Rohan Pethiyagoda

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Rohan Pethiyagoda
Rohan Pethiyagoda.JPG
Born Tilak Rohan David Pethiyagoda
(1955-11-19) 19 November 1955 (age 61)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Residence Sydney, Australia
Nationality Sri Lankan
Education B.Sc., M.Phil
Alma mater King's College, London, University of Sussex
Occupation Taxonomist
Years active 1990–present
Employer Australian Museum
Notable work Freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka (1990)
Pearls, spices and green gold: an illustrated history of biodiversity exploration in Sri Lanka (2007)
Horton Plains: Sri Lanka's cloud-forest national park (2012)
Awards Rolex Award for Enterprise
Website The Wildlife Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka

Rohan David Pethiyagoda (abbreviated to Rohan Pett by deed poll in 2010),[1] is one of Sri Lanka's leading naturalist and a taxonomist on Freshwater fish of Sri Lanka.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 19 November 1955. Secondary education at St Thomas’s College, Mount Lavinia. B.Sc. (Eng.) Hons. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, King’s College, University of London 1977; M.Phil. in Biomedical Engineering, University of Sussex 1980.[2]


From 1981-82 Pethiyagoda served as an engineer in the Division of Biomedical Engineering of the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka, and from 1982-87 as director of that institution. In 1984 he was concurrently appointed chairman of Sri Lanka’s Water Resources Board.

Naturalist life[edit]

He resigned from government office in 1987 to commence work on a project to explore the island’s freshwater fishes,[3] which led to his first book, Freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka[2] (1990), a richly-illustrated account of the country’s freshwater-fish fauna.[4]

Pethiyagoda diverted the profits from this book to an endowment for the Wildlife Heritage Trust (WHT), a foundation he established in 1990 to further biodiversity exploration in Sri Lanka, with the business-model of publishing natural-history books and channeling the proceeds into further exploration and research.[3] Between 1991 and 2012 WHT published some 40 books in both English and Sinhala, including widely circulated titles such as A field guide to the birds of Sri Lanka,[5] one of several titles translated into Sinhala and, aided by a grant from the Biodiversity Window of the World Bank / Netherlands Partnership Programme, provided free to 5,000 school libraries.[6][7][8][9] This program served, for the first time in Sri Lanka, to put scientific local-language biodiversity texts in the hands of young people.[10]


Together with colleagues at WHT Pethiyagoda has been responsible for the discovery and/or description of almost 100 new species of vertebrates from Sri Lanka, including fishes,[2][11] amphibians[9][12] and lizards,[13][14] in addition to 43 species of freshwater crabs.[15] This work also led to the finding that some 19 species of Sri Lankan amphibians have become extinct in the past 130 years,[12] the highest national extinction record in the world.[16]


In 1998, concerned by the rapid loss of montane forest in Sri Lanka, Pethiyagoda began a (still on-going) project to convert abandoned tea plantations into natural forest,[17] for which he was honoured by the Rolex Awards for Enterprise.[3]

In recognition of his contribution to biodiversity conservation Pethiyagoda, a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences,[18] served as Advisor on Environment and Natural resources to the Government of Sri Lanka from 2002–2004 and was in 2005 elected Deputy Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.[19] In 2008 Pethiyagoda was elected to the board of trustees of the International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, having previously served a four-year term as Deputy Chair of the Assurance Group of the British American Tobacco Biodiversity Partnership.[20] In addition to some 60 papers in the scientific literature,[21] his most recently published books are on the history of natural-history exploration in Sri Lanka,[22] Sri Lankan primates[23] and Horton Plains National Park.[24] He is a Research Associate of the Australian Museum[25] and serves as editor for Asian Freshwater Fishes of the journal Zootaxa.[26]


Several new species have been named in his honour, including the fishes Dawkinsia rohani[27] and Rasboroides rohani;[28] the dragon lizard Calotes pethiyagodai;[29] the jumping spider Onomastus pethiyagodai[30] and the dragonfly Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai.[31]

In July 2012 Pethiyagoda and colleagues named[32] a genus of South Asian freshwater fishes Dawkinsia in honour of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, following which Pethiyagoda told AFP that "Richard Dawkins has through his writings helped us understand that the universe is far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than any religion has imagined".[33]


  1. ^ Ceylon Daily News. 6 September 2010. p. 21.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b c Pethiyagoda, Rohan (1990). Freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka. Colombo: WHT. p. 362. ISBN 955-9114-00-X. 
  3. ^ a b c "Rohan Pethiyagoda - The Project". Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Moyle, P.B. (1991). "Review of R. Pethiyagoda, Freshwater Fishes of Sri Lanka". Copeia: 1166–1177. doi:10.2307/1446131. 
  5. ^ Kotagama S.; Wijayasinghe, A. (1995). A field guide to the birds of Sri Lanka. WHT. p. 224. ISBN 955-9114-07-7. 
  6. ^ Kotagama, S.; Wijayasinghe, A. Siri Laka kurullo [‘Birds of Sri Lanka’]. Colombo: WHT. p. 516. ISBN 955-9114-18-2. 
  7. ^ Ashton, M.S.; Gunatilleke, S.; de Zoysa, N.; Dassanayake, M.D.; Gunatilleke, N.; Siril Wijesundera, S. (2004). Siri Laka gaskolan athpotha [‘A handbook to the trees and shrubs of Sri Lanka’]. Translated by Wijayasinghe, A. Colombo: WHT. p. 513. ISBN 978-955-9114-30-7. 
  8. ^ Somaweera,, R. (2006). Sri Lankawe Sarpayin [‘Snakes of Sri Lanka’]. Colombo: WHT. p. 297. ISBN 955-9114-35-2. 
  9. ^ a b Manamendra-Arachchi, K.; Pethiyagoda, R. (2007). Sri Lankawe Ubhayajeeveen [‘The amphibian fauna of Sri Lanka’]. Colombo: WHT. p. 440. ISBN 955-9114-34-4. 
  10. ^ Fernando, Prithiviraj. "New perspective on amphibians". The Sunday Leader. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  11. ^ Pethiyagoda, R.; Kottelat, M.; Silva, A.; Maduwage, M.; Meegaskumbura, M. (2008). "A review of the genus Laubuca in Sri Lanka, with description of three new species (Teleostei: Cyprinidae)". Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. 19: 7–26. 
  12. ^ a b Manamendra-Arachchi, K.; Pethiyagoda, R. (2005). "The Sri Lankan shrub frogs of the genus Philautus Gistel". Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Supplement 12: 163–303. 
  13. ^ Pethiyagoda, R.; Manamendra-Arachchi, K. (1998). "A revision of the endemic Sri Lankan agamid lizard genus Ceratophora Gray, 1835, with description of two new species". Journal of South Asian Natural History. 3: 1–52. 
  14. ^ Manamendra–Arachchi, K.; Batuwita, S.; Pethiyagoda, R. (2007). "A revision of the Sri Lankan day geckos (Reptilia: Gekkonidae: Cnemaspis), with description of new species from Sri Lanka and southern India". Zeylanica. 7: 9–122. 
  15. ^ Bahir, Mohomed M.; Ng, P.K.L.; Crandall, K.; Pethiyagoda, R. (2005). "A conservation assessment of the freshwater crabs of Sri Lanka". Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Supplement 12: 121–126. 
  16. ^ Bambaradeniya, Channa, ed. (2006). The fauna of Sri Lanka: status of taxonomy, research and conservation (PDF). International Union for Conservation of Nature. pp. 125–131. ISBN 955-8177-51-2. 
  17. ^ Pethiyagoda, Rohan S., Jr.; Nanayakkara, S. (2011). "Invasion by Austroeupatorium inulifolium (Asteraceae) arrests succession following tea cultivation in the highlands of Sri Lanka". Ceylon Journal of Science (Biological Sciences). 40 (2): 175–181. doi:10.4038/cjsbs.v40i2.3934. 
  18. ^ "The Island". 
  19. ^ Black, Richard. "Global plan to rescue amphibians". BBC News. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  20. ^ "Rohan Pethiyagoda". International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  21. ^ "Google Scholar". 
  22. ^ Pethiyagoda, R. (2007). Pearls, spices and green gold: an illustrated history of biodiversity exploration in Sri Lanka. Colombo: WHT. p. 241. ISBN 978-955-9114-38-3. 
  23. ^ Pethiyagoda, Rohan (2012). Sri Lankan primates: An enthusiasts' guide. Colombo: Wildlife Conservation Society, Galle. p. 126. ISBN 9789550954001. 
  24. ^ Pethiyagoda, R. (2012). Horton Plains: Sri Lanka’s cloud-forest national park. WHT. p. 320. ISBN 978-955-9114-41-3. 
  25. ^ "Fish Section Research Associates". The Australian Museum. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  26. ^ "Pisces". Magnolia Press. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  27. ^ Devi, K. Rema; Indra, T.J.; Knight, J.D. Marcus (26 August 2010). "Puntius rohani (Teleostei: Cyprinidae), a new species of barb in the Puntius filamentosus group from southern Western Ghats of India". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 2 (9): 1121–1129. doi:10.11609/jott.o2505.1121-9. 
  28. ^ Batuwita, Sudesh; de Silva, M.; Edirisinghe, U. (November 2013). "A review of the danionine genera Rasboroides and Horadandia (Pisces: Cyprinidae), with description of a new species from Sri Lanka". Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. 24 (2): 121–140. 
  29. ^ Amarasinghe, A.A. Thasun; Karunarathna, D.M.S.S.; Hallermann, J.; Fujunuma, J.; Grillitsch, H.; Campbell, P.D. (2014). "A new species of the genus Calotes (Squamata: Agamidae) from high elevations of the Knuckles Massif of Sri Lanka". Zootaxa. 3785 (1): 59–78. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3785.1.5. 
  30. ^ Benjamin, Suresh P. (2010). "Revision and cladistic analysis of the humping spider genus Onomastus (Araneae: Salticidae)". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 159: 711–745. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2009.00580.x. 
  31. ^ van der Poorten, Nancy (2012). "Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai subsp. nov. from Sri Lanka (Odonata: Corduliidae)". International Journal of Odonatology. 15 (2): 99–106. doi:10.1080/13887890.2012.692112. 
  32. ^ Pethiyagoda, Rohan; Meegaskumbura, M.; Maduwage, K. (2012). "A synopsis of the genus Puntius in South Asia (Pisces: Cyprinidae)" (PDF). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. 23: 69–95. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  33. ^ AFP (16 July 2012). "Sri Lankans name new type of fish after Richard Dawkins". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 August 2012.