ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 33

One with the wilds and village folk alike

~Ravi Samarasinha

Ravi Samarasinha is no more. He was snatched away from us all in a fatal motor car accident last week. His untimely death has left a void in wild life conservation in this country.

Ravi’s passion for wild life and nature was from childhood. A doctor of medicine by profession, Ravi left this career to devote his life entirely to wild life conservation much to the disappointment of his parents.

As a cousin of mine, I knew him to be quiet and reserved. As cousins we had, in groups gone on many trips to the wilds many years ago in our youth. He was a daring photographer. On one occasion in Yala, we all watched a sloth bear coming down a Palu tree. All the others were inside the double cab while Ravi and I were at the back which was open. Suddenly the bear turned on the vehicle. Ravi shouted, “Lanki jump from the other side and get inside the vehicle. I will be fine,” and continued taking photographs.

On another occasion he had a narrow shave when he walked into a cave in the heart of Yala and a bear came growling out. Everyone knows that the bear is dangerous if encountered. Ravi has recounted to us many other escapades he had had in the wilds while pursuing his passion for photography.

There was another side to Ravi’s serious demeanour which we often saw. He never changed from the jovial character that he was as a youth. Whenever he met me, his teasing was just like it was when we were very young - a side of him that some of his immediate family members were unaware of.

Ravi had held photography exhibitions and his photographs adorn some of the leading bird books in this country. He began bird watching as a child and came to be regarded as one of Sri Lanka’s experts in avifauna.

Later his passion became the Sri Lankan leopard. Together with a few others he produced a popular coffee table book “For the Leopard” which raised considerable funds for wild life conservation. Ravi was Programme Consultant for numerous television documentaries, among them the BBC documentary “Leopard Hunters”. Together with Chitral Jayatilake he produced another coffee table book “Wilds of Lanka”.

He was one of the foremost authorities on the Sri Lankan leopard. He had done a vast amount of research on the leopards of Sri Lanka, especially of Yala and Wilpattu, mostly in regard to identification of individuals but also on many other aspects of their biology and ecology.

As a practising doctor he always opted for postings to be near Yala. From 2000 to 2001, for 18 months he did full-time research in Yala on leopards. Many a time he magnanimously dipped into his own personal funds to aid conservation projects.

Two of Ravi’s friends Darrel and Shirom talk of another project that Ravi had undertaken with them to safeguard leopards that were being killed by poachers and cattle farmers. They had done research for a year and come up with the idea of giving cages to farmers to trap leopards that came to steal the cattle. In this way they had saved four leopards in the area of Tissamaharama. Ravi had had plans to extend this project to estates and other areas near wild life parks around the country.

Darrel Bartholomeusz says of Ravi, “He was accepted by people of all walks of life and was very popular amongst even village folk as he had time for everybody and shared his valuable knowledge with everyone.”

Ravi was the Honorary General Secretary of the Wild Life and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka and formerly a Council member of the Natural History Society of Sri Lanka. He was a Director of the Environmental Foundation. Ravi was known to be very meticulous and methodical in his work.

Because of his deep love for nature, most of the time one could not find Ravi in Colombo. He was either in a wild life park or on his estate. He was dedicated to photography and conservation.

He has discussed with me meticulous plans he had formulated to stop poaching within the Yala national park, a park he knew like the back of his palm. Ravi was also a Diploma holder of Wild Life and Conservation Management from USA.

The last annual publication of “Loris” (the magazine of the Wild Life and Nature Protection Society) carries an extensive article on leopards by Ravi and a striking photograph of a leopard adorned the cover – also a photograph taken by Ravi. At 44 years Ravi was still unmarried. Leaving aside his medical career, he had dedicated his life to wild life conservation.

Goodbye dear brother. May your soul rest in peace

By Lankika de Livera

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.