|Sunday, 27 February 2005|
Sounds of Sinharaja
by Vimukthi Fernando
It is a cool morning. Mist rising off the ground, its frosty touch awakening you to the day. Bright yellow rays of the sun, making ethereal patterns through the clouds, through the trees, through the mist, in its efforts to kiss the ground. Serene. Sublime.
Open your eyes. Look around. What can you see? A gravel path running through the forest. A flock of birds fluttering about - frantically. A bunch of schoolchildren shouting and chasing each other in their quest to climb Mulawella.
A group of youths and adults, dressed in bright silk clothing treading the path towards Sinha Gala with their radios blaring Hindi songs. A group of foreign visitors stoping and stooping to take a glimpse of a retreating Jungle Foul.... You begin to wonder whether it is a nightmare.
Birds, cooing and chirping on tree tops. Listen. Close your eyes. Listen again! A Purple Faced Leaf Monkey baying in its jungle nook. The dawn chorus of birds... a twitter, a tinkle - ringing through the forest. A call awakening the jungle. An invitation to flock together for the morning meal.
Sinharaja comes alive the moment you close your eyes. Hours of wandering through the forest - cool clear water bathing your feet, the whiff of aromatic wild flowers, the red-orange Vanaraja vaunting its beauty in the dark and humid undergrowth, flash through your mind. But you are not in Sinharaja, you are listening to the 'Sounds of Sinharaja - a Day's Walk Through a Rainforest in Sri Lanka', a CD produced by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL).
A soft voice guides you through the forest - as majestic as its name denotes - Sinharaja, the heart of Sri Lanka's bio-diversity. Concealing numerous mysteries under its dense foliage, myriad waterways, fissures and caves, some, where no human foot is set.
The voice makes you listen to the early morning sounds and adds a spark to your walk through the gravel road, upto the information centre, makes you muse through the sounds of the day. He is Eben Goodale, a biology student at the University of Massachusetts. Sinharaja is his second home, the CD had been his brainchild. Assisted by his wife, Uromi Goodale also a biologist researching on plant life Eben had carried out research on birds in Sinharaja for the past eight to nine years.
It is the numerous records they had of bird songs and other sounds of the forest collected during the past three to four years that paved way for the CD, says Prasanjith Caldera, an experienced naturalist who assisted Eben on his research during the time.
Ashoka Jayarathna, a 22 years old native of Sinharaja who had been assisting scientific projects in the forest from the age of 15, is the other contributor to the CD. "Visitors, especially locals come to Sinharaja to see animals and get disheartened when one cannot see them.
But, at the same time they are not willing to spend some quiet moments waiting to see the animals in their natural habitat unlike foreign visitors who may spend hours in one area at a time quietly observing birds and other animals.
If you keep your ears open you can enjoy a lot of animals. Most visits are from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. hence the sequential grouping of sounds," says Prasanjith. "Animals are the owners of the forest. We have to understand their language to read their communication. Then only we can go beyond what is seen by the normal eye." The speciality of their CD, is the night sounds. "Though we only think of the forest as coming alive during the day, the forest really starts talking in the night," he says.
The language of the forest is most interesting. Animals make different sounds and signs to awaken or warn others, call their partners, mark their territory, look for food when they feel relaxed after a good meal and so on.
An understanding of these sounds and signs may sometimes mean life and death, when in the forest. It also helps enhance ones enjoyment of the forest as well, says Prasanjith.
Furthermore, "if you train your ear, you may be able to make new discoveries as well," he adds, citing the discovery of Serendib Scops Owl, by Deepal Warakagoda, as an example. "He (Deepal) is not the first person to hear the sound. But, he is the only person who noticed the difference and was ready to probe further," he says.
The trio, are enthusiastic about using the CD for conservation purposes. "This (the CD) goes beyond what is in the text books but gives the listener just a sampling of the scope of Sinharaja. It could be used as an educational tool, to create awareness of the forest.
Therefore, we plan to translate the script into Sinhalese to be used in schools, for GCE O/L and A/L classes." "It will also be useful in creating awareness in the villages bordering Sinharaja", says Prasanjith. For the villagers living close to the forest are the best conservationists, their practical knowledge is more than what we study, he says.
With no special equipment and facility of recording, the basic cost of the CD had been borne by the trio themselves. "However, there were many who helped us in numerous ways, to whom we are always thankful of," say the trio.
The proceeds from the sale of the CD will help students of conservation research, through FOGSL student fund. "Most Sri Lankan students, though they are interested in research cannot do so, due to financial constraints. What we are trying to do is to ease their burden and encourage them on research," they say. The CD, available for sale at the FOGSL.
Produced by Lake House