Animal rescue adventure on the Kaluganga | Sunday Observer

Animal rescue adventure on the Kaluganga

A lizard netted!
A lizard netted!

Surrounded by fast rising waters, hanging on for dear life, many animals are stranded in the Kaluganga waterbed as the Kaluganga Reservoir continues to rise. The Sunday Observer joined Wildlife officers in their efforts to rescue them.

“Is that a python on the tree?” Everyone looked at the tree on our left upon hearing Kulasekara’s scream. “Where, where?” we were all startled.

It was a Keena tree with just a few branches. Although we could see only five or six feet of the tree, it is taller than 15 feet - the rest of it under water. The serpent was at the top of a branch; and seemed to be enjoying a peaceful nap.

We were on a boat, passing the old Laggala town which was submerged in water from the Kaluganga reservoir. The old city where hundreds of horns honked, loudspeakers blared and busy townsfolk rushed about their daily activities, was no more. The entire area of the old town belongs to the waterbed of Kaluganga reservoir, the twin sister of Moragahakanda. Our boat held a group of wildlife and police lifesaving unit members, who were rescuing animals surrounded and threatened by the fast rising waters.

“Be careful!” Another screamed as the boat got too close to the serpent. Aiyoo mata nam behe mahattayo. Mama bottuwen paninawa, (I can’t do this Sir. I’m going to jump off the boat). Manoj the driver who came with us from Colombo, panicked. Wasantha, a wild life officer took out a long pole which had a ring shaped thread at the end of it. He could manually change the size of that ring, it seemed.

There was silence except for the chug of the boat engine, as everyone was looking at Wasantha and the serpent. He gave the snake a gentle pat first. The disturbed snake raised its head but it didn’t even have time to think before Wasantha lassoed its neck. Then he slightly tightened the ring, capturing the snake It was a little fella. The python was about three feet long and had just had lunch at the time we caught it!.

“It surely had swallowed a lizard. Look at its belly,” Wasantha showed us.

Dasanayake helped Wasantha to put the python into a long conduit pipe which they normally use to keep rescued snakes on the boat. Although catching a dangerous snake while sitting in a boat seems so dangerous, it was just a two minutes job for them.

“Sunday Observer is lucky. We didn’t find any pythons during the last couple of days” said the Deputy Project Director- Environment of the Moragahakanda-Kaluganga project, Abeysinghe, who was also with us.

They initiated this program two weeks ago, and have already rescued hundreds of animals.

“This area is very close to Wilgamuwa, Wasgamuwa and Knuckles. We have rescued over 800 lizards from the range. Other than that we found snakes such as pythons and cobras, squirrels, giant squirrels, frogs and also an endemic animal called ‘Hambawa’. Most of the snakes can swim away but Lizards and Squirrels cannot” Assistant wildlife ranger S.W. Sanjeewa told us.

He told us that all these rescued animals are released at either Wasgamuwa or Knuckles Reserves. In other words, they are released into a similar habitat.

“We initiated this project under the guidelines of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). Our efforts have been significant in the past 14 days. Dambulla Police extended their support too, by appointing four lifesaving officers. They are the ones who operate the boats. We will continue this job till the reservoir is full”, said Abeysinghe.

“We didn’t forget about plants either. Months ago before starting the water filling process, experts from Peradeniya Botanical Gardens came here, collected information and took samples of important species in order to conserve them”, he added.

Rescuing lizards was harder than catching the python. When the boat gets close to the branches where lizards are, they try to avoid the boat by jumping from one branch to another. Some fell in the water and then started to swim. “They can swim a little. But not enough to reach a bank of the reservoir” said Pushpakumara. Another hazard in catching lizards, is being bitten. “Lizards attack us quite often. It’s painful and a bit poisonous” he said.

They caught lizards using a net connected to a long pole. It was difficult as they could easily jump out of the net. They were then handpicked and put in to a large bottle. Once a few lizards are put in the bottle, they start fighting each other , but after few seconds they become calm and start observing what’s going on. It actually is quite funny!.

The ‘younger brother’ of the lizard family, the gecko, was another popular species found in these rescue missions. It was really hard to spot them as these little fellas take on the exact colour as the dried tree branches. However they were not clever enough to avoid the eagle eyes of our wildlife rangers.

Before heading back to where we started, we went to see the old Laggala Maha Vidyalaya, which is to be submerged in the near future. Four months ago, the Sunday Observer visited this place by road, and now there’s no trace of a road. The half submerged buildings of the old Laggala town looked like a war zone as most of them didn’t have roofs. It was as though the old town had sacrificed its thousands of years of history, for the betterment of the country.

“A Bhikkhu in the nearby area had purchased all roofing sheets and timber from the school for about Rs. 175,000 and donated them to the poor”, said one of the members of our group, sharing the local gossip with us.

“All other trees in the area are being felled with heavy machinery and a few people were busy burning them, because such debris would pollute the waters of the reservoir and block the sluicegate”, Abeysinghe said.

It was an adventure of about one and half hours. We rescued around 30 lizards, one python, and 10 geckos. Everyone was excited about the python as they didn’t expect more serpents at this final stage of the rescue. Then it was all good byes and handshakes before we parted.“Please come again” invited our friendly host Dasanayake, as we left..

Special thanks to :

P G Dayananda

Public Relations Officer,

Moragahakanda Kaluganga

Development Project.

D B Wijeyarathne

Project Director Moragahakanda

Kaluganga Development Project