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Woodward of Mahinda

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Frank Lee Woodward was born in Norfolk, England, in 1871, the third son of an Anglican clergyman. At school, and later at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he was a renowned sportsman. But at around 19-years of age he went through a period of psychological ‘distress’, which led him in particular to the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, whom he described as ‘a pillar of strength to those who live inwardly’.

From 1898 he served as a schoolmaster at Stamford for five years, receiving a master’s degree from Cambridge in 1901. During this period he discovered Theosophy, at first via the ideas of reincarnation in Plato. He joined the society in 1902, and soon developed a boundless faith in Colonel Olcott and his brand of Buddhism.

Although already at this time something of an anachronism, as a Theosophical Buddhist Woodward believed implicitly in Madame Blavatsky’s Himalayan brotherhood of Mahatmas; he later wrote to a friend: ‘Do not repulse T.S. teachings because you cannot grasp them or because one side is prominent i.e. Hinduism … the Bodhisat (Maitreya) is watching over this world’.

A Theosophist of the old school, he offered his services to Olcott, who in 1903 installed him as the principal of Mahinda College, administered by the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Galle, Sri Lanka. Here he worked indefatigably for 16 years, assuming a legendary status which approached that of the good Colonel himself. Drawing no salary, he ploughed much of his inheritance into the erection of new buildings — an act of generosity which resulted in his living in dire poverty towards the end of his life.

Although he was a strict disciplinarian, the 350 boys of the college dearly idolized him. Woodward conducted the senior classes in Buddhist philosophy, and would personally wash the feet of many of the monks as they came to the school hall for almsgiving. For a time he edited the Buddhist, the leading Buddhist magazine on the island, and each year went to Madras for the annual convention of the Theosophical Society.

The tropical climate was beginning to tell on his health, however, and in 1919, armed with literally a ton of books, and ‘Buddha relics’, courtesy of the monks of the Galle District, he retired to Tasmania to live out the remaining 33 years of his life translating the Pali Canon.

Woodward bought a small apple orchard and cottage from a fellow Theosophist. Situated on the Tamar River 40 km from Launceston, his study afforded a magnificent view of Ben Lomond, one of the highest peaks in Tasmania, 65 km away. In this idyllic setting he began his real life’s work, at the age of nearly 50.

Apart from contributing the occasional article on Buddhism to Theosophy in Australasia, Woodward’s chief preoccupation was his translations for the Pali Text Society, established by Rhys Davids in 1881. From 1916 on, his contribution amounted to no fewer than 16 volumes, though it is probably for his 1925 anthology, Some Sayings of the Buddha, that he is best remembered.

Christmas Humphreys, that other renowned Theosophical Buddhist, writing in 1972, considered it still the finest anthology of the Pali Canon produced. It was also included in the World’s Classics series, with an introduction by Sir Francis Young-husband. For many Westerners, including many later prominent Australian Buddhists, this book has been an entree to Buddhism, and although the style seems now somewhat florid, it earned Woodward a place alongside Rhys Davids and Nyanatiloka as a Pali scholar.

F. L. Woodward’s life in Tasmania was characteristically unostentatious and rustic. He lived for his translations, and Tasmania afforded him the required isolation. Although he was thought of as a bit of an eccentric by the people of the district, he struck up close friendships with his nearest neighbours and was a favourite among the local children, who invariably received sweets from him on his visits to the store. He also drew up their astrological charts — another Theosophical pastime.

A strict vegetarian and animal lover, he astounded his neighbours with his fondness for the snakes of the area, many of which he accorded nicknames. Although in his last years his orchard was neglected and his spartan lifestyle not that much more comfortable than a Buddhist monk’s, making do on an annuity of around ?70 a year, he is said to have been always ‘cheery and boisterous’.

Each night he practised yoga, and he became so oblivious to his appearance that on the few occasions he left the ‘radius’ of his ‘ashrama’, as he put it, he often did so clad only in ‘a pair of pyjamas, a paper bag for a shirt and a white turban’. His neighbours relate that on one walk he bumped into Sir Robert Menzies, who was visiting friends in the area, and subsequently had him in for afternoon tea.

Woodward only descended on Launceston two or three times a year, usually to take part in some activity of the local branch of the Theosophical Society. He claimed always to be ‘confident of the goodness of whatever happens’, and perhaps some of this enthusiasm rubbed off on the increasing number of Australian Buddhists with whom he was corresponding in the few years before his death in 1952.”

 

[Croucher, Paul: Buddhism in Australia, 1848-1988. — Kensington, NSW,

Australia : New South Wales University Press, ?1989. — 147 S. : Ill. —

ISBN 0-86840-195-1. — S. 21 – 23]

 

The Western Contribution to Buddhism

 

William Peiris

(1973) Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publications.

CHAPTER II BRITAIN

 

The name of F.L. Woodward scintillates among Pali scholars who edited and translated sacred texts of the Buddhists for the Pali Text Society. But Woodward is remembered in Ceylon more for his great service to the education of Buddhist boys than for his profound Pali scholarship. It is not generally known that he spent ?2,000 of his patrimony at the beginning of the present century to erect buildings for a Buddhist school in the south of Ceylon-Mahinda College, Galle- in which he served for sixteen years as Principal without drawing the salary attached to the post. The school funds met his bare expenses. A confirmed bachelor, he lived on a purely vegetable diet. He invariably wore a white suit while in Ceylon. He never went home on a holiday. Simplicity was the keynote of his life, which moved Mrs. Rhys Davids once to describe him as a “recluse.” The third son of the Rev. W. Woodward of Saham, Norfolk, England, Frank Lee Woodward was born on 13 April, 1871. As a boy of eight he mastered the Elementary Latin Course, and began the study of Greek, French and German. In 1879, he joined Christ Hospital, where he won the Latin and French prizes on three occasions. Besides his academic brilliance, he possessed remarkable athletic prowess. At the age of 14 he was a member of the House Fifteen, and two years later was a perfect and one of the First Fifteen. For several years he held the record for Putting the Weight and annexed prizes in most athletic events.

 

Pupil and teacher became close friends

At eighteen he entered Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge winning the first classical scholarship, and at nineteen was awarded the Gold Medal for Latin verse and an exhibition. He became College organist, won the prize for Latin essay and passed the Classical Tripos examination with honours in the third year of his admission to the University. He also held office as Rugby football Captain, Vice-captain of Boats, Athletic Secretary and full-back in the Association Football Team.

He served the Rugby Preparatory School for a short period as an assistant master. Later, he became classics master at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, where he taught for three years until 1897. While there he rowed the Worcester City Boat to victory at many a regatta, and won honour for Worcester and the Midland Counties on the football field. Stamford School, an ancient foundation in Lincolnshire, was where he next served. He taught there for five years from 1895 as second master. E.M. Hare became close friends. During his five-year period at Stamford he devoted a good deal of his time to the study of both Western and Eastern philosophy, Pali and Sanskrit, English literature, and religion. It was he who persuaded Hare to study Pali.

Woodward joined the Theosophical Society in 1902. He described his becoming a member of it as “the most important event” in his life, for it led to his acceptance of the Buddha’s teachings.

In a letter to Col. H.S. Olcott, the then President of the Theosophical Society, Woodward offered his service to the East, and Olcott gladly accepted the offer, for at that time the latter had been requested, by Buddhists to find a head for Mahinda College, in Ceylon. On 1 August, 1903, Woodward landed in the town of Galle.

 

More than the architect of Mahinda

He found Mahinda College housed in an old Dutch building in the busy part of the Fort of Galle. The attendance was only 60. His high academic attainments and long experience as a teacher in public schools in England soon became known all over the country and parents began to remove their sons from other schools and send them to Mahinda College. One of them, now a nonagenarian, Mr. Vincent de Silva, says that he still remembers the Latin that Woodward taught him. He often speaks of his old teacher with affection and gratitude. The numbers on the roll rapidly rose to 300-the maximum that could be accommodated in the building.

Woodward himself selected the present site of Mahinda, some public-spirited residents of the area donating the lands. He was not merely the architect of the school, but its foreman of works as well. He was often seen with a trowel in hand among masons. Sometimes he would be on the scaffoldings taking measurements. His identity is concealed in the name of “Vanapala” (Sinhalese for Woodward) among the names on a brass plate in a set of classrooms.

Woodward was a strict disciplinarian. He set a very high tone in the college and it made rapid progress under his able direction. He, however, sought no publicity. He was revered for his self-sacrifice, his generosity and his erudition. One of his many efforts was directed at establishing Sinhalese as a subject for the Cambridge Local examinations which were then held in Ceylon. He was a pioneer of the Ceylon University movement.

He used to wear the simple garb of a white shirt and white cloth and to observe the Eight Precepts of Buddhism on full moon days, setting a noble example to his pupils and neighbours. Occasionally he would offer alms to Buddhist monks in the school hall, himself serving the meals with great humility, and would himself wash and wipe the feet of the monks as they came in single file for the alms-giving.

He taught various classes for several hours a day, besides attending to administrative matters. He knew every pupil of the school both by name, and by nickname – all given by him and drawn from Shakespearian characters. One of them was Caliban.

 

Regular donations to Society

Woodward left Galle on 7 October, 1919, for Tasmania, where he grew apples for his livelihood, and edited and translated Pali texts. He made regular donations to the Pali Text Society. In 1936, upon the publication of 15 volumes of a complete translation of the Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas, Mrs. Rhys Davids declared: “More specially our tribute is due to him (Woodward) who has borne the major burden, translating alone six of the fifteen volumes, giving aid in a seventh and now crowning our labours with this last volume. To all this must be added his recently issued translations of two Minor Anthologies in the Sacred Books of the Buddhist series Udana and Iti-vuttaka, and his first edition of the Samyutta Commentary. Very worthily has he stood in the breach left by the untimely death of Richard Morris and Edmund Hardy. That we can look forward in a few years to completing our scheduled programme is largely due to him.”

Mrs. Rhys Davids added that Woodward had undertaken all those labours while resting from “agricultural toil”, and not looking for any reward save that which good work done brings. Contact:

Photo:

Courtesy: Mahinda Club.org



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Provincialising universities: Risks and dangerous precedent of NEPF

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by Nalaka Samaraweera

The new National Education Policy Framework (NEPF), currently being implemented by the government, has begun to be noticed by the public. However, there is a noticeable absence of an in-depth discussion on the implications of the policies it proposes. So far critics have quite convincingly pointed out the neoliberal motives behind the proposals and the threat that it poses to the longstanding tradition of free education in Sri Lanka. These criticisms hold merit, as the compilers of the framework have failed to present any moral stance, such as a commitment to social justice and equity, within the document.

An equally critical yet less emphasised aspect is the devolution agenda of the policy framers, who have aggressively pursued the decentralisation of educational powers beyond the provisions of the current Constitution. It is evident that their efforts are deliberate and explicit; they have unequivocally embraced the ‘Principle of Subsidiarity,’ challenging the unitary status of Sri Lanka. This principle was first introduced in Sri Lankan constitutional history during the attempted drafting of a new Constitution by the ‘Yahapalana‘ government in 2016 receiving severe criticism for undermining the country’s unitary status.

Strangely, the NEPF framers have adopted the same principle despite the nation’s continuing adherence to the unitary status. It appears that the NEPF framers disregard the necessity for policies to align with the Constitution, as evident from the multiple recommendations that violate the provisions of the 13th Amendment. For instance, the NEPF recommends stripping the government of the right to establish universities, conferring that authority exclusively upon provincial administrations.

Additionally, it suggests categorising existing universities as “provincial universities.” This recommendation contradicts the Constitution, which defines the establishment of universities as a concurrent task shared by both the central and provincial governments. Moreover, it has been recommended that the Provincial Boards of Education, entrusted with the advisory function by the Constitution, be granted autonomy by the NEPF.

It is further recommended to replace the University Grant Commission (UGC), the apex body of higher education, with a new entity called the National Higher Education Commission, whose role is to be limited to maintaining academic standards adhering to the national policies. As a result, the Provincial Boards of Education take on the roles of establishing, coordinating, and maintaining universities, thereby challenging the existing centralised authority over these responsibilities.

The framers are doubtlessly intent on fully devolving higher education in the country to a degree that surpasses even India’s model, where the Union Government shares the powers with states to establish, coordinate and maintain universities. What’s actually concerning is their daring attempt to decentralise higher education not by directly amending the Constitution, but by manipulating education policy decisions, which is both unconstitutional and unethical.

What could be the consequences of this attempt with regard to universities? So far, universities have featured in national political mandates with promises to increase the number of institutions and student enrollment, driven by a sense of national interest beyond regional and ethnic considerations. However, if universities are transformed into “Provincial Universities” and become focal points in provincial election campaigns, these campaigns may emphasise regional sentiments. When local politicians view universities primarily as tools to serve their regional constituencies, they are likely to undermine the national significance of these vital institutions. This shift challenges the current equitable approach, which strives to serve the national interest without regard to regional or ethnic differences.

The NEPF aims to replace the UGC and transfer the responsibility of funding universities to respective provinces, posing a significant threat to university autonomy. If provincial bodies gain authority to fund universities while heavily relying on government funding, we can expect increased corruption and deficiencies. Local politicians are likely to prioritise regional sentiments. Additionally, there is no assurance that all universities will receive equitable treatment, as their affiliations with different provinces may lead to disparities.

It was not long ago that there was a media report of a politician sending a letter to the top authority of a university, advocating for the recruitment of a specific individual as a lecturer. If this is happening even when universities are buffered by the UGC from direct political interference, the situation could worsen if they fall under the oversight of the proposed autonomous Provincial Educational Board. There is no doubt that this board would be influenced by provincial political dynamics. Imagine a scenario where the Provincial Chief Minister appoints the Vice Chancellor of the “Provincial University.” In this scenario, provincial politicians might view universities as potential employment hubs for their constituents.

It is no secret that there is an infamous demand for the further division of existing provinces along ethnic lines in this country. In this context, if ethnicity-focused groups see universities as instruments for promoting ethnic and religious interests rather than fostering a cohesive national identity, the country will lose its ability to create a unified national ethos. It is inevitable that universities will become victims of regional and ethnic political maneuvering.

Why are the framers of the NEPF persisting in this unconstitutional endeavour? Why haven’t they opted to pursue amendments to the Constitution for their intended devolution through proper channels? Perhaps, they are leveraging this for future constitutional amendments when the political climate is favourable to such endeavours. The public is strongly urged to remain vigilant regarding potential future constitutional changes, as the irreversible damage they may cause has been well documented.

It is important to note that Sri Lanka, unlike India, does not accept provincial autonomy in principle due to its unitary status. If there is a need to delegate certain powers, be it legislative, administrative, or financial, it must be approved by Parliament. In this context, I would like to pose a fundamental question: What is the rationale behind provincialising universities? Put differently, do specific provincial needs and conditions warrant such a recommendation in the Sri Lankan context? Is there any need for distinct higher educational programmes to cater to unique requirements in provinces? If it is posed more concretely, do provinces have unique industrial and manufacturing activities that demand tailored engineering and managerial degree programmes specific to the province for example? To the best of our knowledge, no one has been able to demonstrate such distinct requirements. Authorities need to remember that the rationale behind devolving power should stem from logical arguments rather than merely pleasing certain groups for future political gains.

Let the people be urged to unite in opposing the NEPF, which will set a dangerous precedent by surpassing the provisions outlined in the Sri Lankan Constitution. Failure to do so would lead to a precedent of devolving power through policy manipulations, without amending the Constitution.

(The writer is a Senior Lecturer, University of Moratuwa. Views expressed in this article are personal.)

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AI, climate control,and Buddhism

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By Rohana R. Wasala

Addressing a gathering as chief guest at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Sri Lanka Buddhist Society Moratuwa held at the Moratuwa Buddhist Society Hall on May 11, 2024, President Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged Rs. 1 billion for research to ‘explore the connection between Buddha’s teachings and AI’ starting next year as The Island (Online) reported 13 May, 2024. He revealed that though the project was scheduled to start this year, it had to be deferred for lack of legal provisions for the regulation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The programme will go ahead once new laws are adopted by parliament, he assured. The President also said that the government would provide the funds required for the restoration of the Moratuwa Buddhist Society Hall ahead of its own first centenary in 2029 (The construction of the building was completed in 1929).

The president’s determination to exploit AI for the global promotion of Theravada Buddhism was first mooted in a statement he made as guest of honour at the inaugural function held at the Edward Stadium in Matale, a day ahead of the 73rd National Upasampada Maha Vinaya Karma of the Ramanna Nikaya, which was to be conducted at a venue in Bandarapola, Matale from July 20 to 27, 2023. Video. Before commenting on this ludicrous subject of a costly programme of research on a hypothetical relationship between Buddhism and AI, an obvious case of comparing apples and oranges, let me turn to what else the president said at Moratuwa.

President Wickremasinghe laid similar emphasis on the global issue/s of climate change involving atmospheric warming and worsening water scarcity, both currently experienced in Sri Lanka. He thought that these challenges are to be met in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha. His arbitrary assertion in this connection is that, in terms of the Buddha’s teachings, ‘this issue’ (of climate change) ‘stems from civilisation’s greed for rapid progress’. The president would have been more convincing in making this claim (if he actually did so, as reported) had he mentioned the particular discourse or context where the Buddha allegedly talked about climate change. Since the president didn’t do so, his audience probably took him at face value. I, for one, don’t think that Buddhism offers any answers to climate change issues. The Buddha never claimed omniscience regarding the physical world, world-systems, or universes (cakkavala/chakravata in Pali and Sanskrit respectively, and sakvala in Sinha), which he said is achintya, meaning surpassing human thought, inconceivable, an idea modern physicists accept).

The subject of ‘loka’ or the world (there’s a special definition of the word ‘loka’ in Buddhism) is beyond thought (Sin. loka vishaya achintyayi). Gautama Buddha was the world’s first exponent of what is today known as the scientific method, which is important in any field where identifying and solving problems are involved, including climate control. He used it for discovering the Four Noble Truths about human existence: the reality of the unsatisfactoriness of samsaric journeying, its causes, the possibility of stopping that aimless wandering, and the way to achieve the cessation of the endless cycle of repeated reincarnations that is full of ‘dukkha’ or suffering. This goal has to be reached through wisdom while practicing universal love and compassion (lovingkindness) over all sentient beings.

 ‘Buddhism integrates our spiritual understanding with our experience of the natural world’ a Western scholar speaking about Albert Einstein’s view of Buddhism says (Source: ‘Dream Sparks’ YouTube channel). Albert Einstein is celebrated as the 20th century’s greatest scientist. Einstein stated that the Buddha had found what he was searching for. The following is a popular quote from Einstein: ‘If there were any religion capable of aligning with the demands of discoveries of modern science it would indeed be Buddhism’. So, there is no need to make false claims involving AI or climate control on behalf of Buddhism to extol it in order to raise its image in the world.

Incidentally, The Island (Online) report (May 13) which is my source here doesn’t say whether, in his speech, the President made any grateful mention of Arthur V. Dias (1886-1960) under whose leadership the Moratuwa Buddhist Society was established.  The Moratuwa Buddhist Society Hall was built under his sponsorship, too. Most probably, being a sort of history buff, the President did talk about Arthur V. Dias, though the newspaper report makes no mention of it. If he didn’t, by any chance, (which is unlikely), it would be a regrettable lapse on his part.  This patriotic Sri Lankan used to be one of the national heroes annually honoured in our school days from the early 1950s to mid1960s. He is still fondly remembered by at least a few grateful Sri Lankans, as kos mama, who was a successful planter, philanthropist, temperance movement member, and freedom activist. If he were living today, he would definitely have said and done something to tackle these problems.

To resume the subject of a hypothetical relevance of Buddhist teachings to climate control, the issue of harmful effects of uncontrolled human activities on climate was most unlikely to have been encountered in India in the time of the Buddha two thousand five hundred years ago, nor anywhere else in the rest of the world for that matter. Nowadays, however, it is a huge problem that impacts life on the Earth generally, and that seriously impairs the quality of human life and humanity’s physical and mental wellbeing. It could be even worse than that unless remedied. Renowned British broadcaster, TV presenter, film-maker, biologist, natural historian and popular author David Attenborough (b. 1926) mentions changing climate among the factors that make him conclude that “we are finally fast approaching the Earth’s carrying capacity for humanity” (A Life on Our Planet/2020), that is, its ability to support human life in terms of a healthy environment, good climate, clean water, food, fuel for factory engines and transport vehicles, electricity  power for lighting homes and cities and running industries, and so on.

The President was reported to have blamed climate change on what he called humanity’s ‘greed for progress’. Probably he had in mind the same sort of problems that David Attenborough suggests ways to deal with in the book mentioned. But material progress is a good thing that should be desired. Only unconscionable greed for material wealth in a poor country like Sri Lanka where the majority of the people live in poverty is bad.

The survival of traditional institutions such as religions depends on their perceived relevance to the day to day life of a community. The president is aware of this fact. That must be why he appears to be taking a special interest in serving the cause of Buddhism by researching a possible relationship between AI and Buddhism, and also by trying to establish a source of intellectual support in Buddhism in the matter of climate control.

However, instead of turning to Buddhism for solving this mundane problem, we could listen to Bill Gates, former CEO of software giant Microsoft and its principal co-founder, technologist, businessman, investor, and philanthropist, who spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change with the help of experts in diverse fields including physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and so on. He found three broad areas that should receive vital attention if certain climate disaster is to be avoided. These he lists on page 8 of his book ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’ (2021): To paraphrase, these include 1) bringing the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases that the industrial world typically releases to the atmosphere every year down to zero, 2) deploying the tools that we already have like solar and wind power faster and smarter, and 3) creating and rolling out breakthrough technologies. The whole book is a carefully integrated elaboration of these basic themes in twelve chapters, that discuss problems connected with, for instance, use of fossil fuels, generation and consumption of electricity, agronomy (soil management and crop production), safe use of fertilisers, management of water resources, etc., and the crucial issue of the importance of conducive government policies. I mention these things to show that we need to consult local counterparts of specialists from diverse fields whose expertise that Bill Gates drew upon. Sri Lanka already has a lot of qualified young scientists to play that role without having to depend on Buddhism in lazy complacency, except perhaps as a source of moral inspiration.

 Incidentally, Bill Gates claimed in his website ‘GatesNotes’ in 2018 that he and his wife Melinda took to meditation as a way to ‘exercise’ their minds, following, as evident in the context, the guidance of former Buddhist monk Andy, who seems to combine both the Burmese (Theravada) and the Tibetan (Vajrayana, a form of Mahayana) traditions. But this doesn’t mean that Gates adopted Buddhism as a religion.

He was originally reluctant to practice meditation because of the connection he thought it had with the concept of reincarnation, which, obviously, he didn’t accept. Nevertheless, Buddhist teachings can after all be said to have been indirectly relevant to the Gateses’ climate control activism. When Gates says he took to meditation to ‘exercise’ his mind, he most likely means the same as what we normally mean when we say that we meditate at least as a minimal goal, to gain control over our thought process in order to ‘calm’ our minds, gradually achieving a state of mental tranquility, peace and balance, that enables us to use our mental and physical energies for best effect in our intellectual and physical exertions. I added this information to suggest that the moral ethical teachings of Buddhism help Buddhists and others who choose to follow them to focus their mental as well as physical energies on the performance of the required tasks to achieve any desired goal. (To be continued)

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The way of the jackal

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By Ifham Nizam

Sri Lanka’s jackal is the only subspecies of the Eurasian Golden Jackal across its range. Historically, it was even considered a species endemic to Sri Lanka.Being the solitary wild dog inhabiting the island, it ranks as the third-largest carnivore in the area, surpassed only by the majestic Leopard and the leisurely Sloth Bear. Despite these remarkable attributes, this creature remains largely unnoticed.

Its grace eludes photographers, its beauty escapes artists’ canvases, tourists seldom seek glimpses of it, and scientists have overlooked its study. Instead, the tale of our Nariya fades into folklore—a misunderstood being, relegated to the shadows of indifference.

 Presented in clear language across 152 pages and adorned with over 100 captivating colour photographs, “The Way of the Jackal” offers a thorough exploration of this species, catering to wildlife enthusiasts, biologists, and students alike. Delving into the Jackal’s physical traits, behaviours, social dynamics, and vocalizations, this comprehensive work also equips readers with field-tested techniques for studying the species, strategies for mitigating conflicts, and insights into its potential as a key attraction in wildlife tourism.

 By shining a spotlight on the Nariya of rural lore, this book aims to ignite interest, spur research efforts, foster conservation initiatives, and tap into the untapped economic opportunities presented by Sri Lanka’s wild dog population.

 Authors:

Uthpalawarna Jayaweera is a Science graduate majoring in Zoology at the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo. She is a keen researcher who studies carnivore ecology and evolution.

 Prof. Sampath Seneviratne is a professor attached to the University of Colombo. He also is a research scientist, a forester, a conservationist, and a public communicator. Sampath spends time in forests across the globe, mostly away from popular places. He loves birding, tracking wildlife and planting.

 Chandika Jayaratne is a graduate from the University of Staffordshire in the UK. He pursued a career within the field of hospitality and environmental stewardship. He also has a research background where he studies the ecology of Rusty-spotted Cat and Jackal.

The Island interviewed the three authors regarding their most recent research on Sri Lankan jackals.

 Briefly, whose brainchild and how did it kick start?

 In Africa, the jackal species found in the northern regions, once considered an African subspecies of the golden jackal, was reclassified as a distinct species of wolf in 2015, following a molecular phylogenetic study conducted by a team of scientists. This discovery served as the catalyst for initiating a project focused on the Sri Lankan jackal.

 Our jackal holds a unique position as the sole wild canine species in Sri Lanka and stands as the only island subspecies within the range of the Golden Jackal. The confusion related to its taxonomic status, lack of proper scientific studies on its ecology, and neglect of its potential as a high-value species in Sri Lankan tourism have prompted the need for comprehensive research on this amazing species

 Recognizing the Sri Lankan jackal as a promising research model and a valuable asset in Sri Lankan tourism, the project commenced with an investigation into various aspects of the species’ ecology. This included studies on diet, vocalization, taxonomy, geographical distribution, the nature of human-jackal interactions, and the current status of the population. After three years of dedicated work, the culmination of our efforts resulted in the publication of a comprehensive book on the subject.

 What are the main species of jackals discussed in the book, and what are their distinguishing characteristics? I understand the species differ from the species stated by W W A Phillips.

 There are mainly three species of jackals in the world; Black-backed Jackal, Side-striped Jackal, and Golden Jackal.

 The Black-backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas) is a medium-sized canid native to eastern and southern Africa. The characteristic features of this animal is the dark saddle that extends from the base of the tail to the neck. In addition, they have a long, pointed snout and an overall rufous brown body colour.

 The Side-striped Jackal (Lupulella adustus) is a canid native to central and southern Africa. There are two distinguishing characteristics that aid in identifying this animal: a prominent white tip on the tail, and white or off-white sides stripes on the sides

 The Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) has the widest range of all jackals. It has a mixture of black, brown, and white hairs in its back fur, giving the impression of a dark saddle, though not as prominent as in black-backed jackals. They range from Europe to the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka. So the jackal species that lives in Sri Lanka is the golden jackal and there are 13 subspecies of golden jackals in the world. It is widely believed that the same subspecies is found in the southern parts of India and in Sri Lanka, named Canis aureus nariya.

 However, when reviewing the Sri Lankan jackal’s taxonomic history, using published scientific literature and specimens in major museums, such as the Natural History Museum of Colombo, the Museum of the Bombay Natural History Society, and the Natural History Museum of London, we found that:

According to some authors, our jackal is considered a subspecies native to both southern India and Sri Lanka, named Canis aureus nariya. Others see it as a subspecies endemic to Sri Lanka, named Canis aureus Lanka. Also, our jackal has even been considered a unique species, endemic to Sri Lanka, by Wroughton (1916), and Phillips (1935), named Canis Lanka.

 As you can see, there is clear confusion regarding its taxonomic status. However, all these classifications have been made, based solely on morphometrics. Therefore, we stress the importance of molecular phylogenetic studies to clarify this taxonomic ambiguity.

 How do jackals interact with their environment, and what roles do they play in their ecosystems?

 Jackals are considered essential ecosystem service providers due to their pivotal role in pest control within agro-ecosystems. Their diet primarily consists of significant pests, such as rodents, wild boars, peacocks, and granivorous birds like munias. By preying on these pests, jackals help maintain the balance in agricultural environments and reduce crop damage.

 In addition to pest control, jackals also serve as nature’s cleaners and health care providers. They scavenge on carcasses and hunt diseased and weak animals, thereby preventing the spread of diseases within the wild and beyond. This scavenging behaviour helps maintain the overall health of the ecosystems they inhabit by removing potential sources of disease. In a country like Sri Lanka, where vultures are absent, the role of jackals, as scavengers, is particularly crucial.

What are some unique adaptations that jackals possess for survival in their habitats?

 Jackals are highly adaptable creatures, known for their generalist and opportunistic feeding behaviours. As omnivores, they consume a diverse range of food, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, fruits, carcasses (such as ungulates), insects, and even human food. This high degree of dietary versatility allows them to switch food sources when a particular prey becomes scarce.

 Jackals are also capable of thriving in a wide array of habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, forests, valleys, seashores, and areas near human settlements. Their adaptability extends to extreme environmental conditions as well. In Europe, for example, they can inhabit elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,350 meters and can withstand temperatures as low as -35°C. This remarkable flexibility in both diet and habitat allows jackals to occupy diverse ecological niches and play a crucial role in various ecosystems.

 How do jackals communicate with each other, and what social structures do they exhibit?

 Like all other canids, jackals exhibit three primary modes of communication: vocal, olfactory, and visual. Jackals use their urine and feces to leave scent marks, which serve as messages to others, especially for marking territory.

 Regarding their social structure, the basic social unit of jackals is the breeding pair. It is widely believed that in Golden jackals, the breeding pair mates for life.

What is the hunting behaviour of jackals like, and how do they procure their food?

 Our questionnaire survey on the jackal diet showed several interesting behaviours. Jackals are known to visit paddy fields in search of prey, like crabs and rodents. They are also notorious for raiding chicken coops, especially those located near the borders of villages. In certain areas, villagers have observed that jackals howl when they find food. In other regions, it is believed that their howls help to flush out prey, such as Black-naped Hares, from their hiding spots.

 Additionally, scavenging is a common behaviour among jackals. Their food may consist of cattle, deer, wild boar, and even elephants that have been killed by predators like leopards, struck by vehicles, or have died from disease or natural causes.

In what ways do jackals interact with human communities, both positively and negatively?

 Jackals may be drawn to areas where food is readily available, such as garbage dumps, livestock holdings (including chickens, rabbits, and goats), and paddy fields. Additionally, rabid jackals might enter human settlements due to their increased aggressiveness, fearlessness, and other behavioural changes caused by the disease.

 Are there any myths, folklore, or cultural representations of jackals discussed in the book?

Jackals are deeply embedded in folklore, cultural representations, and myths, possibly being the animal most frequently mentioned in our culture, including art, literature, and folklore.

 In our folklore and literature, such as “Magul Kema” and stage plays. like “Nari Beana,” the jackal is predominantly depicted as an opportunistic trickster. Art from the Kandyan period often features the jackal in religious contexts, such as in the “Sasa Jathakaya,” which depicts the earlier lives of Gautama Buddha in animal form.

 Several famous myths are associated with the jackal. One prominent belief among rural folk is that occasionally a jackal can develop a horn, known as a ‘Jackal Horn,’ ‘Nari-comboo,’ or ‘Nari-anga,’ which is thought to possess magical powers.

 What scientific research methods are used to study jackals, and what have these studies revealed about their biology and behaviour?

 There are various methods to assess different aspects of jackal ecology. For example, camera traps, thermal imaging cameras, and radio tagging are commonly used to study their behaviour and interactions with other carnivore species.

 In our study, we conducted the first-ever dietary analysis of jackals using their scat and stomach contents of road-killed jackals. We found that their diet mainly comprises four types of food: small mammals, birds, invertebrates, and plant-based foods. The presence of a wide variety of items, including rodents, like the black rat (Rattus rattus), grassland birds such as the Tricoloured Munia (Lonchura malacca), invertebrates like beetles and maggots, and plant materials such as jackfruit, bananas, grasses, seasonal berries, and even human food (e.g., cooked rice, scraped coconut, and onion), indicates that our jackal is an opportunistic omnivore rather than a specialist predator.

 Even near visitor bungalows, deep inside wildlife parks, surrounded by pristine wilderness, we found jackal scat containing human food remains, such as rice and onion peels. This suggests that jackals prefer easily obtainable food over expending energy on hunting. Therefore, they might frequently visit human habitations in search of such food.

 Additionally, we characterized jackal vocalizations for the first time using the playback acoustic method. Through this, we identified different syllables that form five distinct vocal types: the bark, whine, whimper, short-lone howl, and group yip howl. Our findings indicate that the group yip howl is the main vocalization and major group vocal display, primarily associated with reunion and territorial defence.

 How do jackals adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as climate change or human-induced alterations to their habitats?

 Due to their higher dietary flexibility, jackals can switch to alternative food sources if one type becomes scarce because of climatic changes or human-induced alterations. They generally prefer shrub jungles with higher visibility, as these habitats provide abundant and easily accessible small mammals, like rodents. This preference allows jackals to thrive even in small, isolated patches of jungle, as well as in monocrop plantations, such as coconut, oil palm, rubber, and paddy fields.

 However, despite their adaptability, jackals still require certain minimum habitat conditions to survive. If these conditions are not met, they may eventually disappear due to the loss of feeding and breeding grounds to support their survival.

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