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1 of 3 Notes from the Field: The Baobabs of Mannar

Words by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne


In July 2017, I visited Mannar. Usually I am pre-occupied with birds and butterflies. However, on this occasion I focussed on trees and I was especially interested in photographing the Baobab. As is the case with many things, when you start looking for them, you seem to find them everywhere. Well, everywhere is an exaggeration, but I was surprised when Udaya Karunaratne, the General Manager of Palmyrah House, took me to were two lovely trees within a 5 minute cycle of the hotel. I was almost embarrassed that I had not noticed them before. Baobabs can also be seen beside the main road that runs across the middle of the island from the causeway to its tip at Talaimannar. Udaya and I spent nearly an hour pottering around the two large Baobabs which we had all to ourselves on a quiet little road off the main road. No one may know how old they were, and we speculated they may be two to three hundred years old. It was hard not to think about the changes they have witnessed.


Mannar seems to be the last stronghold of the Baobab in Sri Lanka with an estimated 40 plus trees left in Sri Lanka with almost all of them in the Mannar District. Previously they had been recorded in the Jaffna peninsula as well as Puttalam. It is not a native tree and its origin in Sri Lanka is highly speculative. It is widely believed that it may have been introduced to Sri Lanka by Arab traders with the famous tree at Palimunai possibly as much as 800 years old. This tree is easy to find, being a kilometre or so away from where you enter Mannar Island from the causeway. Everyone local knows of the tree. But at 800 years, it may be young with some Baobabs in Africa estimated to be as much as 5,000 years old. The Baobabs have a curious distribution with one species in Africa, another in the Kimberley region of Northwest Australia and the remaining six species in Madagascar. For a very useful account of Sri Lanka’s baobabs, see the paper listed by Vandercone and others, which can be found easily doing an internet research. I have provided below some images for people to take a closer look at this amazing tree which is often overlooked by visitors.

A road-side Baobab next to a small building showing its bulk. The trees are deciduous and in the dry season the leaves are shed. The leafless trees look like they are upside down. An Arab legend has it that the devil uprooted the tree and thrust it into the ground upside down.


Useful Reading

Forbes, N., & Deen, A. The little known Baobab. Sunday Times. 15 August 2010.

www.sundaytimes.lk/100815/Plus/plus_15.html

Vandercone, R., Sajithran, T.M., Wijeymohan, S. & Santiapillai, C. (2114). The status of the baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) in Mannar Island, Sri Lanka.


Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Ajith Ratnayaka and Udaya Karanuratne of the Palmyrah House

(www.palmyrahouse.com) for hosting me and my family and accompanying me in search of Baobabs. Their support to my field work in Mannar and elsewhere is hugely appreciated.


de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2017). Notes from the Field: The Baobabs of Mannar. Friends of Sri Lanka

Association (FOSLA). Autumn 2017. Quarterly Newsletter. Pages 8-10. Issued 1 November 2017.



A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka written by FoSLA member by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne was launched at the August 2017 British Bird Watching Fair. Although a number of photographic books and guides to the birds of Sri Lanka have been published, this is the first photographic field guide to all 462 species of birds recorded in the country. It was written by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne who was also the principal photographer. It has used additional contributions from over fifty photographers from around the world to compile the 850 plus images used in the book. The field guide’s text is oriented towards identification. The species accounts have distribution maps and

here helpful multiple images are used to show different plumages where differences arise due to age or sex. Beginners and experienced birders have in one book all of the key information they need for field use. The introductory sections cover where to watch birds in Sri Lanka and the end sections includes a checklist of birds. Published in softback. 296 pages. A Sri Lanka edition copublished with Vijitha Yapa is Rs 2,100. UK buyers can order online from Amazon and other book stores.

here helpful multiple images are used to show different plumages where differences arise due to age or sex. Beginners andexperienced birders have in one book all of the key information they need for field use. The introductory sections cover where to watch birds in Sri Lanka and the end sections includes a checklist of birds. Published in softback. 296 pages. A Sri Lanka edition copublished with Vijitha Yapa is Rs 2,100. UK buyers can order online from Amazon and other book stores.