Sinharaja Forest

About 30kM from Ratnapura is the last remaining portion of rain forest of the country, the Sinharaja Forest. The forest has now been declared as a protected area. A popular tourist destination for its’ eco value, bird watching, research and for curiosity. The forest is famous among the scientists for the vast number of flora and fauna and a Eco lovers’ paradise on the paradise. Population increase and one time massive logging operation has decreased the extent of Sinharaja.

The forest covers an area of more than 11000 ha. Sinharaja has been regarded as a valued area from the days of the kings. Now a world heritage site protected by the government under the wilderness area. Logging, game hunting and gem mining are still a threat to the forest while the government is very much involved in conservation of the forest.

The Sinharaja (meaning Lion King) Forest is the last remaining patch of virgin rain forest in Sri Lanka, and one of the last remnants of primeval wet-zone wilderness. According to local legend, the area was once the preserve of kings and some colonial records refer to it as the Rajasinghe Forest. The area first entered European records when the Portuguese detailed all the villages in the area; the Dutch mapped to area, and the British continued surveying the region for commercial and scientific purposes. When logging began in the 1970s and a woodchip mill was built in the forest, conservationists lobbied hard for an end to the destruction, and in 1977 a newly elected government called a halt to the logging. In 1989 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This forest area is also unique because is the only location on the island where the altitude changes within one kilometre in an area measuring 1km from east to west. This is just one factor contributing to the astonishing diversity of species of fauna and especially flora, some of which is still being studied. The forest is a wilderness of unique grandeur, with a majestic canopy of hora and keena trees, often over 40m high. Nearly all the sub-canopy trees are endangered, and more than 65% of 217 trees and woody climbers endemic to Sri Lanka are found in the Sinharaja.

The largest mammal in the forest is the rarely spotted leopard, also infrequently glimpsed are the rusty spotted and wild fishing cats. Sambhur, barking deer and wild boar browse on the forest floor. The more common troops of purple-faced langur monkeys will chatter and move through the trees above you, but you’re more likely to hear them than actually see them. There are also rats, shrews, giant squirrels, porcupines, civets, mongooses, venomous snakes, 20 species of birds and 45 species of reptiles!

There are several entry points into the Sinharaja, but the most traveller-friendly routes are via Kaduwa in the northwest or via Deniyaya. Accommodation near the forest is very basic, and you’re better off looking in Kaduwa or Deniyaya.

Human Pressure
Ecologically vital to the survival of many species of flora and fauna, the forest has been encroached upon by humans. It supports 22 villages of over 5,000 people on its borders, putting intense pressure on an extremely sensitive and complex eco-system. Abundant Grade A timber also increases the forest’s lure. In the 1970’s, a commercial logging programme cleared 1620 hectares of virgin forest causing irreversible ecological damage. Heightened awareness of the need for conservation has since made Sinharaja a strict reserve and since 1988, a National Heritage Wilderness Area.

Plant Diversity
The spectacular rainforest scenery consists of over 240,000 plants per 10,000 square metres, a unique and incredible surface density of vegetation. Of these 70% are endemic to Sri Lanka. The rapid change in altitude within the forest, has caused marked changes in certain species, where the same plant with wet-zone characteristics at the lower elevations will be found with dry-zone characteristics at the highest levels.

The highest concentration of endemic fauna is also found at Sinharaja. It is estimated that about 300 species of wildlife live in the forest of which about 20% are indigenous. The forest is a sanctuary to most species of wildlife in Sri Lanka and includes leopard, many rare species of endemic birds, reptiles, fish and butterflies.

Forest Conservation
The Sinharaja Conservation Project aims to protect the wilderness with a double edged sword: a two-pronged approach, which educates the villagers and prevents commercial or domestic exploitation. Forest Department officials have developed a 2km wide buffer zone bordering the forest, where profit generating trees have been planted and are now maturing. The aim is to eventually restrict the villagers to the buffer zone for all their needs. The programme has been more successful with the younger generation, which has grasped the concept of conservation much better than their elders.

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