Dilmah Conservation has introduced a 63rd new species to science with the discovery of Aspidura ravanai. The discovery made through ‘Novel Species Paving the Way for Biodiversity Conservation’ a program under Dilmah Conservation’s biodiversity initiatives was achieved in collaboration with the Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka will contribute towards strengthening conservation efforts by providing scientific evidence of the unrecognized species existing within the island and enhance the ecological value of those environs and of the country.
Aspidura ravanai, the eighth species to be classified under this genus, was discovered in the Peak Wilderness in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka during field surveys conducted in the region to document the herpetofaunal biodiversity of the area. The species is currently known only from the type locality, on the western slopes of the Sri Pada Peak. The snake although similar to its sister species A. trachyprocta can be easily identified from its congeners based on multiple aspects of size and scalation. Its morphological features include a jet black dorsum with a conspicuous yellow stripe on the ventrolateral surface of the head and the tail, which runs occasionally along the length of its body. They exhibit a clear sexual dimorphism in body length, with adult lengths varying between 218 cm and 414 cm among male and females, respectively.
Aspidura, a genus endemic to Sri Lanka, commonly known as rough-side snakes, are non-venomous burrowing species, adapted to sub-terrestrial or fossorial lifestyle. According to the latest list of threatened taxa in Sri Lanka, five species of Aspidura are classified as threatened, of which A.deraniyagalae is critically endangered, and A. drummondhayi, A. trachyprocta, A. brachyorrhos and A. ceylonensis are classified as vulnerable. The other two species, A. guentheri is described as Near Threatened while A. copei is listed as Data Deficient. However, these assessments have not been included in the IUCN List of Threatened Species as additional information is required to substantiate their conservation status. The available data on Aspidura ravanai is insufficient to determine its present status in the wild.
Although Sri Lanka is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world, the loss of habitats due to shrinking forest cover has caused an increased risk to the existence of herpetofauna in their natural habitats. Majority of conservation threats to herpetofauna is related to man-made forest fires, application of agro-chemicals, road kill and predation by farm animals.This problem is exacerbated by the deficiency of data on these species, which would have been instrumental in conservation-related decision making. According to the recent national Red List of threatened species in Sri Lanka, of the 320 species known herpetofaunal species, 210 have been listed as Data Deficient or Not- evaluated.
Increased biodiversity enhances the resilience of ecosystems from natural and anthropogenic threats, and is more equipped at delivering ecosystem services essential to communities dependent on them. The ‘Novel Species Paving the Way for Biodiversity Conservation’ was designed by Dilmah Conservation to document the broad spectrum of unidentified species existing in the wild, whose survival is critical to the balance of our ecosystem and encourage conservation efforts towards protecting their disappearing numbers. Through this program, Dilmah Conservation has introduced three species of snakes which are entirely new to science and facilitated the re-characterization of a fourth species- Rhinophis dorsimaculatus. The project has championed the identification of seventeen novel species of herpetofauna along with the discovery of several lichens including the rare Heterodermia queensberryi found in Dilmah’s own tea estate at Nawalapitiya.
Dilmah Founder, Merrill J Fernando commenting on the need to preserve nature says, “Raising awareness on biodiversity and its importance is essential towards ensuring its conservation. This is especially important to cultivate interest and encourage a sense of shared responsibility towards the protection of habitats and ecosystems, and mitigating detrimental practices that hinder conservation.”