Popular taxonomist and winner of the Rolex Award for Enterprise, Rohan Pethiyagoda, has been appointed as the new Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board by Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake.He became famous for setting up 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.
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. He resigned from Government office in 1987 to commence work on a project to explore the island’s freshwater fishes, which led to his first book, Freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka (1990), a richly-illustrated account of the country’s freshwater-fish fauna.
His project to convert abandoned tea plantations into natural forest was honoured by the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 2000.
In recognition of his contribution to biodiversity conservation, Pethiyagoda, a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, 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. 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.
He is a Research Associate of the Australian Museum and serves as editor for Asian Freshwater Fishes of the journal Zootaxa. Several new species have been named in his honour, including the fishes Dawkinsia rohani and Rasboroides rohani; the dragon lizard Calotes pethiyagodai; the jumping spider Onomastus pethiyagodai and the dragonfly Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai.
Pethiyagoda had his secondary education at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and holds a B.Sc. (Eng.) Hons. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, King’s College, University of London and an M. Phil. in Biomedical Engineering, University of Sussex.