Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Amphibian tracking

Did you know that different frog species can be found in a variety of habitats – from the depths of the rainforest to home garden’s in the city. The common shrub frog is an endemic species (existing only in Sri Lanka) spread across a variety of habitats in the wet zone, southwest of the island. Why not try tracking and recording this and other frog species in your area? Here are some key indicators to help you identify different frog species...

Calls: Frogs communicate with one another through calling. No two frogs have the same call or use the same sound frequency. The common shrub frog makes a rapid “krike krike krike” sounding call that can be heard in the evenings after 6pm.

Habitats: Different frogs thrive best in different habitats. Some frogs are exclusive to only one type of habitat whereas others can be found in many. The common shrub frog can be identified in many habitat types including tea plantations, marshland, course grasses, bamboo, secondary forest and even your home garden.

Different types of frog can be found in the same habitat but at different heights. Often the frog’s appearance can give some indication as to where it lives as they camouflage themselves to their environment to avoid predators. Frogs that live on tree bark for example are usually brown coloured, often with rough looking skin that imitates the texture of the bark! Look out for the brown/grey coloured common shrub frog in habitats 0.5m – 2m above floor level.

Did you know?
There are 5,264 species of frogs and toads worldwide. Sri Lanka is home to 2% of the world population with 103 species existing here, 87 of which are endemic meaning they exist only in Sri Lanka.

Let’s think...
• You may not realise how important a healthy frog population is but look at it like this...As a feeder mostly on insects frogs play an important role in controlling insect numbers. They are essential in tackling insect spread diseases for example dengue fever! If we fail to protect out native frog species we are, if nothing else, doing ourselves no favours.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tracking butterflies

Butterflies are remarkable insects. Throughout their lifespan (which can range from anything from a week to a year depending on the species) they undergo huge transformations. Butterflies live across a wide variety of habitats from rainforest to home gardens. Why not try tracking them to see how many species you can find. A great one to look out for is the Blue Mormon; this native species is the second largest butterfly on the island and can be identified by its bright blue and black wings.

The life cycle of a butterfly consists of four stages;

1. Firstly butterflies will lay their eggs on the leaves of plants specially selected as being good for caterpillars to eat.

2. When the eggs hatch caterpillars emerge and eat the surrounding leaves they were born on. At this stage a caterpillar’s main priority is to eat!

3. As soon as the caterpillar is done growing they form themselves into a chrysalis, inside this chrysalis is where all the action takes place with the caterpillar rapidly changing into a.....

4. Butterfly!! The newly formed butterflies emerge weak and vulnerable, after a few hours they pump blood into their wings and fly off in search of a mate.


Often people try and catch butterflies in nets to get a better look at them. However you really need to know what you’re doing as butterflies are extremely fragile. Touching their wings for example can break important veins and leave them flightless. The best way to track butterflies is to take a wander out into your garden or local area near lots of flowering plants and just have a look to see how many different species you can find. Why not try spraying your hands with sugary water or leave some fruit in a dish in your garden to see how many turn up for dinner. Another great way to increase your butterfly population is to plant host plants, these are plants that are perfect for butterflies to feed from or lay their eggs upon. The Blue Mormon butterfly likes to lay its eggs upon curry plants, why not try planting one to encourage these beautiful butterflies to visit.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sri Lankan frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger)

Don’t be mistaken in thinking the frogmouth is, as its name suggests, an amphibian. This animal is actually a bird found in the dense tropical forests of Sri Lanka and parts of India. The name frogmouth describes the bird’s wide head and gaping mouth which it uses to catch insects. The females are often a red colour with white freckles, and the males are greyer with even more white freckles. They are nocturnal, meaning they only come out at night. During the day they sleep perfectly camouflaged upon forest branches, as a result they are notoriously difficult to spot.

Sri Lankan frogmouths build their nests in the forked branches of trees anywhere between 2 and 12 m off the ground. A very unusual characteristic of this bird is that it only lays one egg! The single white egg is incubated by both parents, with the male sitting on the egg during the day and the female at night. Once hatched the chick is looked after by the parents for three weeks before flying the nest.
The main threat to these birds is habitat loss. The forests they live in are being destroyed to make way for tea and crop plantations.

Things you can do?

1. Why not ask your parents to buy only sustainably managed tea and help protect the habitat of these birds and other forest dwelling wildlife.

2. Try making a home garden and growing some of your own vegetables. This is fun and easy to do and will help to reduce your demand for crops that damage the frogmouth’s vulnerable habitat.

3. Try listening out for these birds after dark, if you here a descending series of “klurck klurck klurck” calls you’ve heard yourself a frogmouth!

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica)

Ever seen a monkey with a haircut? If not, try looking out for the toque macaque. This stocky little monkey is an endemic species widely spread throughout Sri Lanka and undoubtedly boasts the best hair-do on the island!
These monkeys nimbly climb trees foraging for a wide variety of food including fruits, seeds, berries, crickets, spiders and birds eggs – which they often keep in their cheek pouches for later.
Toque macaque’s live in groups called “troupes” that usually consist of about 20 individuals of all ages and sizes, led by a single dominant male who protects and leads the group. These troupes are commonly seen hanging around ancient temples, as a result they are often nicknamed “temple monkeys”.

What are their main threats?

Habitat loss: Toque macaques are becoming increasingly threatened by habitat loss. Their numbers have declined by more than half in the last 40years. Despite this they are the only endemic species of the island not protected by law.

Persecution: Extensive deforestation has left the toque macaque with less and less space to live, as a result they have been driven closer to human populations in search of food and can often be seen in cultivated lands and near houses. Many people persecute them as they see them as a pest and a threat to their crops.

Capture: Although shy in the wild toque macaques can become tame in captivity, many are therefore caught and kept as pets.

What you can do

Why not try and change some minds? Speak to friends and family about the importance of these monkeys and the threats they face, try to help people to view them not as pests or pets but as an important part of Sri Lanka’s natural heritage that must be protected.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Green turtle (chelonia mydas)

Did you know, that out of the seven species of sea turtle found worldwide, five can be found right here in Sri Lanka? The green turtle is one of them and is the most widespread of the turtle species. As one of the largest sea turtles these monsters often grow up to 1.5m in length and weigh up to 200kg – that about the same weight as 3.5 adults!

A female green turtle will journey back to the same beach every 2-5 years to lay her eggs, often thousands of kilometres. She can lay up to 9 clutches each containing around 100-150 eggs. Using her back flippers to dig a deep hole in the sand, she buries them for protection. After 45 – 70 days the babies hatch and make a dash for the sea. Many don’t make it, getting eaten by birds and crabs on the way, or becoming disorientated by bright lights from nearby beach bars. Unlike other turtles, all adults are herbivores, feeding mostly on marine grasses and algae. Their young however are omnivores – meaning they eat both plants and other sea life, including jellyfish and molluscs.

Green turtles are an endangered species. They are relentlessly hunted for their meat and eggs and often die when caught up in fishing nets. The destruction and pollution of their habitats and nest sites also reduces their numbers.

Did you know?

• Nest temperature determines whether the young are male or female; studies show lower temperatures tend to produce males and higher temperatures produce females!

• Streamlined shells and powerful flippers make these turtles fantastic swimmers able to swim at speeds of up to 30mph.

• Green turtles can cry! Glands behind the eyes produce big salty tears to help get rid of excess salt in the turtle’s body.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus)

Do you know what makes a sloth bear different? The answer is food. While most bears eat anything, from berries to eggs to small animals, the small sloth mainly eats termites and ants. Sloths will break open a termite mound with its strong front claws, insert its snout, and blow away earth and dust before sucking termites into its mouth. To make it easier the bears do not have upper incisors (front teeth). This creates a hole through which they can suck up insects. Sloths are also able to close their nostrils voluntarily, which stops dust flying up their nose when they are looking for termites. The bears also have a sweet tooth – putting up with bee stings to get into hives to eat honey!

Sloths can be found across the Indian subcontinent in many different habitats – but in Sri Lanka they are only found in the north and eastern dry forests. A sloth will usually give birth to two cubs in a den at the bottom of a hollow tree. After three months the family will leave this safe place, and the cubs will ride on their mum’s back until they are about 2.5 years old, and are ready to go their own way.

What are their main threats?

1.Habitat loss. Their natural habitats are destroyed by agriculture development, building of roads and settlements and extraction of forest products such as wood, fruit and honey.

2.Poaching. In some countries sloths are hunted for cultural reasons – these include people using the bones, teeth and claws to ward off evil spirits and using their fat for native medicine and hair regeneration.

3.Capture. In some areas bear cubs are captured to be used as "dancing bears" for entertainment.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Sunday, June 13, 2010

WED winners!

Thank-you so much to everyone who sent in such fantastic drawings for our World Environment Day Competition. Everyone who participated will receive a certificate – and most importantly it is wonderful to know how many caring kids are out there helping us all to protect Sri Lanka’s biodiversity. Please keep up the fantastic work!

We are so pleased to announce the winner of our competition goes to Shenali Carren Maloney, age 14, who wins a 35mm Kodak camera, a book on the birds of Sri Lanka and a Rainforest Ranger t-shirt. You can see her picture below:

We also have two runners-up who will receive Rainforest Ranger t-shirts...

You can see the entry from H. A. Sadini Upeka (age 13) below:

and you can see the entry from Saradha Weerasekar (age 14) below:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Airsac catfish (Heteropneustes microps)

The airsac catfish is one of the more unusual fishes found in Sri Lanka – especially because it breathes air! While most fish have gills that help them take oxygen from their watery environment – this catfish has a long air sac that acts like a lung, allowing the catfish to breathe air.

Although they only grow to about 15cm long (about the same size as an adult’s hand) airsac catfish are dreaded by local fisherman due to the sharp poisonous spine in each pectoral fin that can give a painful sting on any person wading in its territory.

The fish hang out in schools of about ten. They are native to Sri Lanka and can be found in the south-west of the country. They mostly live in fresh and brackish water in areas affected by humans, such as ditches and swamps. At night you can find the fish looking for food and eating both plants and animals.

The fish are vulnerable to extinction – mainly because of chemicals used in farming that are washed into streams and rivers. Because these catfish live in small areas they are at an especially high risk of being affected by pollution.

To help protect these special fish, ask your family and friends to buy at least one item of organic food a week. Food which is produced organically is free of chemicals and don’t harm the animals that live in the area they are grown.

Four words you might not know…

Brackish: slightly salty water
Omnivore: an organism that feeds on both plants and animals.
School: a large group of fish
Pectoral fin: in fish, a pectoral fin is found on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Thursday, April 29, 2010

World Environment Day Competition

Many Species. One Planet. One Future. is the theme for this year’s World Environment Day (WED) on 5th June.

If you’ve been following our Endangered Animals of Sri Lanka column, you’ll know that even though the island has a huge diversity of species, many are under threat from extinction. In fact, over the whole of the earth, 17,291 species are known to be threatened – from little-known plants and insects to colourful birds and mammals. And while the human population keeps growing, most animal and plant populations are becoming rarer.

But why is this happening? Reasons include deforestation, pollution, over fishing and hunting, and climate change. In other words, humans are the main cause of most extinctions.

Our planet has a huge diversity of life – known as ‘biodiversity’ – all connected together. Small insects help to pollinate the plants and trees that provide food to many different animals, including humans, while species such as frogs eat mosquitoes and help control the spread of diseases like Dengue. When even one species is taken out of the intricate web of life, the results can be catastrophic.

Competition details
To celebrate this global day for environmental action, we want your help to remind people that millions of humans and millions of species all share the same planet, and only together can we enjoy a safer and more prosperous future. The Funday Times and Rainforest Rescue International are running a poster competition with the theme “Protect Biodiversity. Protect our endangered species.” The prize is:
• A Kodak camera
• A book on the birds of Sri Lanka
• The winning poster printed in the paper

Entry requirements:
Competition is open to anyone aged 8-16
Closing date to receive all entries is 31st May 2010
Poster size should be between A4 and A3
Send your poster, along with your name, age, address, phone number, school and grade, to:
Rainforest Rescue International, 37c Wakunagoda Lane, Galle

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica)

This lizard is one of the slowest moving lizards on the island. You can only find it in Sri Lanka, and then only in a few areas including the cloud forests in Horton Plains, Hakgala and the Knuckles Mountain range. But if you are lucky enough to see one, you can easily identify it as a pygmy lizard by its irregular-shaped body scales and curled, prehensile tail. (Prehensile means it is able to take hold of objects like branches).

Pygmy lizards belong to a family of reptiles called Agamidae (commonly called dragons or dragon lizards). But unlike other Agamids these little fellows don't lay eggs. Instead they hatch the eggs within their body and give birth to live young. Scientists think this is because the lizards have adapted to living in cold montane environments. In these places the night air can get very cool, and if the eggs get chilled overnight they will not be able to hatch.

The mystery of the disappearing lizards

During the mid 1990s hundreds of pygmy lizards died daily in Nuwara Eliya Hakgala – pushing the once high population nearly into extinction. It is also suspected a similar population crash happened in the Knuckles Mountains, and there were great fears the species was extinct in that area until a few were found in 2004/5 on the Project Knuckles research expeditions. The precise causes remain a mystery, although it is suspected that these deaths were the result of climatic changes and deforestation.

What can you do?

The cloud forests one of the most threatened ecosystems in Sri Lanka – they have been cut down to make space for growing the vegetables we eat every day. So why not start a home garden and grow your own vegetables – and help protect the endangered pygmy lizard’s habitat.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

These very intelligent and enormous mammals can grow up to 3m tall and 6.4m long. A male elephant weighs around 5.4 tonnes – equivalent to 5,400 packets of sugar! And despite their size their charge speed can reach nearly 50kmph.

You can find Asian elephants all through Asia, but they are already extinct in 3 countries, and there are only around 50,000 left in the wild.

Habitat loss is the main threat to these animals. Elephants eat around 150kg of vegetation a day, and as human populations increase, elephant feeding grounds are destroyed. They raid crops, destroy properties, and sometimes even kill people. Villagers often retaliate by killing the elephants, and experts now believe this to be the main cause of elephant deaths in Asia.

Other threats include poaching for ivory. And since only males have tusks, poaching has resulted in populations becoming skewed towards females, which has reduced breeding rates. Elephants have also become isolated as human settlements cut off ancient migratory routes and these small groups are at risk from inbreeding and disease.

Conservation efforts include laws that make poaching illegal, although they are hard to enforce. Many elephants live in protected reserves but these are often too small, which leads to human-elephant conflict. The creation of wildlife corridors to extend reserve lands, together with the end of poaching, are some of the steps needed to secure the future of the Asian elephant.

How to tell an Asian Elephant from an African Elephant

1.Asian elephants have smaller bodies and ears

2.The trunks of Asian elephants have only a single, finger-like end, while African elephants have two

3.Both male and female African elephants have tusks, but in Asian elephants only the males have them, and in some countries they don’t have tusks at all.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)

These large reptiles mainly live in shallow, calm waters like lakes, ponds, marshes and lagoons. They’ve adapted especially to live in water. With broad snouts and flat heads, their eyes, ears and nostrils are all on one level. This allows them to see, hear, and smell with almost all of their body underwater. Their eyes are protected by a clear third eyelid for underwater vision, and their windpipe can be covered with a flap of skin to allow them to attack underwater without letting water into the lungs. They’re excellent swimmers and use their flat tail to propel them forward.

Mugger’s are social animals and can live for 40 years or more. When it comes to families, females will dig a hole nest and lay between 10 and 45 eggs. She’ll be on guard until the young hatch and then both mum and dad will look after their young until they’re about a year old.

Did you know the temperature of the nest determines whether the young are male or female? If the nest is about 32.5oC the babies will all be male, but if it is above or below 32.5oC they’ll all be females!

Muggers are vulnerable to extinction – mainly because in the 1950s & 60s they were aggressively hunted for their skin. Now they are under threat from habitat destruction, egg collection and drowning in fishing nets.

How to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile

1. Crocs have long, narrow, V-shaped snouts – alligator's are wider and U-shaped

2. The fourth tooth on the lower jaw sticks over the upper lip on crocs so you can see it when their mouths are closed. In alligators it is covered up.

3. Crocs are a lighter olive brown colour, while alligators appear blackish.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Written by Rainforest Rescue International

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lesser short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus brachyotis)

Fruit bats are known for their cute foxy faces and large eyes. They roost during the day and wrap their wings tightly around their body leaving only their head peeping out. Bats bodies are designed perfectly for hanging upside down. Their toes naturally close to hold onto their roosts without having to use any extra energy. Hanging upside down also gives bats a safe place to rest away from predators – on the ceilings of caves, in trees and in buildings.

Fruit bats become active soon after sunset to look for small fruit to eat like mangoes, figs and nectar. They do not echolocate so instead rely on their strong sense of smell and large eyes to find food. (Echolocation is when bats make high frequency calls and then listen for echoes to bounce from objects in front of them. They form pictures in their brains by listening to the echoes – just like we form pictures in our brains by interpreting reflected light with our eyes.)

The main threat to these bats is deforestation - when forests are cut down so are bat’s roosts. Many bats have lost their homes when their natural habitat is destroyed to make way for plantations, homes and farming.

What can you do?

1. Install a bat house
You can help create safe roosts for bats to live in by putting up a bat house. To find out how visit

2. Visit a bat location
Bats roost all over Sri Lanka – why not visit and observe a bat colony to appreciate how gentle and wonderful these endangered animals are.

3. Join a conservation group
Find out about local bat monitoring or education groups near you to help protect the bats in your area.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana