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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vertebrates of Sri Lanka

Of the 86 species of mammals the pride of place goes to the majestic elephant. Although rapid destruction of its habitat has depleted the elephant population, sizeable numbers can be seen in Gal Oya and Udawalawe National parks and at Handapangala.

Extinction also threatens the island's biggest cat - the leopard, although Wilpattu National park is justifiably proud of its leopard population. Many species of deer - the Sambhur, the Hog Deer, the Mouse deer can also be seen in the Parks.
Other mammals include the Sloth Bear, the protected Dugong, the Wild Boar, the Porcupine and Monkeys, especially the Grey Langur, which are common throughout the island. Of special interest is the endemic purple faced Leaf Monkey, found in the higher hill regions.

All major groups of vertebrates to be found in Sri Lanka, are mostly endemic to the island, especially the amphibians and reptiles. Most of the 54 species of fish are marsh and river dwelling fish, the 14 endemic species being restricted to the perennial streams of the wet zone. They are the beautiful fish of the Carplet group. The British introduced 16 species into the island including the Trout found today in the clear, cold streams of Horton plains. Of the 38 species of amphibia, 16 are unique to the island. One endemic genus, the Nannophrys, with 3 species, is common in the hill country. This frog lives on rock ledges covered by a continuous trickle of water and tadpoles share this habitat. None of the amphibians are poisonous to man.

The island abounds in reptiles of which 75 are endemic. Of the 2 endemic species of Crocodile, the commonest is the Marsh Crocodile. The beautiful Star Tortoise is the only land tortoise. All 5 species of Turtles are protected by law. Of the 83 species of snakes, only 5 are lethal, these being Cobra, Russell's Viper, Indian Krait, Ceylon Krait, and the Saw-scaled Viper. These are rarely found in builtup areas of city or village.

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