In this section of the website, we like to feature some of the people who serve or served the lake and its community with sincerity and passion. This is an open-ended section and we are happy to consider many more nominations.
E. Percy Perera
Born at the end of the second World War, Percy Perera’s family took care of the Thalangama wewa since generations. According to a report in the Island, Percy is considered by some stakeholders as the unofficial guardian of the tank and some of the bordering paddy fields. As a member of the Thalangama Wewa Govi Sanvidanaya, and custodian of the keys to the tank’s water spill, he has been instrumental in keeping the area under close observation, and to guide or fight the authorities whenever the tank or its environs are in jeopardy. The Govi Sanvidanaya strongly, and eventually with success, advocated with the CEA the designation of the lake area as a reserve where only paddy and other crops can be cultivated. However, more recently, he argued against the protection status and called on the authorities to help with more water (holding capacity) for farmers not living close to the tank. Percy, representing some of the farmer groups, was also very vocal in the 2015 community consultations leading to the most recent lake dredging and spillway reconstruction. He challenged the numbers provided on the lake capacity, saw higher dredging needs, demanded a more radical removal of invasive plant species, and provided suggestions how to prevent future encroachments by residents. Insiders claim, however, that the water allocation problems could be solved through better communication between the farmers groups (and agreement on a water allocation plan) instead of more dredging. Percy was featured in national newspapers in 2004 (Sunday Island) and 2012 (Sunday Times). Photo source: Sunday Times.
We learned with deep sadness that the United Nations in Sri Lanka announced in Feb 2018 the passing away of its Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, Ms. Una McCauley.
George in 2018, 9 years after his famous
(rabies eradication) stamp appearance
Aside her public career and dedicated service to Sri Lanka, Una McCauley was a regular visitor of the Thalangama lake. Living in its vicinity time back, she returned nearly every weekend to the lake for a weekend stroll with her dogs. At the lake, she took medical care of street dogs, including Sri Lanka’s most famous stray, George, who featured in 2009 on a Sri Lankan stamp, and was adopted by Una after he lost his home at the lake.
Una McCauley was not only a passionate and selfless humanitarian but cared with her big heart for all the marginalized and underprivileged. See her last interview here. Our thoughts are with her and her children.
Professor Sarath Kotagama
Prof (emeritus) Kotagama is an internationally well-respected ornithologist and environmentalist, former head of the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, and long-time president of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), who lives in the Thalangama neighborhood. Prof Kotagama has not only contributed immensely towards the policy planning of the Sri Lankan government in view of Wildlife, Wetland Conservation and Biodiversity, but also contributed the environmental awareness in general. Given the high educational value of the Thalangama lake, FOGSL joined hands with the Parent-Teacher Association of the Overseas School of Colombo (OSC) to support an annual Walk for Wetlands around the lake (2005-2009), not only to raise funds for wetland protection but also to sensitize students and parents on environmental issues, birds, insects and ecosystems. The Thalangama tanks were also the target for MigrantWatch birding sessions organized by FOGSL with more than 100 bird-loving participants. As a regular sport walker along the lake, Prof Kotagama appreciates the importance of the Thalangama wetland as a roosting site for water birds especially the migratory ones. Concerned about littering and rapid encroachment, he advocates for living harmoniously with nature.
In late 2016, Pay Drechsel and Neil (Neill) Burke started cleaning the lake area by removing trash dumped secretly or by lake visitors. What started as a weekend activity became quickly more ambitious and a daily job, especially for Neil who is 365 days a year, morning and evenings monitoring the lake area, supported by a fund set up by Pay with the help of other members of the lake community. Pay is actively helping Neil on weekends and whenever his job allows him to return on time to his residence near the lake. As an environmental scientist, trained in Germany, and PhD holder working at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Colombo, Pay is well aware of the multi-purpose value of urban wetlands and the challenges our lakes are facing from pollution and invasive plants. Part of Neil's and Pay's activities is raising awareness on these issues in collaboration with the authorities, farmers and other stakeholders. Pay is also leading the Thalangama Wetland Watch and coordinating this website.