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