30th November 1997


Home Page Front Page OP/ED News Business

He spotted it!

Our article on the double headed snake last week drew many responses. Several readers wrote in to state their experiences with natural freaks of this type and of the recently discovered snake who was earlier wrongly indentified The credit for spotting the mistake however was not given to young Menaka Liyanage, as he tells Chamintha Thilakarathne. The snake unfortunately died last week.

Eighteen year old Menaka Liyanage, a stu dent at Asian International School, was going through the papers on the morning of November 18, when he came across a news item which grabbed his attention. Splashed across the papers was the story of the "world's first two headed python" discovered in the Tissamaharamaya area. Looking at the picture which supported the story, young Menaka was quite surprised.

"As soon as I saw the photo, I identified the serpent as a Russell's Viper," said Menaka who had spent most of his young life handling reptiles. According to his parents he was handling snakes at two years of age. "I figured that they had made a big mistake. As far as I knew, the python does not have diamond markings and the head is different although the body may seem similar," said Menaka.

With that he had immediately phoned his school wild life teacher, Mr.Rohan Wijeysinghe, who asked him to contact the wild life authorities. "However, I decided to go to the zoo with my father," he said.

At the zoo after having met an official who told them they could have a look at the serpent, they found the creature caged in a Horlicks bottle with no water inside and only several toads. "Russell's vipers need water, all serpents need water for that matter but Russell's vipers in particular need it more,"said Menaka. According to him, even some officials at the zoo had been quite positive that it was not a python .

"When I contacted The Department of Wild Life Conservation a senior official came on line and asked me several questions to test my knowledge of snakes and asked if I am sure that it is not a python," said Menaka. The official then stated that it was definitely a python. "Then I began to question him. I asked if he counted the scales on the head and he said yes but he could not remember the exact number. He answered very vaguely. When I stated that I was dead sure that it was a Russell's Viper, the official, who was at this point beginning to have doubts about the identification, tried to make a joke of it by referring to an old Sinhalese saying which goes that it is the viper that becomes the python one day," said Menaka.

According to him, the wild life officials were awaiting confirmation from the zoo people and from Dr.Anslem de Silva, till then they did not wish to officially state anything.

Finally after much conversation, the Department official had thanked Menaka for his concern and enthusiasm and for pointing out their mistake while adding that he should join them in their work sometime. "He also promised to inform the media that a school boy from Thalawatugoda came out with the first revelation that it is a Russell's Viper even before confirmation by experts, and said he gave my name to the BBC as well," he said.

But in the end no mention of him was made."The officials may not have wanted to say that a schoolboy spotted their big mistake, Upali Liyanage, Menaka's father said.

"The official also warned me that if he ever finds any snakes in my premises he will have to raid the place and take them away," added Menaka.

The snake died last week. Zoo authorities refused to comment on the circumstances or causes of its death.

Return to the Plus contents page

Read Letters to the Editor

Go to the Plus Archive



Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to or to