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Distribution of Reptiles of Sri Lanka

Anslem de Silva, Hepertalogist, Sri Lanka Anslem de Silva
Herpetologist, Amphibia and Reptile
Research Organization of Sri Lanka
15/1 Dolosbage road, Gampola, Sri Lanka

Articles by Anslem de Silva focus on the present (2005) status of reptiles of Sri Lanka on five headings taxonomy, ecological status, threats, distribution and conservation and management.

Published literature (de Silva, 1998a, 1998b & 1998c) and recent island-wide surveys of some reptiles give us a fair idea of the distribution of reptiles in the country. Reptile distribution has been studied using different parameters, such as the three climatic zones (de Silva, 1987, 1990a, 1992, 2003). Crusz (1984, 1986) used the seven vegetation zones. The four biogeographic regions (Senanayake et al., 1977) and altitudinal stratification (Gans & Fetcho, 1982, Greer, 1991, Erdelen, 1984 & Pethiyagoda and Manamendra-Arachchi, 1998) and reptiles in specific locations or ecosystems (such as Knuckles, (Bambaradeniya & Ekanayake.2003); Nilgala, (de Silva et al., 2004a; Goonewardene et al., 2004; Bolgoda, Ranwela, 1995, Sinharaja, Jones et al., 1998; Polgolla, Nathanael et al., 2004 and others). The distribution of reptiles is fairly clearly determined by the three climatic zones (wet, intermediate and dry) with altitude forming another important parameter.

The relict species (all Ceratophora, Cophotis, Lyriocephalus, Chalcidoseps, Nessia and several species of Lankascincus, Aspidura, Balanophis, Cercaspis and Haplocercus) are confined to the wet and parts of the intermediate climatic zones from sea-level to 2200 m above the mean sea level. Within this altitudinal range, the species are distributed according to their ecological needs: e.g., Ceratophora stoddartii inhabits cloud forest from 1500 to 2200 m above the mean sea level. Annexure 1 shows the distribution of reptiles in the seven vegetation zones of Sri Lanka (Figure 1) used by Eisenberg & McKay (1970), Gaussen et al. (1964), and Crusz (1984).

Conservation and Management of reptiles of Sri Lanka

Some specific and general proposals regarding conservation, management and captive breeding of reptiles are listed below:

General proposals
1. Introduction of a module on reptile and amphibian diseases into the undergraduate curriculum.

2. Initiate well designed studies to gather information on the distribution and status of reptiles. It is on the basis of such studies that warnings could be given (Crusz, 1973).

3. Declare smaller isolated forests with high biodiversity as protected areas. These could serve as school "field laboratories"; to be managed and protected by the schoolchildren and NGO's in the particular area.

4. Captive breeding of endangered and vulnerable taxa need high priority. Captive breeding programs should be initiated when the wild population is still in the thousands (1990 IUCN Red List).

5. Identify natural enemies and other threats.

6. Commercial breeding and harvesting of reptiles (monitor lizards, crocodiles and terrapins) at well supervised farms could be an effective way of controlling poaching.

7. Encouraging farmers to employ organic farming methods instead of using insecticides and artificial fertilizers.

8. Studying traditional beliefs and practices regarding reptiles will enable utilization of some of these beliefs in public awareness programs to reduce the wanton destruction and killing of these animals. For example, it is widely believed that the flesh of Geochelone elegans is poisonous and therefore it should not be killed. Geckos are not killed, as it is believed the geckos are indicators of either good or bad luck. The flesh and fat of Varanus salvator is considered highly poisonous, and the scavenging habits of the water monitor are perhaps reasons that Sri Lankans do not kill it for flesh.

9. Conduct awareness programs on the importance of reptiles.

10. Initiate immediate steps to reduce road kills.

Some Specific proposals:

1. Protection of the chief nesting habitats of Crocodylus porosus along the south and west coasts of the island (e.g. ecosystems that support the flag plant - Lagenandra toxicaria).

2. Identify localities where Crocodylus palustris and C. porosus are killed for consumption and end the practice.

3. Monitor turtle hatcheries with immediate effect to ensure that accepted best practice codes are followed (Refer Hewavisenthi, 1993, Richardson, 1995, Weerasinghe & Walker, 1995 and de Silva, 1996).

4. Conduct awareness programs for cultivators in areas with large populations of Geochelone elegans in an attempt to minimize burns and other severe injuries to these animals during land preparation activities.

5. Initiate immediate conservation breeding programs for critically endangered reptiles such as Ceratophora karu and C. erdelani etc.

6. Establish a rapid response mechanism in the veterinary unit of the DWLC in collaboration with the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Peradeniya. Such a mechanism would have enabled quick investigation into the causes of the mass mortality of Cophotis ceylanica in 1992 around Hakgala and Nuwara Eliya.

More articles on reptiles ....>
Taxonomy and ecological status,