunes close to the beach. It could be found under logs and stones during daytime. Bites are common during January and February.

It is a very aggressive snake. A distinct, white colour ‘bird foot shape’ mark or a ‘diamond shape’ mark could be seen over the head. When alarmed, it makes a hissing sound by rubbing the body scales. Although this snake causes frequent severe envenoming and deaths in other countries, its bites are relatively less severe in Sri Lanka. Bites could lead to mild to moderate swelling and pain on the affected place and blood clotting abnormalities and haemorrhage and rarely it could lead to kidney failure.



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