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Taxonomists discover new ‘true frog’ genus from South-east Asia



by Ifham Nizam

Discovering new species is fundamental for the expansion of knowledge of the endangered biodiversity of the planet, a large part of which still remains unknown to science.

It is rare to discover a completely new genus or higher taxon. Most new species discovered nowadays are part of well-known genus.

A group of taxonomists discovered a new genus of ‘true frogs’ and ‘ranid frogs’, which scientifically belong to Family Ranidae, according to a research article in the latest edition of the Journal of Asian Biodiversity, ‘Taprobanica’.

The new genus is named as “Bijurana” in honour of Prof. Sathyabhama Das Biju of the University of Delhi, India, for his enormous contribution towards amphibian research and conservation in the Indian subcontinent.

Prof. Biju is renowned as “the frogman of India” for bringing fresh fascination for Indian amphibians. He has discovered hundreds of new species new genera as well as new families. This world renowned taxonomist has been working very closely with many Sri Lankan amphibian taxonomists for decades.

The research of discovering new genus was conducted by three expert herpetologists and taxonomists in the Asian region, S. R. Chandramouli, an Indian researcher at Pondicherry University, Amir Hamidy, an Indonesian researcher at Indonesian Institute of Sciences and Thasun Amarasinghe, a Sri Lankan researcher at University of Indonesia.

The frog family Ranidae comprised 26 genera in the world. Among these, 15 genera, namely Abavorana, Amolops, Chalcorana, Clinotarsus, Huia, Humerana, Hydrophylax, Hylarana, Indosylvirana, Merystogenis, Nidirana, Odorrana, Papurana, Pseudorana and Pterorana are in the Oriental Region.

The first systematic classification of true frogs of the genus rana was carried out by world- renowned, most senior amphibian expert in the world, Alain Dubois in 1992. Prof. Dubois placed the sub-Saharan African Ranid frogs into the genus Amnirana and placed the unique species, Hylorana nicobariensis found in Nicobar Islands in South and Southeast Asian genus, Sylvirana, considered the most appropriate placement for the species at the time.

However, subsequent researchers from different parts of the world reallocated the species into different genera during the past two decades from Sylvirana to Hylarana, Hylarana to Amnirana and thereafter from Amnirana to Indoylvirana.

Actually since the discovery of Hylorana nicobariensis in 1870, the taxonomists were unable to find the correct generic position of this species. Therefore, its generic position has changed more than 10 times during last 150 years.

The tree experts reassessed the systematic position of Nicobarese species based on an integrative approach of both phylogenetic and morphological affinities and described a new genus to solve the long disputed taxonomic issue of true frogs.

The team observed these animals during last decade in Nicobar and Indonesian Islands with the support of their respective institutes and governments. They also recorded calls of Nicobarese frogs and analyzed the sounds. The description of the new genus will shed new light on the conservation of the species, as the new genus is now endemic to Southeast Asia, which earlier considered distributed up to sub-Saharan Africa.

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NHSL narcotics mafia: DG points finger at SLFP union, blames govt. for inaction



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Director of the National Hospital, Dr. Rukshan Bellana, who had to be rescued by the police recently as an unruly minor staff laid siege to his office and threatened to cause him bodily harm, yesterday (03) alleged that he was under threat subsequent to the exposure of what he called a narcotics mafia operating in government Hospitals.

In a brief interview with The Island the beleaguered President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) found fault with the government for its lethargic response to threats emanating from a trade union affiliated to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Responding to queries, Dr. Bellana alleged that a section of the minor staff was trying to force him out of the National Hospital at the behest of trade union leader Roy de Mel. “Contrary to reports and claims, I’m still here,” Dr. Bellana said, warning the government of dire consequences unless action was taken to discipline National Hospital staff.

Dr. Bellana emphasized that the SLFP trade union, under any circumstances, couldn’t be allowed to dictate terms to the health administration. The outspoken official said that the situation was so bad the National Hospital seemed to be in the hands of ruffians in the garb of trade unionists.

The Island raised Dr. Bellana’s accusations with the SLFP trade union leader De Mel who strongly defended their response to what he described as a wholly unnecessary issue caused by the Deputy Director.

There could be some drug addicts as well as drug pushers among the minor staff of the National Hospital, De Mel said, while referring to the recent reportage of the arrest of a minor female employee carrying heroin with a street value of Rs. 250,000 by the Katunayake police. However, Dr. Bellana for some reason only known to him had repeatedly slandered the entire minor staff, de Mel claimed, challenging the Deputy Director to prove his accusations.

Both Dr. Bellana and De Mel accused the Health Ministry of failing to address the issues at hand. Dr. Bellana said that for want of clear instructions from the Health Ministry, the SLFP union was trying to terrorize him. The official demanded that the ministry initiate a no holds barred investigation into the conduct of the SLFP union.

De Mel said that the Health Ministry owed an explanation as to how Dr. Bellana repeatedly exploited mainstream and social media to propagate his accusations whereas other doctors faced disciplinary measures. Reference was made to cases involving doctors at Kataragama and Karapitiya hospitals.

The trade union leader said that it wouldn’t be fair to declare the entire minor staff of the National Hospital drug addicts on the basis of a few cases or unsubstantiated allegations. De Mel pointed out that there had been cases of security forces and police personnel, including an SSP being arrested with narcotics. But such arrests didn’t justify calling the services and police drug addicts, de Mel said, urging the Health Ministry and law enforcement authorities to investigate Dr. Bellana’s accusations.

“We are ready to face investigations, at any level,” De Mel said, claiming that actually he took up the alleged drug issue among minor staff before Dr. Bellana went public with it. De Mel claimed that he appealed not only to minor staff at the National Hospital but other health sector institutions as well.

Dr. Bellana said that de Mel commanded about 200 minor employees whereas the total strength of National Hospital minor staff was approximately 3,200. The total staff consisted of 11,500 including 1,500 doctors and 3,000 nurses.

Referring to a recent appeal made by Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to police officers not to accept hampers from drug dealers, Dr. Bellana said that he expected law enforcement authorities to restore normalcy at the National Hospital. The police seemed to be hesitant to rein in unruly minor staff against the backdrop of a weary political response, Dr. Bellana said, adding that he briefed Minister Alles of the developing situation.

Dr. Bellana said that workers shouldn’t be allowed to threaten disruption of services. Alleging that some minor staff went to the extent of disrupting surgeries, Dr. Bellana said that the Health Ministry couldn’t turn a blind eye to the developing situation.De Mel claimed Dr. Bellana was practicing what he knows best. “He is causing chaos as he did under previous administrations.”

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Seven million Lankans in need of humanitarian assistance:UNICEF



UNICEF has said seven million people in Sri Lanka are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the economic crisis.In its Sri Lanka Humanitarian Situation Report, issued on 02 February, the UN agency said essential services for children such as health, nutrition, and education have been severely impacted by shortages of medicine, food insecurity, lack of fuel and long power cuts.

In 2022, UNICEF reached over 1.3 million people, including 750,000 children with humanitarian assistance through humanitarian interventions.Over 800,000 people in urban areas have access to safe drinking water, 285,403 children in rural and estate areas were provided with educational materials, and 205,000 adolescents benefited from mental health and psychosocial support services in communities and in schools through UNICEF initiatives, the report said.

UNICEF also piloted a humanitarian cash transfers program which reached 3,010 mothers with young children for three months in the Colombo municipal area in 2022.

This is to be further scaled up to reach 110,000 mothers and caregivers in 2023, the report said.It said that in 2022, UNICEF appealed for 25 million U.S. dollars to provide life-saving humanitarian services to nearly 2.8 million Sri Lankans, including 1.7 million children affected by the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

UNICEF received USD 34 million, however there is uneven distribution of funding received, it said.

UNICEF said: “Some sectors (Education, WASH and Child Protection) remain significantly underfunded, while others (Nutrition and Social Protection) have received almost triple the asked amount. This situation highlights the need for fresh funding into 2023 particularly for the underfunded sectors. In addition, the generous contribution to the cash-based programming was only made available in the fall.

UNICEF Sri Lanka Country Office launched its Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) on 10 June 2022 aligned with the UN inter-agency Humanitarian Needs and Priorities (HNP) appeal for Sri Lanka. The HAC has been funded thanks to the generous contributions of bilateral, public, and private donors. UNICEF expresses its sincere gratitude to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, USAID, the Central Emergency Response Fund, UNICEF USA, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (UK) and Global Thematic Humanitarian Funds and many others for their generous contributions, without which UNICEF could not meet the most pressing needs of woman, children, and most vulnerable populations affected by the worst economic crisis the country has experienced since independence. While the HNP expired in December 2022, the need for continued funding to sustain prevailing humanitarian needs post-HNP is critical.”

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Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis passes away



Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis passed away yesterday, while being treated at a private hospital. He was 90. He received his primary education at St. Bendict’s College, Kotahena, and at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. He was ordained in 1958 and was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, in 1968. He was appointed as the Bishop of Anuradhapura and as Archbishop of Colombo in 2002.

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