Sri Lanka

I love this website and use it a lot, but sometimes the style of people’s trip reports drives me mad. “We flew into such-and-such airport, the food on the plane made us sick for the rest of the trip, but then we met our excellent guide Vergilius, and…” and from this point there is no useful info whatsoever, just a list of species seen “in Serengeti” or “in the Pantanal”. What good is such information without details? For example, I am planning a trip to Sri Lanka. Everybody mentions a magic place called Sigiriya, where countless lorises drop on you from trees and one rusty-spotted cat is invariably glimpsed (always very briefly, which makes me suspect that the ivorybill effect is at work – i.e. all feral cats seen well are recognized as such, while those seen briefly are called rusty-spotted). OK, I look Sigiriya up – and all I see on the internet is photos of some rock. What am I supposed to do with this information? Where did you actually see the animals? Was it some particular place, or did you blindly drive around in circles, or are those lorises in every tree within a ten-mile radius from that rock? The trip reports don’t specify.
I understand that once you hire a guide you don’t pay much attention to anything, but maybe we should at least start recording GPS locations of particularly good sightings? Takes ten seconds.
I am not criticizing anyone in particular; I write useless trophy lists like that myself sometimes. All I am saying is that perhaps we could try to make those trip reports of ours a bit more helpful…


  • tomeslice

    I’m with you on the specifics!
    I try to be as specific as I can in my reports, especially for the more exciting encounters with less-common species… Like, in my recent report to Tanzania I didn’t mention the exact location of every Zebra I saw, but I did try to be as specific as I could about the Honey Badger encounter, specifying the time of day, and location to the best of my knowledge… I usually specify the trail and if an interesting animal encounter happens I try to estimate the distance along the trail from the common start point. If I don’t know then I try to mention details which will help someone find it.

    But sometimes it’s not so easy, like in Africa, as you mentioned, you have a guide who drives you around and you really sometimes don’t know whereabout in the Serengeti you’re located, besides “in the Seronera Valley”. The road/trails there don’t have signs and the guides just know them.

    As for this specific place in Sri Lanka, I have never been there but from your description it sounds like if you ask around some local guides will be able to tell you where to find the lorises.

    PS your frustration with the lack of specifics about the lorises amuses me because I find myself in the exact same boat sometimes.. It reminds me of when I asked about American Martens and you mentioned that they should be “fairly easy around Crater Lake, Oregon in the winter” and my response was “When you say ‘fairly easy’ do you mean you can walk around the forest in the middle of the day, and occasionally you see a marten running around on the trees or on the ground, until you’re like ‘Oh, it’s just ANOTHER marten’? Or ‘fairly easy’ as in ‘If you hike the _______ trail between 5:45-6:15am, right in the middle of the trail there is a patch of forest where they are sometimes seen if you’re lucky’?”
    ;-P Then you gave me more specific info. But when you wrote “Did you just blindly drive around in circles, or are the lorises in every tree within a 10 mile radius of that rock” it really reminded me of that.
    Anyway, good luck with your quest, and I’ll look forward to reading/seeing the results on this website, facebook, or your website.

    • John Fox

      So, what was the answer about the Marten?

      • vdinets

        They show up around the lodge at the crater rim at least once per night in winter. The lodge is expensive and has to be booked, like, two ice ages in advance, but you can drive up there on a night of full moon, park your car so that it faces the garbage dump, turn on the heater and wait… If I was going for it, I would consider using some beaver spray or whatever they call it to improve the chances. If for whatever reason the marten doesn’t show up, the sunrise will be worth the wait 🙂

  • mattinidaho

    Well, this is for many folks a hobby and this isn’t a peer-reviewed journal. I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I suspect we all have our own reasons for taking trips, for watching wildlife and for writing/reading trips reports. I enjoy the trip reports and find them useful in selecting cool places to visit, and to know what I might see while there.

  • Mike Richardson

    I see where you’re coming from although there are several reasons why people may choose not to provide the exact location of a particular sighting. I tend not to use guides where and when possible, but I guess most would not appreciate their former clients handing out valuable, often hard-earned site information over the internet. Inevitably the guide would get less future work as many people will go it alone to see a particular animal, potentially causing additional problems such as over disturbance. You could argue that a particular site or animal does not ‘belong’ to the guide, but you can’t blame them for wanting to protect their livelihood. Many clients may believe they owe it to their guide to keep such information out of the public domain.

    Another reason why people don’t provide specific site information is to protect the animal (or plant) from poachers/hunters/disturbance. This may be more relevant to other wildlife such as reptiles, orchids or nesting birds but it does apply to mammals. Having said that, I’m sure you’re fully aware of this reason and you were referring to less vulnerable creatures in your post.

    I would be interested to know what other visitors to this website look for in a trip report. Personally I enjoy reading the diary style reports with lots of photos, even if I have no immediate plan to visit a particular country. A little humour or personality makes such reports even more enjoyable.

    However, when using the report in preparation for my own trip, travel/logistical information becomes far more important, along with a detailed species list. I care less for the diary style approach. I agree that many reports would benefit from a little more detail when it comes to the more unusual creatures.

    Obviously, everyone is going to look for different things in a trip report and it is impossible to please everyone all of the time. However, the vast majority of the reports on this site achieve a very good balance.

    • vdinets

      Well, if your guide asked you to keep the location secret, at least you can mention in the report that he did, so that others know that the species is unlikely to be found without this esotheric knowledge. But if instead you just say “and after lunch we made a quick stroll into the woods to see dholes, found them in less than five minutes and went back to the lodge for the dessert”, your report becomes misleading rather than helpful.

  • Jon Hall

    I’m a believer that any (accurate) information is better than none. Even a simple trip list with no added information gives you an idea of how likely it is to see something in a given time. Especially when you get a selection of such reports. Its better than no information at all. Of course the more details the better but some people don’t have the time or energy to write long reports and there are many times when it isn’t appropriate to publish specifics about location (I am frequently asked not to, either to protect the animal or the guide’s livelihood and that was the case for the Loris and Golden Palm Civet sites in Sri Lanka). That said, most people who write reports are usually willing to give more information on request so I’d encourage everyone to contact authors if you have questions on reports (and I can put people in touch if there are no contact details for the author of a trip report).


    • vdinets

      I understand that any report is better than none (especially considering that there are so few about mammals) and that nobody is paid to write them. But sometimes it takes just one extra sentence or even a few words to make the report much more informative.

  • Stefi

    I feel actually quite offended by a rude comment like this and making it without leaving your name is rather cowardly. Especially as there are many great reports on this site with amazing information, your comment seem a bit unfair just because you happen not to find what you’re looking for about the location you plan to go to. Of course we all want detailed information on where to see which species, preferably with the nice species offered on a perfect spot for a brilliant photograph. However, sometimes you just have to go with what you can find. Any information can be helpful so instead of being frustrated about the quality of the information, you should better be glad that you have at least some sort of starting point. If you were a bit of an independent mammalwatcher yourself, you would take up that information and then try for yourself. It’s not because someone saw a great mammal at km x on road y in a certain area that you will see the same mammal there as well. I find information on a) which areas to go to and b) what mammals to potentially expect there, already very useful. People who write trip reports usually don’t claim to be specialists. Hence, you always need to take into account that an ID may be wrong (unless there are pictures and you can judge for yourself). Btw, it’s not such a hard job to contact the person who wrote the report to ask for more information. Sometimes it also not so easy to remember what information you were looking for yourself while planning a trip to a certain location once you’ve been there. Maybe also think about the fact that not all people who write trip reports are true mammalwatchers. Maybe for them it just happens to be more improtant to share what they had for lunch than which guide they used. Reading something like this, I almost feel like not sharing anything anymore and that’s not a nice feeling. Shame on you!

    • vdinets

      Is it really without my name? That’s unintended, sorry. I thought it would appear as signed.
      As I said in the beginning, I find this site to be a great resource, and use it a lot. I am an independent mammal-watcher and always try to post my own reports here whenever practical; you can find quite a few of them.
      I know that people here volunteer information, and I appreciate that. I also know that mammals don’t usually stay nailed to the same tree branch. But I really don’t see why we can’t discuss the ways to make these trip reports more informative. Of course, if you just go on a whalewatching trip and see a certain species, all you can do is mention the sighting, or perhaps ask the tour guide how often do such sightings happen. But if you go to a specific location to find a particular species, it makes sense to say so in your report, rather than simply say that you saw that species in a broad geographical area. It takes just a few seconds to add this line of text, and it saves your readers the trouble of bugging you with requests for additional information.
      I involuntarily make such omissions myself sometimes; I am not saying that people are lazy or inconsiderate on purpose. But writing a good trip report is a bit of an art. It doesn’t hurt to strive for improving one’s skills, does it? As long as you already spend the time and effort to write the report, why not make it better?
      Vladimir Dinets

  • Stefi

    Well, I understand that it is frustrating when you don’t get accurate information – especially when you regularly offer such information yourself, like you do. However, I don’t think there’s much that can be done to change that. Maybe a list with guidelines (i.e. “important items that should be included in a trip report”) could help, although I think this would set off most people to write up a report rather than improve trip report quality…

    I also just saw that when you go to the entire blog, rather than opening the comment itself, it is signed – my mistake!

    • Vladimir Dinets

      I don’t think a list of guidelines would work. There are too many different situations; the list would have to be very long and nobody would ever read it. As an author of a few guidebooks, I found that the most useful approach is to think what kind of information you would actually be able to use if you were one of the readers. Sounds trivial, I know, but most authors (myself included) tend to forget about this.

  • tomeslice

    Haha, I knew this rather “angry” post would generate a little bit of a debate…
    Vladimir did start the post by saying “I love this website and use it a lot”, as he does.

    Everyone (especially Jon) has noticed that this website and blog is growing and gaining popularity which is awesome because we now get all kinds of reports from a lot of people. The way I see it, this is a hardcore mammal-watching website: in many other websites if you asked “Where in South America can you see a giant anteater?” you get answers like “Giant anteater is a very rare mammal and the chances of seeing one in the wild is slim! There are so many rainforest lodges in the Amazon – just go and be thankful for what nature wants to show you”. I feel like this blog was made by Jon for the exact purpose of breaking that complete reliance on luck, because it sucks and it’s disappointing if you really love watching mammals. Obviously there are some mammals which are indeed very difficult to find and there still hasn’t been good info on where to find them with any kind of reliability (bush dog, ground pangolin…) but in general, we try to be a little more specific and help each other find animals.
    Presumably this website is not used by the “general public” and people who find their way here are avid nature lovers who have respect for wild animals and aren’t likely to bother animals too much once they find them. But Stefi does raise a good point that nothing really prevents hunters and poachers from using this website for illegal activities, which would totally suck. But I do tend to think that most of the users here are respectful towards nature.

    Of course the original post radiates some frustration because of the sarcasm (which I love by the way, because I’m also a very sarcastic person, it just doesn’t come out on this website) but I think the request is valid. Even if people say something like “She asked me not to post online the location of the currently active den, but if you hire Jennifer Smith she will find you the Aardvark” it’s specific enough because it will lead you to the animal. But in many cases, hiring a guide is either required to go into the park, or still recommended because it’s another pair of eyes on the field, and a very-well trained pair of eyes if you have a good guide. That’s why when a guide was involved I also try to give specifics about him/her/them including contact info and whether they were good or bad (I only had to specify one guide who was bad so far in my worldly adventures). The guides also obviously have way more updated info than trip reports, because they guided yesterday, the day before that and the day before that..

    BUT – like everyone more-or-less mentioned, every report is welcomed, even if it just lists the national park or area and the species seen. This is just a general encouragement to remember to put as much detail as you feel like putting in, to help fellow mammal watchers see the interesting creatures you saw.

    Cheers to everyone!
    Live Happy.

    • vdinets

      Thanks for your support! BTW, I do know a good place for Temminck’s pangolin, in case somebody is interested (but it’s far from 100% certain).

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