Lester Perera is a birdwatcher, naturalist and a painter who needs to be encouraged to speak to the media. This is because he is so humble despite being immensely knowledgeable about wildlife and its inhabitants. He possesses loads of information after closely associating himself with nature, but realizes what he knows appeals to a niche market. He is also an individual who can make the study of nature interesting as reading a novel in the Harry Potter series.
As much as one needs great patience to do bird watching, Lester is someone who had patience in abundance to find his way in life. He worked for the NARA and then a pharmaceutical company before dedicating his life and time for wildlife-related activities.
Lester told Weekend Nation that he learnt art alone, listened to people speak on the subject and viewed art exhibitions. This is the process he followed to nurture the artist in him. At present, he draws and paints on wildlife, his creations bringing him a decent income. There have been occasions when his paintings were donated to Oriental Bird Club in the UK to be auctioned at the British Bird Watching Fair. The proceeds have been used for bird-related conservation work in the Orient. “My life thus far has been a hard journey. I can’t turn back now,” said Lester who lives in Homagama. He is a self-taught individual who didn’t fancy gathering knowledge by attending university. He said that experience, more than anything else, makes the path he has chosen in life easy to travel on. At present he is almost through with doing a research paper on sea birds.
When asked to name the recent most-endangered bird species in the island, he responded by saying: “Why only birds? As a naturalist, I want all animals, birds, reptiles and insects to be free of being in danger so that they can continue to live in their habitats. Everything that lives in the wild can handle challenges posed by the environment, but the same can’t be said when wildlife is threatened by human disruption.” He went on to state that global warming has had its toll on wildlife and birds too. Speaking further on the aspect of challenges to the environment he had this to say: “Make attempts to save the flagship animal of the country, the elephant. The rest of the wildlife will fall into place.”
He draws birds as he sees them and later turns to reference books. He said that bird watching involves training the eye to capture movement of birds, composition of environment and listening to sounds that birds emanate to indicate territory dominance. His study of birds ranges from the common, rare, not-so-rare and the very rare. While explaining he pauses when speaking about the owl. “It is one of the most intelligent birds out in the wild. One hardly sees an owl out in the open during rain. This is because the owl knows that if it gets wet, it takes a very long time to dry its body,” he said. According to Lester, everything that lives in the wild is important and one can’t make a priority list about which animal is more important. He said that out in the wild, an elephant and the ant have equal importance and no animal can be underestimated.
He is at present involved with a tour operating company that caters to wildlife and bird watching enthusiasts. He believes that Sri Lanka has a lot to offer wildlife enthusiasts. But his perspective of bird watching stretches beyond the mere sighting of some kind of feathered species. “When we get tourists who are bird watchers and 80 per cent of them want to see architecture, observe the clothes that folk wear and even taste the food in these areas,” said Lester as he spoke of the larger picture associated with this subject.
Lester has had many exhibitions, some of them outside Sri Lanka in countries like Scotland and France. He has set his sights on travelling to the North of India and to Kashmir in his pursuit of watching birds. Right now he has studied and observed about 750 species of birds. He wishes to see that number reach 1,000 in the near future.
Lester started cultivating an interest for animals and wildlife when going to school. Luckily for him, at that time, his father and grand dad did hunting as a pastime. When Lester was influenced by their pastime and went on to develop a love for wildlife there was no objection. “During my time parents never worried about what we were doing. We were given the freedom to do what we wanted. We were allowed to develop our interests and grow as individuals,” concluded Lester.
Pics by Eshan Dasanayake