Feb 12 (Mongabay) Colombo- When a group of herpetologists ventured into Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s north to conduct their first herpetological field survey of the peninsula, they were largely lured by the unknown.
This was a part of Sri Lanka that had been largely cut off from the rest of the island by a decades-long civil war, and remained so even after the fighting was over.
With no previous herpetological studies to guide them, barring the occasional subgroup reptile studies or technical reports, the team ended up documenting 18 species previously not recorded from the geographically isolated peninsula.
The new study, published in the Russian Journal of Herpetology last November, “was a first attempt to explore a strategic location in the island’s North which was not open to research activity due to security concerns,” the researchers say.
Lead author Thilina Dilan Surasinghe, an associate professor of ecology and conservation biology at Bridgewater State University in the U.S., told Mongabay that the Jaffna Peninsula has not had a baseline survey of its reptiles and amphibians for a long time.
“The civil war prevented any such research from taking place,” he said. “To support conservation actions, it is imperative to document species distribution and to fill gaps on species inventories. Our work helps satisfy some of these needs that can contribute to nationwide efforts in conservation assessments, distribution assessments, and regional conservation planning.”
The civil war ran from 1983 until 2009 and was concentrated in the country’s north, including Jaffna. For nearly 40 years the region was mysterious terrain, waiting to be explored and holding much potential, according to study co-author Sameera Suranjan Karunarathna.
Sri Lanka has a remarkable diversity of herpetofauna, and over the years there have been extensive studies of the island’s reptiles and amphibians. But most of these studies have occurred in the more accessible wet zones; studies in the dry zone, which include Jaffna, have been sparse, even though 60% of the island’s land mass falls within the dry zone.
The new study is the first attempt to compile a baseline for Jaffna’s amphibian and reptile diversity, intended to support future studies and science-based conservation efforts and management actions specifically targeting the peninsula’s dry zone ecosystem complexes.