Monday, October 18, 2010

What goes on in the wilderness! The mystery of the disappearing coconuts, adapting to climate change, another diplomatic visit, a Swiss gone native, bantams, Asils & guineas, and the great mouse deer rescue


A new day...a new beginning at Wasgamuwa

Dawn for me always represents the promise of hope

Dawn―what a great concept! It is the best time of day as far as I’m concerned. A new day, a new beginning…and the same old problems! At 5 am in the morning, Siriya our Ambassador Lodge caretaker along with my customarily cup of hot Ceylon tea has brought a host of complaints. There goes my tranquility and bliss. Since the visit of the Honorable Patricia Butenis, the United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka for a 3 day visit to our field house we have renamed our field house the Ambassador Lodge and the room she stayed the Ambassador Suite which has a large bedroom, its own living room and attached bath. First among Siriya’s complaints is that coconuts that are left on the kitchen counter for cooking are disappearing. The second complaint is along with the coconuts he is also missing his betel leaves depriving him of his customarily chew. Stopping him before he could go on listing more complaints―I ask Siriya for how long this has been going on? Siriya claims it has been going for about a week now. So putting aside what I was working on I put on my mantle of undercover investigator and set out to catch the Pol and Bulath Hora (coconut and betel thief). It took my mind back to the days when as a kid I used to read Enid Blyton mysteries and Hardy Boys books. A little bit of sleuth work had to be done in Sherlock Holmes style aided by my very unlike Dr. Watson side kick, the devious Siriya.

Climate Change

Climate change is supposed to be the most important and biggest environmental challenge the world will face in the new millennium. Since the past 3 years the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society has been trying to address this issue―especially by developing local actions for rural farming communities to adapt to climate change. One of the seminal and innovative programs was our Project Orange Elephant (POE). The goals and objectives of POE are multifold. First amongst its objective is to identify and promote alternative crops that are not susceptible to elephant raiding―basically these are crops that elephants do not prefer to eat while bringing the farmer an equal or better income than cultivating rice. The crops also need to be suitable to changing climatic conditions irrespective of whether cultivation seasons get shorter or longer. Basically a “no regrets” approach where the project outcomes will be beneficial either way. As mentioned earlier whatever alternative crops that are selected―not only do they have to survive drastic weather fluctuations but also survive elephant depredations as well. Through our ongoing field work we identified citrus as a good alternative crop that could provide farmers with an economic buffer if their main cereal crops suffered from elephant raids as well climate change induced events such as droughts and floods.

To make sure that citrus could fulfill this role, we conducted feeding trials with the six elephants at the Dehiwala Zoo to ensure that elephants did not eat citrus preferentially. The elephants were given a selection of 9 food items: carrot, pumpkin, banana, grapefruit, mandarin, orange, bitter gourd, cucumber and a branch of a citrus tree. To ensure they were all very hungry at the time―the trials were conducted always before their main meals. Instead of giving them their main meals each elephant was given the same quantity of the 9 food items first. Six elephant keepers stood in front of each elephant with a basket of food containing the 9 food items in equal portions. Six independent observers were stationed at each elephant to record their feeding behavior. At the ringing of a bell the keepers offered the food to the elephants. The manner in which the elephants selected and ate the various foods was recorded and at the end of 15 minutes the bell was rung and all the leftover food items were collected and measured. The feeding trials were conducted three times a day always before the elephants were given their main meals for 3 non-consecutive days paced over one month to ensure that the elephants did not get habituated. The results showed that elephants did not prefer to eat citrus fruits and bitter gourd.

Nine kinds of vegetables and fruits were selected randomly including 4 varieties of citrus

Six equal portions were made of the 9 food items

At the ringing of a bell they were given to the elephants

Six observers recorded how the elephants selected and ate the food for 15 minutes

At the end of 15 minutes the left over food items were collected and measured

Based on the outcomes of these feeding trials in 2006, 65 village households of a remote village in Wasgamuwa affected by raiding elephants were provided ten grafted sweet orange seedlings per home. The initial project was funded by Born Free Foundation and Elephant Care International. The project is a tremendous success. The orange trees are bearing fruit now and providing farmers with a large supplementary income. None of the grafted seedlings were damaged or destroyed by elephants while the biggest dangers and risks to the plants were from livestock and uncontrolled burning. Observing the success of the project, now other farmers are clamoring to be recruited into the project. Project Orange Elephant is now in its 3rd phase and a further 1,000 grafted sweet orange seedlings will be distributed with the onset of the rains in October to households in another village close to the boundary of the Wasgamuwa National Park that is affected severely by human elephant conflicts. The Born Free Foundation has continued to fund the project.

65 village homes were given 10 grafted plants each

The grafted orange plants awaiting delivery
The plants bear fruit in 3 years

Orange flowers attract bees providing an additional income

Each tree bears over 600 fruits annually

The low country Dry and Intermediate Zones of Sri Lanka are supposed to be the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Climate Change experts are predicting that these two climatic zones in Sri Lanka will be affected by longer dry seasons, extended droughts, short rain seasons and heavier rainfall leading to excessive rain and floods. Already we are observing such anomalies in the weather at Wasgamuwa and since both of these climatic zones are important agro-eco regions it has become imperative to start addressing such concerns. In our efforts to develop community-based approaches to climate change adaptation we are now focusing on water conservation and management since water shortages for cultivation and consumption will be a huge concern in the future. To promote awareness the SLWCS established a water conservation and management model at our Pussellayaya field site and at our Maha Mega Uyana dairy farm at Moragaha Ulpotha so that villagers could observe, learn and adapt these methods. We have established a small-plot irrigation system at Pussellayaya that includes an affordable drip irrigation system and a rainwater harvester with a capacity of 12,000 liters. At the Maha Mega Uyana dairy farm we constructed two rainwater harvesters with a total capacity of 40,000 liters. Most rural farmers comprise of those who produce crops on very small plots of land in home gardens or on other small landholdings. These farmers will benefit tremendously by been introduced to small-plot irrigation technologies since these technologies are characterized by low initial investment costs, relatively short payback periods, and high farm-level returns on investments. Along with the water conservation model we have established we will also conduct awareness programs on these technologies to provide stakeholders with linkages and resources to access and acquire these technologies.

The water tank that supplies the drip irrigation system

A diagram of a simple drip irrigation system


Additional sections can be easily added later on

Every plant gets a spray nozzle

The new nozzles spray which is more effective than dripping

The Pussellayaya rain water harvester under construction

Putting up the rain gutters to connect to the harvester

The completed rain water harvester connected to the gutter

One of the rain water harvesters at the dairy farm under construction

Compeleted rain water harvesters

Each harvester at the dairy farm can hold 20,000 liters

The two completed rain water harvesters at the dairy farm with the biogas pit under construction in the middle

We are also in the process of developing several other programs to further our community-based participatory efforts for climate change adaptation. These efforts include:
1. Acquiring several weather stations to monitor local weather patterns. The weather stations will be located at local schools and students will monitor these stations.

2. Providing resources, technical support and extension services for villagers to develop their home gardens, practice crop rotation, and cultivate alternative crops.

3. Increasing the green cover and “carbon sink” capability of the villages by propagating and planting native tree species which will also contribute to biodiversity conservation.

4. Conducting public awareness program in partnership with local government authorities to encourage villagers to use CFL bulbs and energy-efficient stoves that burn less wood which can help cut about 1 million tons of CO2 each year.

5. Due to the increasing number of motorcycles, land master tractors and Bajaj Trishaws in rural areas today villagers are becoming dependent on these modes of transportation to do even short trips instead of the traditional pedal bicycles and walking. Through public awareness programs villagers will be encouraged to go back to the use of bicycles and walking for short trips which will not only cut down on emissions and fuel expenditure but also contribute to better health and a cleaner environment.

One of the main goals of our efforts is to bring about attitudinal and behavioral changes in the communities at our project sites in Wasgamuwa to meet the challenges of climate change adaptation. The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) recognizes the fact that today children are seen as one of the most positive influencing forces for social change. One of the most effective ways to promote awareness about environmental issues and promote environmentally responsible behaviors is by providing increased access to environmental education for children. The goal is to expose people to different environmental issues and concerns through their children with the hope that the children’s influence will lead to interest and result in action.

We hope to achieve this by empowering school children to become positive influences and agents for change in their communities for environmental conservation and climate change adaptation by providing them with the knowledge, awareness, and access to information, technology, training, and experience.

Children can be a positive influencing force for social change

Samantha giving a presentation on biodiversity

Children are better at understanding some of the difficult concepts and challenges

Students are tested before...

...and after a program

The change in their score is a measurement of how much knowledge and awareness they have gained
At the end of the program the students are given books or plants

Animal Tales

Long-necked One Eyed Joe is the largest goose in our gaggle of geese. He is easily over 15 kilos and blind in one eye―hence his name. One Eyed Joe is pretty old―we don’t know how old―probably he must have become a goose at the time the birds split off evolutionarily from the dinosaurs! Seriously he looks that old. The geese have found a new a hangout joint, the kitchen garden and now we have no peace in the field house. The entire kitchen is barricaded with mesh to prevent a geese invasion. Otherwise they come into the kitchen and try to chase the cook away and eat all the food. In the meantime old One Eyed Joe has come across one of the metal equipment cabinets that we keep along a corridor near the kitchen which has a mirror. He has become enamored with the mirror or least with his own image. He now spends a considerable amount of time standing in front of it honking quietly to himself twisting his head and serpentine neck into various poses. Either he is extremely narcissistic―taking extreme pleasure at looking at his own prehistoric form for hours on end―or he is driving himself nuts trying to figure out how come there is a huge goose just like him that he cannot catch hold of, which seems the more likely situation considering his mental capacity which is none.

One Eyed Joe 3rd from the right - our largest goose

One Eyed Joe posing at the mirror

How did it get in there???

I’m at a closed door meeting with the cabinet minister and his wife. Important matters are being discussed, which is how to obtain Dodam our male giant squirrel a mate. The meeting ends with the minister’s wife promising to give her fullest support and help to find Dodam a mate. She immediately gives orders to her team of staff to make an all out effort to find a female giant squirrel. Two weeks later I receive a call from the minister’s wife. An orphaned baby giant squirrel has been found but she is not sure whether it is a male or a female. I go by the house and the staff brings out the baby giant squirrel. It is adorable and has become very friendly but unfortunately it was a male. Since the main goal of our efforts is to give all rescued wild animals a second chance to live free, we take him to our field site. The little baby is an instant hit with the volunteers and the American film crew from New York. Emma one of our international volunteers from Scotland promptly names the baby giant squirrel, Ollie. So on August 2010, Ollie the baby giant squirrel joined an ever growing line up of rescued wildlife at our field site.
The day we picked up Ollie from the minster's home

Ollie arriving at our field house

Ollie was an instant hit with the ladies...

...and practically everybody else

God Mother Emma who christened the baby giant squirrell Ollie

Within a few days Ollie has captured everyone’s hearts expect Dodam’s. Dodam the confirmed bachelor took just one look at Ollie and from his expression it was easy to deduct that he was in vehement denial that Ollie could be any progeny of his. At their first and only meeting Dodam checked out Ollie first to assure himself there was no family resemblance and then took off like a bat out of hell hotly pursued by Ollie. Clambering all the way up to the rafters Dodam refused to come down. I wonder how Dodam will behave when one day we bring him a mate!? I hope he won’t move to the next province!

Meeting of barely so

I'm outa here

Dodam making a beeline to the trees hotly pursued by Ollie

Phew! That was a narrow escape!

To make sure Ollie learns the basic skills of being a giant squirrel everyday he is taken out and allowed to climb the trees near the field house. Everybody has to be vigilant at this time since there are raptors and wild and feral cats around the field site that would not hesitate to carry plump Ollie off. Ollie seems more interested to explore his surroundings on land than by tree top. I hope we will not end up with a giant squirrel that followed us around like a dog!

Training day for Ollie

Do I really need to do this?

Am I doing it right?

I can't believe I'm supposed to do this?

Finally made it to the top

I rather prefer this perch to any old tree branch

Getting rewarded for effort

Going down seems far more easier than going up

The ground seems much safer than clambering on tree tops...maybe I'll stick to walking

The kitchen is the best place to hang out

At the farm a new batch of ducklings have come out, and today is their training day to learn the ways of ducks and drakes. The bevy of ducklings are loaded into baskets and brought to the pond and placed in the water. The initial expression is a horrified “their trying to drown us” reaction. But soon realizing that it is impossible―meaning to drown since their ducks―they speed across the water like miniature jet-skis! Now every day in the morning they are lined up at their cage door waiting to be let out to romp in the pond.

The ducklings are brought in a basket and placed in the water

After they get over their intial horror they jet ski around the pond

This is so much fun...

...until the adults ducks come and make a splash of it

The ducklings watch while the adult ducks romp in the pond

Better get out before it gets too boisterous!

The Chicken that Chickened-out

I am at our Dehiwala office in Colombo and Gamini as usual walks in full of improbable ideas. Gamini and I used to work for the Education Department of the Dehiwala Zoo. He insists that I acquire a pair of Asils from Lester. Lester is a very well known ornithologists, wildlife artist and naturalist guide who also I knew from my zoo days. Since we were just waiting for any excuse to get out of the office so very gladly putting aside everything Samantha and I head out to Lester’s to check up on his Asils. For those who do not know of these things, Asil (also spelled Aseel) are a breed of fighting chickens or game fowl from India who are known for their tenacious and unrelenting fighting abilities. In fact they are called pugnacious fighters. It is one of our goals to have the most number of pure chicken breeds at our farm so it was not any interest in cockfighting that took us to Lester’s. After much haggling with Lester, Samantha and I convince him to give us three Asils to start a breeding program. We also manage to acquire them at a far more reasonable price than he first demanded. The male and two hens we bring to our farm at Pussellayaya where we now have a considerable collection of various poultry breeds. I don’t know about other Asils and their “pugnacious” fighting qualities but the male Asil we got is a wimp. What is tragic is that even the Japanese bantam roosters come strutting along and knock him down flat and mind you that is just for kicks! I hope Lester does not have a “no return policy” otherwise there is definitely a fight in hand!

The day the Asils arrived at the farm

The male Asil with the two hens

Dambullu Boy the dominant rooster of our free ranging flock

Dambullu Boy showing the Asil whose Big Boss

In the Sunday Observer classified advertisements I see an advertisement selling various types of bantam chickens. I pass on the information to Samantha who is our farm manager to follow up on. So there we are heading down south to meet up with a chap call Blaser to purchase Japanese bantams from him. Samantha who has spoken to the chap over the phone tells me he seems to have a strange accent and a peculiar manner of speaking. Not a rare combination by any means when I think of all the colorful characters I have met over the years! It is pretty late― nearly 9 pm by the time we get to Payagala. From there onwards the directions get from bad to worse and it seemed like we have ended up in the neighborhood of Nosfaratu! The narrow unpaved drive way snaking along a massive tall wall and strangled by overhanging tree branches and dangling creepers finally ended at two huge looming main gates. I felt as if we had somehow been transposed to a remote location in Transylvania! I could not help thinking that the Count must be waiting for us just over those walls! I came close to asking Samantha whether he remembered to pack a wooden cross and gun with a silver bullet!

The driveway snakes through a tunnel of trees and creepers

On one side of the driveway is a large wall barely visible

Two looming gates appear at the end of the driveway

What lies beyond?

Hellooo is the Count in!

After a short wait―enough time to wonder what we have got ourselves into―the gates open and we meet Blaser and a jumble of friendly dogs of various breeds. In a fraction of second we have got transported from an impending Dr. Terror’s House of Horror situation to a set in Midsummer Night’s Dream. It seemed somehow we had managed to get involved in a Dr. Doolittle meets Alice in Wonderland parody. What a Wonderland! Especially for nature lovers, poultry enthusiasts and for fantail pigeon aficionados! Blaser is Swiss who has made his domicile in Sri Lanka for the past 40 years. No wonder the man had a strange accent and a peculiar manner of speaking―living for so long in Sri Lanka can have that kind of effect on people. His six acre garden he has allowed to run wild and become a veritable rain forest with large flowering and fruit trees draped in vines, creepers and lianas. Though he was Swiss he did not speak in Swiss, English or Sinhalese but in a strange patois of his own―mixing words from English and Sinhalese as needed to communicate or get an idea across. After the initial introductions and a friendly reprimand for been late, Blaser wanted to know how many Japanese bantam kukulas (cock birds or roosters) and kikilees (hens) we wanted. He said he will not sell us just a pair since it was unfair for the kikilee since it had to deal with a randy kukula with only one thing in his mind! Reminded me of the depraved cockerel we had at the farm that had an abnormal fascination for ducks. The wayward cockerel has been named by the staff with the obvious acronym DF! Let alone call him that just to write it makes me blush. Blaser tells us that he has lot of problems from horas (thieves) who steals his kukulas (chickens) and pigeons and that is why he is viku-nanawa (selling) most of them. So finally we end up with several varieties of bantams and a pair of guinea fowl and a new friend, Blaser. The bantams and the guinea fowl have been safely transported to our farm where they have settled down very well. The bantams are already laying eggs and the tiny roosters once in a while go and kick the feathers off our male Asil. It is about time I went to meet Lester to check up on his return policy.

Blaser opening the door to his Wonderland of dogs, chickens, pigeons and who knows what

The garden has been allowed to run riot

Talking about Kukulas, Kikilees and Horas

A wonderland...

...of joyful dogs and chickens

Miniature Bantams and Silkies look as if they have stepped right out of a fairy tale

Cute and cuddly bantam chickens

Newly met Yaluwo (friends)

Another Diplomatic Visit

It is 2 am in the morning in the US when I get a call from Chinthaka, the Project Manager who is in charge of our operations at Wasgamuwa. He is calling me urgently to let me know that he has received a call from the Indonesian High Commission in Colombo informing that the Indonesian High Commissioner, His Excellency, Djafar Hussein and his family will be visiting our Wasgamuwa project on the following day which is September 16th. So over the phone separated by two oceans and nearly 12,000 miles we quickly discussed arrangements for the impending diplomatic visit.

Going by the reports I received from Chinthaka it seems the High Commissioner’s visit has gone off very well. Apparently the High Commissioner has been very keen to experience as much of the wilderness and our projects as possible even though he has come only for one night with his family party of 5 members. Of course amongst his many requests of things he wanted to do was meeting the giant squirrels, Dodam and Ollie and Piggy and Wiggy the two wild boars. The diplomatic party has had a tremendously enjoyable time. The 5 am Sunrise Hike up the rock and then along the littoral plain of the lake has become one of the most sought after activities mainly due to the incredibly awesome dawn skies and kaleidoscopic sunrises one could see. The first day and evening the High Commissioner’s party has spent visiting the Wasgamuwa National Park and the tree hut. The following day after the Sunrise Hike and breakfast the High Commissioner’s party had left after planting a tree in commemoration of their visit promising to come back for a longer visit. Later I heard that the High Commissioner was very interested to have some of our bantams and was thinking of making a diplomatic coup on our chicken coop―this was supposed to be a friendly gesture from him to keep our diplomatic relationship warm and cordial. The diplomatic visits we have had so far from both the U.S. Ambassador and the Indonesian High Commissioner have been enjoyable fun filled experiences and everyone is looking forward eagerly to their next visits.

The Indonesian High Commissioner, His Excellency, Djafar Hussein enjoying the Sunrise Hike

Sunrises that cannot be surpassed

Only nature can draw a sunrise like this

The members of the diplomatic party meeting Piggy and Wiggy

Dodam greeting the High Commissioner

Getting acquainted with Ollie

Visiting the 10th Anniversary commemorative plaque of the Saving Elephants by Helping People Project
Shaking hands with Chinthaka prior to leaving back to Colombo after planting a tree commemorating his visit

The Mouse Deer Rescue

We have spent a long day in Dambulla cow shopping for our Maha Mega Uyana dairy farm. Since 5 am we have been on the road and have seen over 50 cows of various hues, colors, breeds and condition. It is nearly 10 pm and the entire town of Dambulla is dead because we cannot find a place to get ourselves a refreshing cup of tea. Hoping to get tea further along the way at one of the night shops that cater to trucks that haul goods over long distance we head back to our Wasgamuwa field site which is about one and half hours away. The new road through Bakamuna for the first half goes along the western boundary of the Wasgamuwa National Park. So there is always the likely chance of seeing various wild animals from elephants to shrews to frogs and snakes. The newly constructed road stretches far into the distance as far as can be seen in the long beams of the two Warn HID lights on the Defender. The Defender rises and falls on the undulating road like a boat riding on waves. A short while later we spot something huddling on the middle of the road. Our first guess is that it is a hare standing still blinded by the approaching lights. Sampath who is driving slows down immediately and we slowly inch forward to see what it is. Once we got close enough we saw that it was not a hare but a sub-adult Sri Lankan white-spotted chevrotain or mouse-deer (Moshiola meeminna) lying on the middle of the road. There are supposedly two species of mouse deer in Sri Lanka: The white-spotted mouse-deer (Moshiola meeminna) found in the dry zone of Sri Lanka and the yellow-striped mouse-deer (Moschiola kathygre) found in the wet zone of Sri Lanka.  Both species are endemic to Sri Lanka.

Mouse deer are normally very shy, hardly seen since they are mostly nocturnal and move very fast. Apparently there was something wrong with this animal because it was not behaving like a typical mouse-deer. Our first assumption was that it is hurt or injured. Samantha and Sampath quickly get down from the vehicle and approached the mouse deer which did not make any attempt to flee. I asked Samantha to pick it up and see what was wrong. Samantha bent down to pick it up and immediately pulled his hand off with a grimace. Observing from the car I was wondering why Samantha and Sampath were having such hard time catching such a small animal! In the meantime the mouse deer stood up and walked slowly to the side of the road. I saw then that it had an injury just underneath its right eye where I could see blood. I got off the vehicle and went to see what was going on asking Samantha why he let go after catching it the first time. Samantha said the mouse deer had kicked his hand when he tried to catch it. Sampath cautioned me that the thing was vicious. I could not believe that such a small animal could give so much trouble.

The mouse deer in the meantime has moved again to the middle of the road and was lying down. Obviously it was not only injured it was also disoriented and was in no condition to be left alone by itself. Approaching it from behind, I grabbed it quickly by the neck near the shoulder with my right hand. Immediately I felt my hand exploding in excruciating pain as if red hot needles were being jabbed into it. I quickly let go off my right hand and grabbed it with my left hand which immediately burst with the same explosion of pain. I realized the reason for this pain was that the mouse deer was kicking up and forward rapidly with its’ hind legs which were adorned with these dainty but needle sharp hoofs. It kicked faster than Bruce Lee. Holding on doggedly and refusing to let go amidst the searing pain I asked Samantha to grab the madly kicking back legs while I got a better hand hold on this miniature terror. Before it could do more injury to us―meaning me―we quickly put it into one of the plastic Italian chicken transporters we always carry in the Defender. They are ideal for transporting various kinds of small animals including chickens. As soon as we put it into the crate it immediately calmed down and lay on the floor. Both my hands especially my fingers were lacerated with tiny punctures and wounds where the skin had been gouged out. They hurt like mad. We brought it to the field house and put the cage in a quiet corner. We did not make any attempt to check its’ injuries or treat them because we felt along with its injury it must also feel traumatized by been physically handled so we did not want to subject it to further stress. After providing some water and food we covered up the crate and left it alone. Next day when we checked it was doing pretty well. It was calmly lying in the cage and had fed. We could see now the injury underneath the eye was superficial and would heal in a few days. Our assumption of what must have happened is that some predator had chased it and the mouse-deer must have hit its head somewhere while running which caused the injury as well as given it temporary concussion. Fortunately for the mouse deer we had arrived on time scaring whatever the predator that was intent on killing it. If we had found a place to have a cup of tea probably the mouse deer would not have survived.

The injured mouse deer was placed in the chicken carrier
The mouse deer inspecting the crate

The mouse deer very quickly settled down in the crate

Bringing it to the field house

In the morning we loaded the crate into the Defender and took the mouse-deer to our Maha Mega Uyana dairy project site. This site is ideal mouse-deer country with several fresh water springs, perennial streams, lush riverine forests, scrub jungle and grasslands. In a secluded glade with thick underbrush next to a bubbling freshwater spring we released it. My hands suffered again since I had to catch it to take it out of the crate to release it. However for all the pain I had to endure it was very satisfying to see the tiny female mouse deer (we gave it a thorough inspection before letting it go) walking away and disappearing into the underbrush in its’ new home. How enriching and exciting life experiences are (albeit some pain) when you live in the wilderness!

The mouse deer being taken to the release site at the Maha Mega Uyana Farm

Not an easy matter catching it for releasing

The mouse deer was gently placed on the ground

It very nicely blended in with the ground cover

Taking stock if its surroundings

A new lease on life

To Catch a Thief

The coconut is well placed on the kitchen counter―there was no way a professional coconut thief could miss that. The sheaf of betel leafs was blatantly exposed on a shelf above to create an added incentive and incitement for any self respecting thief specializing in coconut and betel robberies to go for a grand slam heist. On the other side of the kitchen Siriya and I are crouching next to the counter in the pantry waiting in hiding, holding our breath waiting to see what will happen next? In my mind Mancini’s Pink Panther theme is playing continuously and I drift into a bemused state contemplating on a long line of comic book, real life and Hollywood master criminals―wondering which one would show up today. Siriya tugs at my hand breaking my bemused reflections to point at an incredible phenomena; the coconut was climbing up the wall! Siriya is muttering that something bad is going on―knowing how is simple one tract mind works, I know he is thinking that some super natural or metaphysical force is at work. Recovering my wits I peer over the counter and see that indeed the coconut is still moving up the wall! I wonder how a coconut could levitate by itself. Stealing up my courage I quickly stand up to see better and immediately realizes how the coconut is going up the wall. It is very well grasped and aided in its upward levitation by none other than the heart throb of the Ambassador Lodge, Dodam the giant squirrel! Fortunately we had not called the cops about this matter and thankfully neither do I make a living investigating wildlife crimes―it is definitely not a paying job and neither does it sound like a serious occupation! Dodam has developed a penchant for raw coconut and betel leaves―while I can understand him liking coconut I never would have believed that giant squirrels ate the rather tangy and acidic betel leaves as part of their regular diet. Dodam has been a revelation as to the weird stuff that giant squirrels love to eat and drink if given a chance.

Dodam taking of with a coconut

Enjoying his ill gotten gains

Making sure no one can take the coconut back

The Betel Leaf chewing giant squirrell

I need to have my customarily chew

I'm not a thief it is just that I have a discerning appetite

The things you learn in the wilderness. Glad that the mystery of the disappearing coconuts and betel leaves have been solved.  Now I can go back to what I was working on before Siriya interrupted me…well that was just wishful thinking on my part!


  1. Hi Ravi

    Pretty interesting eh! I did not know Giant Squirrels had a penchant for coconuts and betel leaves. Shall save it in my hard disc.

    Until the next issue of GRAPEVINE - BYE


  2. Children are the future of this planet. And they need to get involved in concerns regarding environment. The best medium to spread this message has to be education. Teaching them about advantages and disadvantages of a good environment will only allow them to learn and apply to the benefit of planet.
    Teaching children to go green

  3. Another excellent post. I must admit I suspected Dodam from the start.

  4. I too had a farm like yours in dodangoda, Kalutara about 20 yrs. ago. Now residing in Phoenix, Arizona. When I saw your article reminded me of the bio gas plant I had for cooking and heat for the chicks. Had giant bamboo plants that I bought from Peradeniya and also a number of Durian trees, Avacado, Cinamon, Pepper, Citrus, coffee etc.
    Good luck on your venture

  5. Loved loved reading this, very amusing and what a charming life you lead! Dwarf siam bantam buying expeditions, this is the life I can only dream about. I just came back from a wonderful trip to Sri Lanka in fact. I am fascinated by the animals there both domestic and wild, from elephants to goats I stop to wonder at them all. One goat was particularly interesting, a large black male with ears almost to its knees the likes I've only ever seen in the Middle East. We saw fancy pigeons for sale along the roadside which I of course screeched to a halt to inspect. But most spectacular of all and much to my complete and utter delight we had a breeding pair of reasonably tame Mice deer in our Jungle hotel's garden. I've never seen anything quite so perfectly exotic. They came out at night to eat the grass near the dinning room. Just so beautifully tiny and wondrous for words. Sleek and shiny and gorgeously patterned. Not sure if they are the dry or wet varieties, we were on the coast hour or so from Trincomalee. Thanks for the reminder of such a fascinating and good time.