Sinharaja Rain Forest (Biosphere Reserve) – සිංහරාජ ජෛවගෝල රක්‍ෂිතය

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Size  approx. 11,187 ha
Main attractions Hiking Trails, Wide variety of endemic species

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the best-known rainforest in Sri Lanka, is well worth a visit from anyone who is interested in the natural resources of this country. It has been declared a World Heritage Site, because of its unique and high biodiversity.

Sinharaja is also a Man and Biosphere Forest Reserve, and a large proportion of the flora in this forest is endemic to the country. Some species are endemic to the Sinharaja Forest itself. Sinharaja also has many species of endemic fauna.

Situated in the south-west lowland wet zone of Sri Lanka and falling into the Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces, Sinharaja is surrounded by Napola Dola, Koskulana Ganga (north), Maha Dola, Gin Ganga (south-west), the Kalukandawa Ela, Kudawa Ganga (west), Beverley Tea Estate and Denuwa Kanda (east).

As a rainforest with its rich and complex diversity of vegetation, Sinharaja provides habitats for a variety of animals. Although dependent on plants for food, animals also carry out certain functions vital to the growth of some plants. Pollination and seed dispersal are two of these.

sinharaja thattu ella

Thattu Ella at Sinharaja
photo by Danushka Senadheera (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sinharaja has two main forest types. One is the Dipterocarpus forests that occur in the valleys and on their lower slopes. Here almost pure stands of Hora (Dipterocarpus. Zeylanicus) and Bu Hora (Dipterocarpus. Hispidus) can be seen.

The other forest type is the secondary forest and scrub that now occurs where the original forest cover has been removed by shifting cultivation or other tree removal operations. In other places rubber and tea plantations have replaced the forest. Mesua-Doona (Shorea) forest, the climax vegetation over most of the reserve, covers the middle and upper slopes above 500m.

Sinharaja has the benefit of both monsoons. Rainfalls are regular during the south-west monsoons, May-July, the north-east monsoons and November-January, except February when the conditions are dry.

An IUCN – International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources – technical evaluation of Sinharaja states that ‘Sinharaja is the last extensive primary lowland tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. It holds a large number of endemic species of plants and animals, and a variety of plants of known benefit to man.

Sinharaja Jungle Foul

Jungle Foul @ Sinharaja
photo by Gaurika Wijeratne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the last viable remnant of Sri Lanka’s tropical lowland rain forest; over 60% of the trees are endemic and many of these are rare; and there are 21 endemic bird species, and a number of rare insects, reptiles and amphibians’. Endemism is high, particularly for birds with 19 (95%) of 21 species endemic to Sri Lanka present. Endemism among mammals and butterflies is also greater than 50%.

Mammals

There is evidence that there have been elephants in parts of the Sinharaja and its surrounding forests. However, their numbers have gone down over time and now there are only a few animals on the Rakwana side of Sinharaja, especially in the Handapan Ella, Thangamalai and Deepdene areas. Before the logging project started in 1971, elephants were common in the periphery of the forest. They have not been seen in the western sector since 1974.

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

The other large mammals that are found in Sinharaja are the Leopard (Panthera pardus), Sambur (Cervus unicolor), Fishing Cat (Felis viverrina), Rusty Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosa), Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntjak), Mouse Deer (Tragulus meeminna). Jackal (Canis aureus) and Wild Boar (Sus scorfa).

The leopard is rarely seen but there is evidence of its presence through its scats (excreta). What is interesting is that the leopard here seems to eat crabs and small mollusks as well. There are no spotted Deer (Axis axis), which is one of its favoured prey, at this elevation. Therefore the adaptation to food resources that are available.

Sinharaja Rain Forest

Sinharaja Rain Forest

The Purple-faced Langur (Presbytis senex) is an endemic. The only other primate found is the Toque or Rhesus Monkey (Macaca sinica) but it is seen mostly in the peripheral forests.

Of the smaller mammals there are a number of species in Sinharaja. The two Small Squirrels (Funambulus layardi and F. sublineatus), one Giant Squirrel (Ratufa macroura) the smaller Flying Squirrel (Petynomys fuscocapillus), the Badger Mongoose (Herpestes vitticolis), the Brown Mongoose (Herpestes fuscus), the Ring-tailed Civet (Viverricula indica), the Golden Palm Civet (Paradoxurus zeylonensis) and the Porcupine (Hystrix indica). The Otter (Lutra lutra) is also found in Sinharaja. There are also reports of sightings of the Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata.) but it is rare.

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

There are a number of rats, the Bandicoot, shrews and bats inhabiting this rainforest.

The larger mammals that are threatened are the leopard and the elephant. The present status of the leopard in Sinharaja has not been studied closely and therefore the population of leopards is not known. Even the exact population of elephants in Sinharaja is not known. Since it is a large animal and quite visible, it seems that only a few animals are left from the large number reported earlier.

Birds

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie - කැහිබෙල්ලා(Urocissa ornata) @ Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie – කැහිබෙල්ලා (Urocissa ornata) @ Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
photo by Gaurika Wijeratne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sinharaja hosts a variety of birds. Over 147 species have been recorded. This variety of species is possible because of the availability of specific habitats that range from 300 to 1500 meters. There are many endemic birds such as Ceylon Lorikeet ((Loriculus beryllinus), Layard’s Parakeet (Psittacula calthropae), Ceylon Jungle Fowl (Gallus Lafayetti), Spur Fowl (Galloperdix bicalcarta), Ceylon White-headed Starling (Sturnus albofrontatus), Ceylon Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtoni), Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), Spotted-wing Thrush (Zoothera spiloptera), Rufous Babbler (Turdoides rufescens), Brown- capped Babbler (Pelleurneum fuscocapillum), Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush (Garrulax cinereifrons), Ceylon Blue Magpie (Cissa oronata), White Headed Starling (Sturnus albofrontatus), Green-billed Coucal (Centrophus chlororhynchus), Red-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus),Ceylon Hill Mynah or Grackle (Gracula ptilogenys) and Legge’s Flowerpecker (Dicaeum vincens) are some of the endemic birds found at Sinharaja.

Scaly-breasted Munia or Spotted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) @ Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

Scaly-breasted Munia or Spotted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) @ Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
photo by Gaurika Wijeratne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) was discovered for the first time in 2001 by Deepal Warakagoda and Nanda Senanayake in the Sinharaja forest. Of interest is the presence of Sri Lanka Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus orientalis), sightings of which have decreased markedly in recent years.

A regular sight at Sinharaja is the flocks of birds of mixed species that go through the forest. It is a mutual relationship observed among birds, a method by which they improve the availability of feed. The food of one species does not necessarily interest another.

Another interesting feature is that there are different groupings of bird species foraging at the different levels of the forest. There are different species moving in the canopy, sub canopy, undergrowth and forest floor. A team from Massachusetts, Colombo and Sabaragamuwa Universities studied this aspect of bird activity.

Reptiles

Karamal Bodilima (The Hump-nosed Lizard) - Sinharaja

Karamal Bodilima (The Hump-nosed Lizard) – Sinharaja
photo by Danushka Senadheera (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Bodilma at Sinharaja Rain Forest

Bodilma at Sinharaja Rain Forest

There are records of 21 species of snakes, including the Python (Python molurus), found in Sinharaja. Five species of lizard found in Sinharaja are the arboreal Green Forest Lizard (Calotes calotes), the high-pitched whistling Whistling Lizard (Calotes liolepis), the Hump-nosed Lizard (Lyiocephalus scutatus) with its gular fold, the Earless Lizard (Otriocephalus scutatus) and the Rough Horned Lizard (Cerataphora aspera). The rare Horned Lizard is restricted to parts of Sri Lanka’s wet zone below 900m elevation.

The Water Monitor (Varanus monitor) is found in Sinharaja but the Land Monitor (Varanus bengalensis) has not been seen at this elevation.

Amphibia

A Frog in Sinharaja

A Frog in Sinharaja
photo by Danushka Senadheera (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There are many amphibians in this rain forest which provides an ideal habitat for them. Kelum Manamendra Arachchi, who has worked in Sinharaja for a long time says that ‘Half the number of amphibians in Sri Lanka are found in Sinharaja and half of the endemic amphibians are also from this forest.’

Kelum and Rohan Pethiyagoda have found many new species of frogs at Sinharaja and are likely to find more. It is also extremely likely that many species of amphibians have become extinct even before they were known to man. Kelum and Rohan have put out a very well researched book in Sinhala on our amphibians.

Fish

Some threatened freshwater fish found in Sinharaja are Comb Tail (Belontia signata), Smooth-breasted Snakehead (Channa orientalis), Black Ruby Barb (Barbus nigrofasciatus), Cherry Barb (Barbus titeya) and Red-tailed Goby (Sicydium halei).

Plants

Bandura @ Sinharaja

Bandura @ Sinharaja
photo by Gaurika Wijeratne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sinharaja has a complex vegetation structure. This is the same as in an intricate rain forest ecosystem. At first glance, the forest seems to be a chaotic muddle of vegetation. However, a closer look reveals that the vegetation can be categorized on the basis of several factors such as life-forms (trees, shrubs, herbs and woody climbers), a strata or groups of plants living under similar conditions of light and moisture with each group having its own “life-style”

There are many ‘layers’ of the forest – the canopy, sub canopy, under-storey, shrub layer and ground layer. Then there are the vegetation types like, stranglers, epiphytes, parasites and saprophytes. Emergents are trees that grow above the canopy layer of the forest.

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Ferns in Sinharaja Rain Forest

The trees that form the canopy, or top layer of trees, usually reach heights of around 30 to 45 meters. The canopy is well packed with tree crowns and is usually devoid of emergent trees. The second layer of trees is the under storey which consists of trees that are not so tall. The shrubs make up the third layer of the complex forest vegetation.

Most plants can stand on their own in that they can get their nutrition made up of minerals from the soil and produce food using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide from the air. This process is called photosynthesis. There other plants that cannot stand on their own and are dependent on other hosts for food, water or support, like climbers, epiphytes and parasites.

Flora in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Flora in Sinharaja Rain Forest

The plants could either be photosynthetic, thus nutritionally self sufficient or non-photosynthetic like the saprophytes; some, on the other hand, are semi or totally parasitic. Semi parasites take water from hosts plants i.e. Loranthus – Pilila in Sinhala, – while a full parasites absorb both water and nutrients – Cuscuta – aga mula nathi wal in Sinhala.

Epiphytes, orchids for example, are plants that cannot stand by themselves but are not dependent on the host plant for their food. The real objective of an epiphyte is to climb on to a big tree and get more sunlight for food production. Parasites need a host plant and take their food off the host plant as well. Saprophytes are those types of plants that live on the juices of dead plant and animal matter.

Flora in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Flora in Sinharaja Rain Forest

Stranglers are plants that start off being dependent on other plants for support but later establish their own support and tend to be detrimental to the original host. A good example is, though not from Sinharaja, the Nuga (Ficus bengalaensis), which starts off as an epiphyte on a host plant but grows steadily and completely chokes up the host plant. It grows into a massive tree leaving no trace or evidence of what was its host plant. In a rain forest vines too can be stranglers.

The plants could also represent several stages of maturity e.g. seedlings, saplings, poles, etc. As expected, the variety of combinations that could exist in the forest can be enormous. These are the factors that form the basis of the vegetation structure of the forest.

Orchids @ Sinharaja

Orchids @ Sinharaja
photo by Gaurika Wijeratne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A tree fall gap is a gap arising in the canopy due to the collapsing of an old tree. The thick canopy allows minimum sunlight to reach the ground level. Therefore seedlings and saplings wait for years on the forest floor before a gap appears .The moment it occurs, a hoard of young plants shoot up to take their place in the canopy. Tree fall gaps in Sinharaja have been studied by Yale University.

A variety of plants of known benefits to man are present in Sinharaja. One of which is the palm Kitul (Caryota urens) used to get jaggery, which is a substitute for sugar used widely in areas where this tree grows. Wewal (Calamus sp) is used in the cane industry, Cardamom (Elattaria ensal) a spice, Shorea sp. (for flour), dun Shorea sp. (for varnish and incense) and Weniwal (Coscinium fenestratum) for medicinal purposes, are used intensively by villagers. A list of 202 plants, together with their endemicity and uses has been drawn up.

Giant Wood Spider

Giant Wood Spider
photo by Danushka Senadheera (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Nimal and Savithri Gunatilleke in their many years of research in Sinharaja have found that of Sri Lanka’s 830 endemic species, 217 trees and woody climbers are found in the lowland wet zone. Of these, 139 (64%) have been recorded in Sinharaja, 16 of which are considered to be rare.

Other rare endemics are the palm Loxococcus rupicola and Atalantia rotundifolia, the latter being restricted to Sinhagala at 742m. Of 217 recorded species of trees and woody climbers, 40% have low population densities (less than 10 or fewer individuals per 25ha) and 43% have restricted distributions, rendering them vulnerable to further encroachments into the reserve.

Neluwa Duwili Ella

Neluwa Duwili Ella inside Sinharaja

In1968, a government directive was issued to extract timber for the plywood sawmill and chipwood complex established at Kosgama. Logging was carried out from 1971 until 1977, when logging was banned, largely due to public pressure brought about by the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, which played a leading role in the protests and objections to this indiscriminate logging of a very important and valuable natural resource.

At present, the reserve has 6,500-7,000ha of unlogged forest. Since 1977, the Forest Department has given high priority to protecting the reserve and in 1978 began planting (Pinus caribaea) along the periphery to establish a live boundary. More recently, betel nut palm (Areca catechu) has been used for this purpose.

In order to ensure the strict protection of the reserve for scientific and aesthetic reasons, a scheme of zonation and management is proposed for areas outside the reserve. The creation and propagation of essential forest products, for sustained utilisation, in areas outside the reserve is intended to meet local needs and thereby eliminate former dependence on resources within the reserve.

Of the many constraints to the protection of Sinharaja, encroaching cultivations are probably the biggest problem, particularly along the southern boundary. There are many socio-economic issues that need to be looked into. There are people and organisations in the immediate vicinity of the reserve, who are dependent of certain forest products for their livelihood. Alternate sources of these products have to be found for these people.

The most important traditional minor forest products used are Kitul, Cane and to a lesser degree medicinal plants.

These activities have now been restricted to forests surrounding the Sinharaja reserve. Illicit gem mining was once a serious problem in eastern parts of the reserve and was organised mostly by wealthy merchants from outside the Sinharaja region. This activity though reduced now has to be stopped completely.

The lack of a uniform land-use policy and the multiplicity of governmental and semi-governmental agencies involved in land-use planning in Sri Lanka are the major administrative constraints in evolving a suitable protection plan for Sinharaja. For the moment, transactions related to lands surrounding the reserve are suspended under presidential order until such time, as the conservation plan for the reserve is ready for implementation.

Jayantha Jayawardana
Daily News

Also See

Map of  Sinharaja Rain Forest (Biosphere Reserve) and Other Places of Interest

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Download the Google Earth Travel Companion File to see all the sites listed on amazinglanka.com or view the same file on Google Maps from here.

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Travel Directions to Sinharaja Rain Forest (Biosphere Reserve)

There are four main routes of access to Sinharaja Reserve. All nature trails start from one of these points.

  1. The Kalawana – Weddagala road  – this shortest one of the popular routes from Colombo
  2. Deniyaya – Pallegama road – Another very popular route
  3. The Rakwana-Morning side estate road – see the Morning Side Bunglow on the map
  4. Neluwa – Lankagama Road

Route from Colombo to Sinharaja (Kalawana – Weddagala Entrance)

Route from Colombo to Sinharaja (Deniyaya – Pallegama Route)

Through : Southern Expressway – Matugama – Kalawana – Weddagala – Kudawa
Distance : 130 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map (last segment of the road not in google maps)
Through : Southern Expressway – Matugama – Neluwa – Morawaka – Deniyaya – Pallegama
Distance : 170 km
Travel time : 4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Route from Colombo to Sinharaja (Rakwana -Morning side Entrance)

Route from Colombo to Sinharaja (Neluwa – Lankagama Road )

Through : Ratnapura – Pelmadulla – Kahawatta – Madampe – Rakwana – Suriyakanda
Distance : 165 km
Travel time : 4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map (last segment of the road not in google maps)
Through : Southern Expressway – Matugama – Neluwa – Lankagama
Distance : 135 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map (last segment of the road not in google maps)

Sinharaja [2] : Vignettes of Sinharaja

Text and pic by Jagath Kodituwakku
The Island
The forest is 21 kms long and its maximum width is 7kms. At the narrowest point the width is 3 kms. Sinharaja was declared a forest reserve by way of gazette notification (No. 4046) on May 8, 1875.It was declared a National Heritage Wilderness Site in 1988 and a World Heritage Site in 1989. Sinharaja lies 90m above sea level with its highest point being 1170m above sea level.The annual rainfall lies between 3000-6000 mm, while the average temperature ranges between 23 and 25 degrees Celsius.The total density of flora belonging to each category is around 24,0000 per hectare.

Spreading over the districts of Ratnapura, Galle and Matara, Sinharaja, our great tropical rain forest, by all accounts is a vast repository of national wealth. Given its sheer size, biological diversity and the history therein, Sinharaja naturally eludes complete description, and is certainly not “capturable” in a single visit. Indeed even a lifetime of wandering in that enchanting vastness might still not result in the trees, the ferns, the creatures and the varied textures revealing their numerous secrets. A single visit, then, must necessarily scratch the surface. What follows then is a story of what the place yielded over a short period as Ajith Malli and I walked mostly along known paths with the occasional departure off the beaten track.

Let me begin our story from the point when we are about to climb Sinhagala, located deep within the Sinharaja.

We have now come to the most arduous section of our journey. Several hours had already passed since we started. Our feet ache. For some reason, the haversack seemed to be much heavier on the shoulders than before. The boots, themselves seemingly heavier, has forced us to slow down. Through the dense undergrowth and rocky terrain there suddenly appeared a hill, rising steeply right ahead. Below lay the steep incline we had just climbed. The slightest slip could very well result in serious injury. We are not onto the most difficult and dangerous section of our journey.

An hour has passed since the sun reached its zenith. A full five hours after gulping down a light breakfast, we have now almost come to the end of the journey.

The verdant forest cover stretching in all directions is now visible, just as a lighthouse offers a view of the endless ocean. Such is the density that the trees appear to be clinging onto each other, inextricably bound with one another. The tops of the tallest trees, appear to imitate the ocean waves, as they rock back and forth with the wind. At times they are as still as a monk, deep in meditation. The scenery all around was breathtaking. Far away a Serpent Eagle was gliding ever so slowly, presumably focused on its prey. The mysterious silence of the jungle was occasionally broken by the incessant chirping of crickets.

Sinharaja Rain Forest

prominent peaks in sinharaja

All around us lie the great tropical rain forest, Sinharaja, subject of much controversy, in view of moves to bring it under the hammer of untrammelled plunder by way of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of the USA. Sinharaja is steeped in history. In fact it is claimed that this forest had its origin in the ancient forests that covered the lost continent of Godwanaland. As that giant land mass broke up, the portion that remained in this island came to be known as Sinharaja.

Covering a total area of 118425 acres, according to folk lore, this forest was first known as the “Sinhalaye Mukalana” (Forest of the Sinhale whose boundaries were unseen), and later came to be known as Sinhalaye Raja Vanaya (The Royal Forest of the Sinhale) and finally shortened to Sinharaja.

Sinhagala is the most prominent of all the nine peaks that are found in Sinharaja. There are interesting folk stories about the name Sinhagala. Some have it that a long long time ago, there lived a lion in a cave at the foot of the hill. The ancients believe that this lion ruled a vast extent of land and a giant had thrown massive rocks and eventually killed the beast. This “cave” is supposed to have been called Sinha Lena (Cave of the lion) and the place where the rocks thrown by the giant lay, “Yoda Gal Goda”. This is the story that was related by Ajith Malli, a volunteer tracker of the Sinharaja Conservation Office, Kudawe.

Martin Aiya, better known as Professor Martin due to his vast knowledge of Sinharaja, who is from an ancient village bordering the forest, had a different story to tell. According to him, there is no cave anywhere near Sinhagala capable of housing a lion. As for the rocks, he claimed they were unearthed over the years by gem miners.

Sinharaja Rain Forest

Kosgulana range as seen from Sinhagala

There are many points of entry into Sinharaja. One could come through Kalawana; by way of Veddagala, from the Eastern side; through Rakwana Morning Side Estate; from the Southwest, the Beverley Estate in Deniyaya; from Northeast through Daffodil Estate, Rakwana; and from the Southeast, through Kosmulla along the Hiniduma-Neluwa Road.

Once we reached the peak our weariness seemed to have evaporated. In fact a sense of invigoration quickly enveloped us. It was a privilege to stand upon the summit, gazing upon all that lay beneath, transfixed in wonderment. The natural beauty surrounding us was spiritually uplifting and it infused into me certain sensations that will allow me to relive that calm contentment again and again as long as I have life and memory.

I inquired from Ajith Malli about the two proud hills that rose from the South. “Those are named Hinipitigala West and Hinipitigala East. There are a total of 9 such peaks within Sinharaja. These are the tallest among them. They are 1170m and 1168m in height, respectively. What you can see far away on your left, is Kosgunala (797m). Next is Mulawella (760m). Sinhagala is 742m in height.” He said that we had walked about 14 kms to come here, perhaps allowing me to ascertain the relative distances.

It was well past lunch time, and Ajith Malli and I munched on cream crackers, washing it all down with the little water that remained in our bottles. We spent a long time enjoying the splendid scenery around us and started on our way down again. Making our way along the stream that lay at the foot of Sinhagala was difficult because the stones were slippery. We crossed the stream and came to a thick glade of Nelu. Walking through it increased our weariness several fold.

Sinharaja Rain Forest

Hinipitigala East and West, viewed from Sinhagala

As anyone who has been to Sinharaja would agree, there is no escape from the hordes of leaches that infest the undergrowth. The only thing to do was to allow these creatures to have their fill of blood. A lot of people who venture into Sinharaja show an unusual degree of revulsion and fear at these creatures. The previous day, I had the opportunity to witness a bevy of young Russian girls screaming and running in all directions. Their faces were red. They carried on their white skins blotches of purple, the sure sign of a leach attack, so to speak. Their faces and their voices betrayed utmost terror.

I found Ajith Malli stopping every now and again, scratching his entire body. Clearly embarrassed, he offered that there were more leaches around these days on account of the rains. “We were lucky that the sun was out today. It has been raining hard every evening for the past several days”.

The Heen Dola was moving at its usual leisurely pace. We stopped to rest awhile, listening quietly to the soothing sound of the stream. In this stream can be found the Bulath Hapaya (Black Ruby Barb — Puntius nigrofaciatus), Gal Pandiya (Stone Sucker — Garra ceylonensi), and the more rare Pathirana Salaya (Barred Danio — Danio pathirana). Apparently there are 20 species of fish in Sinharaja, among which seven are endemic to the area.

There are 12 species of mammals to be found in Sinharaja, of which eight are endemic to Sri Lanka. Kola Wandura (Purple faced leaf monkey — Presbytis senax vetulus), Gona (Sambhur— Cervus unicolour), diviya (Leopard — Panthera pardus kotiya), Olu Muwa (Barking deer— Muntiacus muntijak), Wild boar (Pus scrofa) are found here.

Sinharaja Rain Forest

Hinipitigala East and West, viewed from Sinhagala

There are both native and migratory birds here. A total of 20 species have been documented here among which 18 are endemic to Sri Lanka. Among these are theKehibella (Sri Lanka Blue Magpie — Cissa oruata), Vatharathu malkoha (Sri Lanka Red Faced Malkoha— Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocaephalus), Anduru Nil Mesimara (Sri Lanka Dusky Blue Flycatcher— Musciapa sordida).

There are 19 species of amphibians, of which 10 are endemic, 65 species of butterflies of which 21 are endemic have been documented. Among the butterflies found in Sinharaja are, Common Bird wing (Troidus helena), Blue Mormon (Paoilio Polymnestor), Blue oakleaf (Kallima philarchas). There are 72 species of reptiles, of which 21 are endemic.

Needless to say, the rich fauna includes colourful flowers, ferns and vines, blending harmoniously with the great trees. Among the more common flowers found in Sinharaja is the Hambu or the Bim Orchid (Arundina graminifolia) . There are two varieties of the carnivorous Bandura, the green one (Nepanthus distillatoria ) which is the more common and the less common red one, Rathu Bandura. The latter is said to have curative properties, especially in the treatment of whooping cough.

In a nearby branch was a wonderfully woven cobweb, reigning over which was a giant spider. The female of the species is said to be larger than the male. My guide, diligently took the trouble to educate me about these things. I listened to him as attentively as my need to capture these images in photographs permitted me.

“This spider is called the Mookalan Makuluwa. It is also called the Kele Makuluwa. The scientific term is Nephia maculata. In English, “Wood Spider”. The large one with the black and yellow spots is the female. The male is more reddish in colour.

“This is an Aridda tree (Compnosperma zeylanica). This is endemic to Sri Lanka. It grows up to reach the canopy. Nearby is the tree Ginihota (Tree fern — Cyathia walkeri). This is one of the largest ferns endemic to the country. Long ago, our ancestors are said to have used this to light torches.”

Now we are near the Research Centre of Sinharaja. This is used for research purposes by the Botany Department of Peradeniya University. Around three hundred and fifty meters from here is a majestic Navanda tree. Its trunk must have been about 21 feet in circumference. It was about 145 feet in height. The light was too poor for a photograph. We had already walked more than 25 kilometers. We were dead tired, naturally. Darkness was pursuing us. It was gradually encroaching on the surroundings. We still had a couple of kilometers to go. And still, the joys of the journey and the wonders we had encountered and indeed were encountering each moment served to lighten our hearts and take away the pain in our bodies.

We were now close to Martin Aiya’s place, “Disithuru”, haven for itinerant travellers such as we. As the darkness descended the mysteriousness of the forest grew and enveloped us. The lamp light from Martin Aiy.a’s house twinkled like fireflies in the distance. I quietly soaked in the deep silence.

It was already very cold. Still, it was a night I knew I would cherish simply because the following day I would be returning to the dust-filled, noisy city, teeming with people and full of the cacophony of koththu roti boutiques. Tomorrow and on tomorrows to follow, I would have to really on dreams, dreams of another time like this, another journey of discovery and amazement.

My sincere thanks to Sinharaja Conservation Project Forester Mr. Ananda Brahkmane, R. F. O. Mr. K. G. Gunasekare and Tracker Mr. Ajith Priyantha

© www.amazinglanka.com
First Published : March 21, 2009
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