VIDEO: rescue of rejected pet monkey

4 May 2012. Saving a destitute baby monkey can indirectly help conserve primates
Sunil Gunathilake, Research Co-ordinator on our team, rescues an infant toque macaque that had been raised as a pet and then abandoned on the streets of Polonnaruwa. Local town people alerted us and handed it over to Sunil.  The orphan was taken to our hospital and care facility at our research station. The BBC Planet Earth Live film crew assisted and recorded the event.
Read the full story feature article on BBC Nature and see a video of the rescue mission
Saving an orphaned or injured monkey does little to contribute that individual’s genes to future generations of its species; but it can help people to know monkeys better, maybe even to love them, and to galvinize them to conservation action.  And the other truth illustrated again here is that taking monkeys from the wild as pets is cruel to monkeys. Monkeys are highly intelligent and social primates which do best with their own kind.

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The BBC is here: “Gremlin” a rising star!

See video: cheeky monkey filming cameraman

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The Sunday Times newspaper of Sri Lanka (26 December 2010) published a solicited commentary by Dr. Wolfgang Dittus of how best to prevent macaque monkeys harassing tourists at the Dambulla temple.

He suggested an educational program whereby vendors and visitors are prevented from carrying food to the site.

For details see

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Science Conference

8 Jan 11. At the IFS Annual Review 2010, held in Kandy, Dr. Dittus presented recent research results from the Primate Biology Program.

The talk focused on the genetic, demographic and behavioral relationships involved in the avoidance of inbreeding in primates. The data spanned some 35 years of field observation and involved the genetic typing of about 1500 toque macaques.  Using 1113 genetically profiled pedigrees we noted that only about 1% of this wild population of macaques was truly inbred (at Coefficient of Inbreeding, F > 0.125). Most inbreeding was prevented by the dispersal of males from their natal group at puberty.  In addition, however, where close kin had an opportunity to inbreed, matings were prevented between close maternal relatives (parent-offspring, siblings, aunts, nieces) but not among maternal cousins, or, albeit rare, paternal relations. Although macaques recognize one another as individuals, the avoidance in inbreeding involves as yet little understood mechanism by which monkeys distinguish between close and distant relatives. The results have broad relevance among mammals including man.

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Primates and Economic Development

8 Mar 2011. Government economists seek scientific guidance in reducing human-monkey conflict, following inappropriate procedures.
The Sri Lanka Department of Economic Development, Community Development and Livelihood Improvement Project, under the Gemidiriya Foundation and funded by the World Bank, has put a stop to recent translocations of monkeys. They have invited scientific input following irregularities in the translocation of macaques from the wet-zone hills of Badulla, Sri Lanka, into the lowland dry-zone Maduru Oya National Park. The translocation was intended to remove crop-raiding macaques from villages near Badulla. However, the intervention did not follow IUCN guidelines, resulted in monkey deaths as well as the release monkeys of one subspecies into the habitat of another – a step that undermines genetic biodiversity. At a meeting with representatives of the World Bank, Department of Wildlife Conservation, the universities, and the Department of Economic Development, Dr. Dittus had  reviewed the rationale for different methods to ameliorate human-monkey conflict and presented a plan that would reduce such conflict in the short and long terms without involving translocation or other methods inimical to monkeys and humans alike.

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Training Program

23 Feb 2011. At Polonnaruwa, Dr. Rudran trained 4 students from the Open University in methods of ecological study

Dr. Rudran, Emeritus Zoologist of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, trained 4 students from the Open University in ecological methods at our study site at Polonnaruwa with help of ACPD research staff. He paid special  emphasis on the highly arboreal Purple-Faced Langur. It was a 2-day introductory session in the forest environment. A special presentation was also given to a large audience students ath the Royal Central College, Polonnaruwa.

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Knuckles Education and Conservation

14 Jan11. New initiatives for education and conservation in the Knuckles mountain range

Dr. and Viji Dittus spoke with officials of the Ministry of Education, including the Minister of Education, Bandula Gunewardena, and Chief Minister of the Central Province, Sarath Ekanayake, at the Dumbanagala estate in the Knuckles region (  It was agreed to draft a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education to establish a Center for Environmental Education and Conservation at the estate. Steps were also discussed to expand the estate’s nursery for tree species native to the Knuckles

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History of Conservation

7 to 8 April 2011. At the inaugural conference of the International Association for Asian Heritage, Dr. Wolfgang Dittus and Sunil Gunathilake, presented a paper concerning the history of nature conservation in Sri Lanka based on ancient stone inscriptions and other records.
Sri Lanka’s Ancient Culture of Respect for its Biological Heritage
Dr. Dittus outlined the history of the conservation ethic with its roots in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. The philosophical ethic was first enacted as secular law (edicts) by the Indian king Ashoka of the Mauryan empire in about 250-230 BCE. It was embraced in Sri Lanka shortly thereafter and was the basis for the establishment of world’s first nature sanctuaries (e.g., at Mihintale) by Sri Lankan kings more than a thousand years ago. Stone inscriptions at various archeological sites in Sri Lanka attest to this history.

Stone inscriptions are well known by the Sri Lankan archaeological community, but emphasis had been placed on those of political importance. Our purpose was to seek out (in the field as well as in museums and in the literature) and highlight the existence and significance of ancient messages of conservation and nature appreciation in Sri Lanka.

For example, the image above depicts a pillar inscription from king Nissankamalla, 1187-92, at the Rankoth Vehera, Polonnaruwa. The ancient Singhalese script has been translated as “Security is granted to all animals in Ranatisa, Minihoru, Ganthale, Padan and many other great tanks (lake-reservoirs) in three kingdoms: Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti.” (Epigraphica Zeylonica, Vol. 2, #23)

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IUCN Red List Update

26 April 2011.  Dr. Dittus is a member of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group. At the invitation of the Biodiversity Secretariat, Ministry of Environment, Government of Sri Lanka, he participated in a workshop for the revision of the IUCN Red List for all the mammals of Sri Lanka.

There is high variance in the availability of field data for different mammalian taxa concerning their geographic distribution and abundance in Sri Lanka.  Earlier work by Dittus and colleagues (e.g.CAMP 2003), however, had provided sufficient detail about primates to allow assessments at the level of the 12 different subspecies of the 5 species of Sri Lankan primates.  This is important for conservation management considerations because IUCN Red List criteria applied at the level of subspecies would require a revision of earlier government assessments made at the level of the primate species only. It is hoped that the new finer grained focus would raise the level of protection afforded some of these taxa.

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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.

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