Sri Lanka has an abundance of exotic & varied natural riches & a long tradition of conservation rooted in its ancient traditions which teach kindness & compassion to all living creatures. The island can claim the world's first wild life sanctuary dating from the 3 rd century B.C. Ancient rulers were also aware of the importance of forest conservation for ecological needs & large wilderness tracts were set aside as reserves for rain catchment & pest control purposes. Some of these ancient reserves known as thahanam kele & wanatha such as the Udawattekele Sanctuary in Kandy & the sinharaja Rain Forest Reserve –still exist.
A diversity of mammals
Of the 86 species of mammals found in Sri Lanka , 16 of which are endemic to the island, pride of place goes the majestic elephant. Although rapid destruction its habitat has depleted the elephant population, sizeable herds can be seen in the national parks, especially Gal Oya & Uda Walawe. Other exotic species commonly seen in parks & sanctuaries include leopard, sloth bear, sambhur, spotted, hog & mouse deer, wild boar, porcupine, ant-eater, civet cat, jackal, mongoose, loris, giant squirrel & many varieties of monkeys, including the endemic Macaque, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, Grey Langur & the shaggy Bear Monkey.
Fish, Frogs & Reptiles
All major groups of vertebrates are found here, most endemic to the island, especially amphibians & reptiles. Most of the 54 species of fish are marsh & river dwelling varieties, the 14 endemic species being restricted to the perennial wet-zone streams; they comprise the beautiful aquarium fish of the Carplet group. The rainbow & brown trout found in the cold, clear streams of the 7000ft. high Horton plains were introduced here by British colonial community in the last century.
Of the 38 species if amphibian found here, 16 are unique to the island. One endemic genus, the Nannophyrs, with 3 species, is common in the hill country. This frog lives on rock ledges covered by a continuous trickle of water, with tadpoles also sharing this habitat. Nine of the amphibians are poisonous to man.
The island has a variety of reptiles, which 75 are endemic. Of the 2 endemic species of crocodile, the commonest is the Marsh Crocodile. The beautiful Star Tortoise is the only land tortoise found here. All 5 species of turtle are protected by law. Only 5 of the 83 species of snakes are lethal, these being the Cobra, Russell's Viper, Indian Krait, Ceylon Krait & Saw-scaled Viper & are rarely found in the built-up areas of city or village.
Exotic & varied flora
To the botanist, Sri Lanka is a land of plenty, the country which cherished the Sacred Bo, the oldest historical documented tree in the world for over twenty centuries & where plants are treasured for their curative powers in its indigenous (Ayurvedic) medical system.
Many varieties if trees, both tropical & temperate thrive in the diversified climate. The luxuriant under-growth & tall majestic trees of the wet zone tropical forests- such as the Sinharaja Reserve- contrast with the arid scrubland & talipot palms of the dry northen & eastern plains. In the hills, vegetation varies from the almost treeless patanas- Moon, of the gorse-covered Horton plains. The damanas-open parklands- of the Eastern Province add yet more variety with trees such as Aralu, Bulu & Nelli, of great value to the Ayirvedic pharmacpaeia.
From March to may numerous flowering trees such as the fiery Poinciana regia, the white Mesua ferrea, the frothy pink Tabebuia rosea burst into bloom. Exquisite orchids including rare endemic species such the protected pink-mauve Vesak & the Daffodil, Primrose & Anuradhapura orchids may be seen in their woodland habitats & in collections.
Sri Lanka has been famed through the ages for its species & aromatics- cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, vanilla & citronella, which grow abundantly in the wet zone lowlands & hills. Valuable timber trees include ebony, teak, satinwood, calamander, mahogany, tamarind & jack. Tropical fruits are found in abundance & include mango, pineapple, papaya, banana, mangos teen, avocado, pear, citrus fruits, rambuttan & passion fruit.
Three excellent botanic gardens- at Peradeniya, Hakgala (at an elevation of 5000ft) & Gampaha offer fascinating collections of tropical & subtropical flora.
Two government bodies are entrusted with the protection & conservation of Sri Lanka 's fauna & flora. The Department of wildlife Conservation manages 12 National Park, 51 sanctuaries & 3 Strict Natural Reserves. The Department of Forest Conservation is entrusted with Forest as well Man & Biosphere Reserve.
Of the National parks, the most popular are the Yala National Park where a wide variety of animals can be seen & Gal Oya & Uda Walawe for viewing large gardens of elephants. Inside the Parks, animals have the right of way & visitors are not permitted to alight from vehicles or disturb animals or birds. Reservation of accommodation in 10 bungalows within the Parks should be made at the Department of wildlife Conservation, 82, Rajamalwatte Road, Battaramuula, through travel agents, well in advance, as demand is very heavy.
Of the Natural Reserves, the most notable are the Horton Plains, the Knuckles Range & the Peak Wilderness. Entry is not restricted & visitors can move about freely. The most important Man & Biosphere Reserve is the Sinharaja Rain Forest , recently declared an UNESCO world Heritage Site, the last remaining virgin rainforest in the island & home of many species of endemic fauna & flora. Entry here is by permits issued by the Forest Department, Rajamalwtte Rd. Battaramulla. National Parks, sanctuaries & reserves where fauna & flora is protected by law comprises 14% of Sri Lanka 's total land area.
Protected species : the law protects certain endangered species of flora (the Baobab tree, six species of orchids, ferns etc.) & fauna. Export or even possession of these species is illegal. Production, sale & possession of articles made from wild animals & reptiles & items such as leopard skins, elephant tusks & crocodile skins is also illegal.
Help conserve the Natural Habitat.
They are ours to use wisely.