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Sri Lankan Airlines and Monkeys

July 2011. Polonnaruwa monkeys entertain and lure passengers on Sri Lankan Airliine flights.

Our primate studies were featured in the in-fight magazine Serendib.  For complete article see: Serendib

By |April 8th, 2015|News Archives|Comments Off on Sri Lankan Airlines and Monkeys

Research Station now Education Center

19 November 2011. Our Research Station officially serves the local school community in nature education

The Department of Education, central government, and the North Central Provincial Education Department have recruited the facilities of our research station at Polonnaruwa, and expertise of our staff, in organizing and carrying out nature education programs in for school children between the 6th grade and A-levels. More than 300 children already have benefited from the program in 2011.

In the photograph, Mr. S. M. Saluwadana, Director of Science, North Central Province Education observes as our team, lead by Sunil Gunathilake, instructs about fish biology.

Our neighbors and collaborators, Mr. Nimal and Ms. Malani Perera, life-long fisher-folk, give pointers about the anatomy and habits of different fish species found in the Parakrama Samudra lake.

Here they show the “tilapia” Oreochromis mossambicus imported from East Africa in 1951 and used to stock dry-zone tanks. In the photo, the fish held by Mr. Perera is urinating.

By |April 8th, 2015|News Archives|Comments Off on Research Station now Education Center

Rains flood grassland: elephants move

30 November 2011.  The monsoon rains have flooded the grasslands encircling dry-zone tanks. Deprived of their favorite feeding grounds, elephants move to higher ground.
Elephants swim our lake and visit our neighbor’s garden for better feeding opportunities.
For the past week, and elephant cow and her youngster (about 5 yr old) have come to our next door neighbor’s garden (100 m south of us) on nightly visits to snack on lush banana plants.  The villagers shouted, threw loud fire-crackers, and flashed their bright lights; but nothing could dissuade the pachyderms from giving up their meal. Eventually, after much hullabaloo, they did shift away from the village, but on their own terms it seems.  Luckily, both humans and elephants showed restraint, and there were no seriously threatening incidents.
Elephants take to the water (Photo: Palitha Handunge)The north-east monsoon has brought heavy rains to the area; the lake water level has risen fast and inundated the extensive grasslands surrounding the lake where elephants prefer to graze.  The elephants now seek forage elsewhere. In the lake at our doorstep, we have observed small herds of elephants swimming long distances in broad daylight by way of traveling between feeding areas. Although some victims of elephant raids may take a different view, we feel privileged that in this days and age, elephants are still free to roam.  These visits also indicate that man and elephants could co-exist peacefully if the proper precautions to prevent conflict were practiced.

By |January 22nd, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Rains flood grassland: elephants move

Asian Art, Culture and Heritage

Aug 2013, IAAH conference: Dittus & Gunathilake call to align the management of Sri Lanka’s heritage sites with ancient cultural values and UNESCO policy

The following presentation was delivered at the International Conference on Asian Art, Culture and Heritage organized in collaboration with the International Association for Asian Heritage (IAAH) and the Sri Lanka Ministry of Culture and the Arts,    held from 21st to 23rd of August 2013

Section:   Trends in Heritage Management, Museology and Tourism

Title:  A call to align the management of Sri Lanka’s heritage sites with ancient cultural values and UNESCO policy

Authors:  Wolfgang Dittus, Ph. D.1,2,3  and  Sunil Gunathilake3

Authors’ Institutional Affiliations:

1 Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Washington, DC,  USA

2 National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka

3 Association for the Conservation of Primate Diversity, Polonnaruwa


The preservation of Sri Lanka ancient cultural heritage would benefit from a more balanced distribution of emphasis in management and conservation among the different elements that constitute this heritage.  The elements of the ancient civilization includes not only (a) the  physical remnants of monuments and artifacts, (b) the tanks and irrigation systems, but also (c) the  living forest gardens, and the natural  environment that buttressed the quality of ancient life.  Currently, most archaeological attention and resources are focused on the reconstruction and preservation of ancient stone monuments, infrastructural modernization and tourist management.  The ancient cultural heritage, however, extends far beyond monuments.

Forest gardens, for example, were an integral part of the ancient civilizations of South Asia.  In Sri Lanka, historical evidence for their existence is widespread being associated with at least 27 sites, the most prominent are known from Sigiriya, Mihintale, Sithulpawa. Rithigala and Polonnaruwa.   Their antiquity in Sri Lanka goes back to at least  King Mutasiva’s period ( 307-247 BC) (Mahavamsa: Geiger 1912), and […]

By |January 22nd, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Asian Art, Culture and Heritage

Student Conference on Conservation Science

100 Presentations | 300 of Africa and Asia’s brightest conservation researchers

Demography: A Window to the Evolution of Primate Societies
Wolfgang Dittus

Wolfgang Dittus, Ph.D.
National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, USA
Date: 27th September, 2013
Time: 08:30 A.M
The basic assumption in studies of social evolution is that phenotypes, including behaviors, have been naturally selected to fine-tune an organism’s efficiency in surviving and passing on copies of its genes to future generations. The evolutionary honing of a phenotype relates to exogenous variables that influence its ability in making a daily living in a particular habitat, manipulating social partners to advance its own survival and reproductive success and other factors.  The challenge to students of such a system is to identify and measure key exogenous variables of social behavior (e.g., dominance hierarchical relations), ecology (e.g., feeding strategies) among others, and to relate them the measures of individual Darwinian fitness. In long-lived organism, like primates, such an inquiry demands a substantial investment of time and effort to test sociobiological hypotheses. Some salient findings of our 45 years of study of primates at Polonnarruwa will consider gender differences in life-history strategies, population genetic distributions, issues related to paternity (DNA studies) and inbreeding avoidance, and conservation.  The study also suggests that short-term cross-sectional demographic profiles of extant natural populations of primates could make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of social evolution.

By |January 22nd, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Student Conference on Conservation Science

Fatness in primate evolution

Nov 2013: In the American Journal of Physical Anthropology Dr. Dittus considers changes in the anatomical distribution of body fat that were critical in the evolution from arboreal monkeys to terrestrial hominids.

Dittus, WPJ (2013).  Arboral adaptations of body fat in wild toque macaques (Macaca sinica) and the evolution of adiposity in primates. American Journal of Physical  Anthropology 152:333-344.
There is a paucity of information on body composition and fat patterning in wild nonhuman primates.  Dissected adipose tissue from wild toque macaques (Macaca sinica) (WTM), feeding on a natural diet, accounted for 2.1 % of body weight.  This was far less than fatness reported for nonhuman primates raised in captivity or for contemporary humans.  In WTM, fatness increased with age and diet richness, but did not differ by sex.  In WTM (none of which were obese) intra-abdominal fat filled first, and “excess” fat was stored peripherally in a ratio of about 6:1. Intermuscular fat was minimal (0.1%).  The superficial paunch held <15% of subcutaneous fat weight in contrast to its much larger proportions in obese humans and captive monkeys where most added fat accumulates subcutaneously.  With increasing total adiposity, accumulating fat shifted in its distribution among 8 different main internal and peripheral deposit areas – consistent with maintaining body balance and a low center of gravity.   The available data suggest that, in arboreal primates, adaptations for agile locomotion and terminal branch feeding set constraints on the quantity and distribution of fat.  The absence of a higher percentage of body fat in females and neonates (as are typical of humans) suggests that arboreal adaptations preclude the development of fat-dependent, large-brained infants and the adipose-rich mothers needed to sustain them. The lifestyle and body composition of wild primates represent a […]

By |January 22nd, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Fatness in primate evolution

Presidential Awards for Science

Dr. Dittus received two awards from the Sri Lankan president for scientific publications.

By |January 22nd, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Presidential Awards for Science