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We have to include wildlife conservation in school curricula: Herpetologist Nalin Hapuhinna


15 February 2021 12:53 am - 31     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


For Nalin Hapuhinna, slithery friends were part of his everyday life. Having had a fascination towards snakes from a young age, Hapuhinna was infamously known as ‘Nai Nalin’ back when he was a student at Trinity College, Kandy. Having studied herpetology under the aegis of world-renowned herpetologist Prof. Anslem De Silva at the University of Peradeniya, Hapuhinna has closely studied wild animal research in Australia including the treatment of anti-venom research. He has also followed an alligator conservation course in Florida, USA and has served as a consultant at the Nature Resort based in UAE. Upon observing the gamut of environmental issues at hand, Hapuhinna is ready to put his knowledge and expertise into good use back at home. While awaiting a response to a letter addressed to President Rajapaksa, Hapuhinna shared his views about putting an end to the human-elephant, human-leopard and human-crocodile conflicts and how the processes could be streamlined to serve justice to Sri Lanka’s Wildlife.

  • In Australia, if a snake is harmed there is a 60 day penalty and fine
  • Gypsies could be used for an anti-venom research programme
  • Black leopard could have been saved if proper rescue protocols followed 
  • We need to do GPS tracking on crocodiles 
  • The wasps in Sigiriya could be used to mitigate HEC


   Q       Why did you choose herpetology over other disciplines related to the study of

Nalin Hapuhinna


Herpetology wasn’t a dream but I have had a fascination towards snakes since my younger days. A popular myth was that if somebody runs behind snakes, that person was cursed. So I was taken into temples to see what has happened to me. Back in school, I was rarely invited for parties because of my weird hobby. But my friends used to hide their lunch boxes in my bag because nobody dared to touch it as there would always be one or two snakes. Subsequently I earned the nickname ‘Nai Nalin’. After sometime I got permission to continue my hobby in a separate room in school. Back in the day there was a natural society in school syllabuses. We used to organise nature trails to Udawatta Kale and other places. There are 93 species of snakes or rather endangered species. But if you ask someone to name at least five of them, nobody would know.

   Q       With your knowledge on the field, have you done any research about endemic snakes/reptiles that have a threat of being endangered or extinct in Sri Lanka? 

There are mostly misidentified snakes due to lack of knowledge. For people, every snake is a rat snake (Garandiya). Almost every snake is threatened. In Australia, if a snake is harmed there is a 60 day penalty and fine. But here you don’t get such laws. 

"I wrote a letter to the President explaining my objectives and what I intend to do and have copied it to several other parties as well. However I’m still awaiting a response"

   Q       What more should Sri Lanka do in terms of snakes and reptile conservation?

We don’t do anything in terms of conserving snakes and reptiles unlike countries such as Myanmar and Tanzania that have stricter laws. Most of the snakes that come to us have been hurt – either they have been whacked, sprayed kerosene oil and so on. I used to pickup snakes from gypsies because snakes have a threat with them as well. So far we haven’t developed and anti-venom Research programme here. But I believe that gypsies should be kept for this anti-venom research programme. You can find them in down south, Kataragama, Tanamalwila and few other areas. We already have the technology at the Gannoruwa Research Centre. 

   Q       How can we get the younger generation involved in this process?

We need to include wildlife conservation into their syllabuses. When there’s awareness they would identify a snake that comes to their house and determine whether it is poisonous or not. How many snakes would have been killed due to misidentification? Children can also be encouraged to make their own log books, take paper cuttings and find the 93 species. They can go on field trips, guided tours to find habitats, observe endangered species. Then they can repeat it for birds, amphibians and other species as well. 


The Black leopard that succumbed to injuries in Nallathanniya as a result of a delayed rescue operation


   Q      As you know, Sri Lanka is the country that recorded the highest number of elephant deaths during last year. How would you look at mitigating this issue apart from issues such as the human-leopard conflict?

Elephants have an absolute phobia of bees. This could be a good income generator for villagers as well. In Mozambique, they don’t have bees but they put the soundtrack instead. The electric fence doesn’t really work because elephants are smarter animals. You don’t need a 33,000 voltage electric fence to chase away elephants. A tiny shock is enough. We have many solar power companies in Sri Lanka so why can’t we put up fences powered by solar energy. In terms of the human-leopard conflict, again there exist several administrative issues on the part of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). They take time to get to the venue, they don’t have proper uniforms. The biggest problem is lack of facilities. During the incident of the black leopard, DWC officials took five and a half hours to reach Nallathanniya. But if we could get the DWC to map the areas where leopards have been spotted and report these to the Police station there would be greater protection and awareness among villagers as well. If proper rescue protocols were followed, the black leopard would have lived for another 10 years or so. 

"In terms of the human-leopard conflict there exist again several administrative issues on the part of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). They take time to get to the venue, they don’t have proper uniforms. The biggest problem is lack of facilities"

   Q       But conservationists believe that the bees you find in Sri Lanka are not aggressive enough....

There are wasps in Sigiriya that have a louder buzz than a normal bee. A little change is all that it takes to mitigate the human-elephant conflict. We need field officers to fulfill these tasks. We are not a massive country like Australia and we can mitigate this issue in six months time.  

   Q       What are the lapses you observe when animals are being rescued?

I have seen DWC officials using their bare hands to treat sick or injured animals. That is not accepted. When cats are tranquilised, they choke themselves with their tongues. They can’t control their mouths when tranquilised. In fact they are brain dead as they don’t get oxygen to their brains. There was one leopard that climbed a tree but subsequently died after being rescued. If the crowd was dispersed and that leopard was allowed to climb down the tree, it would have survived. 

"In Australia, they GPS track all crocodiles, measure them and would catch, trap and relocate larger crocodiles into a natural forest"

   Q       The human-crocodile conflict is another aspect that is not reported and therefore doesn’t receive much attention. With your experience, how could these species be conserved while mitigating the conflict?

We don’t track them. There are two types here. One is Saltwater and mugger crocodiles. 99% of the attacks are by saltwater crocodiles. In Australia, they GPS track all crocodiles, measure them and would catch, trap and relocate larger crocodiles into a natural forest. An overgrown crocodile would attack humans. The biggest one in the area becomes the boldest in the river. What has happened is that we have encroached into their habitats and now we see them as a threat. 

   Q      How would you like to contribute to make a change?

Somewhere around February last year, I was invited by UAE’s Wildlife Conservation Department to assist in conserving the green turtle, Oryx and four types of snakes. I had to report directly to Sheikh Mohammed and give him a report on each species. 
Wild animals cannot survive the extreme heat. In terms of turtles there are all male eggs, no females. We were just about to start the programme, but then again I thought whether I should spend the rest of my life here or do something for my country instead. I wrote a letter to the President explaining my objectives and what I intend to do and have copied it to several other parties as well. 
However I’m still awaiting a response. But I need to report to the highest authority. We could easily streamline the rescue process, do GPS tracking on crocodiles with experts from Australia, release them into the wild and spread more awareness among people. 

Leopard in Maskeliya that succumbed to injuries during the rescue operation



  Comments - 31

  • Martin Milton Monday, 15 February 2021 03:19 PM

    What an excellent idea. Please! It is a very good idea and Prof GLP needs to take this advice and introduce this in the Schools' Curricula ASAP. MM

    Umar Perera Monday, 15 February 2021 05:45 PM

    Educate the young always to make changes for the future. Don't bother to wait to hear from the Boss .

    Sanjeeva Kongahawita Monday, 15 February 2021 07:30 PM

    I have been privileged to know Nalin for a long time and his love towards wild life and conservation. His skills, knowledge and the exposure in the respective field could bring in enormous benefits to Sri Lanka if Nalin is empowered with the right position. As a close friend I am aware that Nalin has been invited by several National Geographic photo expedition teams to participate in wild locations due to the passion in his field and his knowledge in the subject. Many magnificent wild life photos adorn his apartment in Dubai. My sincere wish would be for him to get the attention of the Sri Lankan leadership to harness his skills and tools for the wellness of Sri Lankan wild life conservation.

    Saumya Algama Monday, 15 February 2021 08:31 PM

    Sri Lanka definitely needs a better antivenom research program. The one and only anti venom (majority of them imported from India :-/) available hospital that I’m aware is in Ragama, which caters to the entire country!! And definitely gets my vote

    Chandra Fernando Monday, 15 February 2021 09:47 PM

    I believe Sri Lankan children should study wildlife in schools. They should also focus on the elephant-human conflict is Sri Lanka. First of all, they must get involved in conservation of forests. It is sad that places such as the Sinharaja Forest have been cleared to build hotels. Older children should get organized and meet officials to put a stop to this deforestation.

    Ashanthi Coonghe Monday, 15 February 2021 10:03 PM

    Brilliant!! Can't think of anyone else more suitable and qualified for the wild life conservation in Sri Lanka. Hopefully it's not too late for our country. Mr President here is a perfect candidate for the Viyathmaga!

    Wimal Ellepola Monday, 15 February 2021 10:57 PM

    Absolutely correct. Also need include environmental studies and pollution.At least the future generations may be able to save this wonderful earth, which provides all and everything for the need of mankind, but not for the greed.

    abigail fernando Tuesday, 16 February 2021 01:52 AM

    Implementing wildlife awareness into children's education is a wonderful idea as I'm sure it'll prove beneficial to both nature and the younger generation :))

    Mohamed Rishaard Tuesday, 16 February 2021 10:03 AM

    Wildlife conservation is one of the least subjects we talk in Sri Lanka. By bringing awareness into the the young generation, we could put an end for this human-animal conflict.

    Vajira Jayaratne Tuesday, 16 February 2021 07:08 AM

    Good suggestion

    K.L Pathirana Tuesday, 16 February 2021 09:23 AM

    While I am in agreement with his Idea of incorporation conservation efforts into school curriculum, he lacks expertise in large animal conservation. DWLC lacks experience and basic knowledge in animal rescue. We cannot address HEC or LHC by separating animals from humans. This is a very complex issue where it requires several groups of trained individuals, technology and coordination.

    K.L Pathirana Tuesday, 16 February 2021 09:31 AM

    Bees and their noise is NOT a solution. Elephants are an intelligent group of species when its involve their movements. They also know by inheritance that the safe movements of migration is at night hours, this is due to no harmful radiation from the sun and less disturbances along their migration paths. They also knows that the wasps or bees will be blind during the night hours and would not be a threat in anyways. We can replicate the audio of wasps or bees but in reality its a wasted effort.

    Mohamed Rishaard Tuesday, 16 February 2021 10:08 AM

    Most of the animals are mistreated in SL. This initiative will save and conserve our wildlife habitat. The government should play a huge part in this.

    Raj Tuesday, 16 February 2021 10:51 AM

    There are animals and birds that are gentle and have never harmed us, yet we treat them with disrespect and kill them for our food. But we love and care so much for the animals and reptiles that kill and sometimes even eat the humans. How stupid the human mind is !!

    Raj Tuesday, 16 February 2021 10:51 AM

    There are animals and birds that are gentle and have never harmed us, yet we treat them with disrespect and kill them for our food. But we love and care so much for the animals and reptiles that kill and sometimes even eat the humans. How stupid the human mind is !!

    Sanjeeva Kongahawita Tuesday, 16 February 2021 11:22 AM

    As Nalin has stated without preparing the next generation through awareness our wild life conservation is not going to be effective at all. Hope this gets implemented fast! Over to you, your Excellency the President!

    Rabih Assaker Tuesday, 16 February 2021 06:17 PM

    Nowadays kids are mainly interested in virtual games and playing games on their phone. They need to be aware about nature and its wildlife. It will help the new generation to have a different prospective about life and the importance of conserving it. Excellent suggestions and i hope it will be implemented in my country ( Lebanon )too.

    Prasanga Vithanage Wednesday, 17 February 2021 09:49 AM

    This would be a great idea to a country like Sri Lanka where there are many forests and natural reservoir across the country. When the country is looking forward to be the best tourist destination in the world, saving nature and the wildlife will take major share of the achievement. It is a brilliant idea to start this from the young generation.

    Brice John dsouza Wednesday, 17 February 2021 11:41 AM

    Hi my name is Brice..I am india...having almost the same diversity in wildlife..nalin has def taken a set further in preservation. A lot of these issues are pressing and in need of urgent attention...unless we would like our kids and grand children and the future generation to see all our animal on the extinct species. A small initiative would work towards a giant leap ..all the very best nalin...I hope your work will be an inspiration to the others.

    Dimuth Wednesday, 17 February 2021 03:25 PM

    I dont want to know Nalin or his Brother, as when in School, we were never able to steal their lunch. We were so angry with them for that Indeed great days at the best school of all

    Rajiv Coonghe Wednesday, 17 February 2021 05:51 PM

    To protect wildlife we need our forests I don’t see it happening without stern action against those who destroy endangered flora and fauna as a result the entire eco system built around it . educating the younger generation is of paramount importance but also needs strict laws to protect the forests.

    Abhaya Binduhewa Thursday, 18 February 2021 10:27 AM

    Our family does traditional anti venom treatment for many generations. But the the western medical system always looked at our way of treatment as non existent. But it is 100% effective and no after effects. Its Hela Vedakam at its best.

    Don Christian Alexley Thursday, 18 February 2021 01:01 PM

    Dear Nalin, I had the privilege of reading the interview you have had with the editor of the daily mirror. I am so proud that we Sri Lankans have people of your caliber now working outside Sri Lanka. We cannot blame his Excellency the president or Honorable prime minister for this problem in the wildlife. We Sri Lankans have to blame the higher authorities who are not competent enough to look after the wildlife. The conflicts in the jungles with the poachers and people who destroy the fauna and the flora in the jungles who do not care and atom regarding nature, they do not have iota of care regarding our sanctuaries. It is a pity to note that your passion and expertise is wasted in another country, finally I wish to summarize even though you are Buddhist what Jesus Christ said on the cross “FATHER FORGIVE THEM FOR THEY NOT WHAT THYE DO” Regards Don Christian Alexley

    Don Christian Alexley Thursday, 18 February 2021 01:02 PM

    Continued We hope and pray that his Excellency the president and the Honorable Prime minister would soon take a strong step forward in safeguarding of the sanctuaries. Regards Don Christian Alexley

    Ruchira Palliyaguru Friday, 19 February 2021 09:31 AM

    Appreciate your passion and hard work towards wild life conversation and the suggestion to include that in to the school curriculum. It is the right time to educating young ones about wild life and hope the authorities will take your suggestion very seriously.

    Nilmini Peiris Friday, 19 February 2021 10:34 AM

    A timely article. Sri Lanka needs capable people to handle these jobs and who have compassion to develop these areas. Hope the authorities tap Into people like Nalin to protect and develop the wildlife of our country.

    D Perera Saturday, 20 February 2021 07:14 PM

    Fantastic article. These are the articles we need for development, not unnecessary political dramas. Great job!

    Chamara Lakmal Sarathchandra Monday, 22 February 2021 01:16 AM

    One of the best I read. Obviously, one article is not enough to share his knowledge. Listening to his experience and knowledge on the subject for the last 4-5 years, but still, can listen for a decade more. Interestingly, this is only one subject someone can learn from him, but, he has knowledge of any topic you bring in. Absolute all rounder. Lucky to have you around Machan and all the best for your future endeavors. Tc.

    Eran Wijeratne Friday, 05 March 2021 03:17 PM

    Sincerely hope our country will have the privilege of having him here and imparting his knowledge to educate our youth and creating awareness amongst all of us. Wish him all the best!

    Ray Murimi Monday, 08 March 2021 04:00 AM

    @ Nalin, this was extremely educational to learn about different species of snakes. All snakes are treated as enemy number one. We know the part they play in the eco balance. Ain't venom couldn't be helpful in my country Kenya. Especially in rural areas which are remote, this would save lives.

    Y Jayasinghe Friday, 12 March 2021 12:38 PM

    Definitely an important area for children to be aware of from a young age. It will also add to their civic mindedness and appreciation of nature which are vital now more than ever in character development. Good luck in your efforts to change the status quo in this country.

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