S i n h a r a j a
By Jayasri Jayakody
Singharaja Forest Reserve is the most famous rainforest of the country. This tropical rain forest is a living heritage. Bio diversity of the forest is very high and a large proportion of the flora in this forest is endemic to the country and some are endemic to the Singharaja Forest itself.
This is a very good place to see many endemic birds such as the Ceylon Lorikeet, the Layard’s parakeet, Jungle and Spur Fowl, the Ceylon Wood Pigeon, the Grey Hombill, the Spotted wing Thrush, the Rufous and the Brown- capped Babbler, the Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush, the Ceylon Blue Magpie, the White Headed Starling, the Ceylon Hill Mynah and the Legge’s Flowerpecker. The clear cut roads in to the jungle provide easy access to the forest. This important forest is a Man and Biosphere Forest reserve and it is considered as a World Heritage Site, categorised under IUCN Management Category II (National Park), Biosphere Reserve, Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, IV.
Situated in the south-west lowland wet zone of Sri Lanka, within Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces, Sinharaja is bounded on the north by the Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga, on the south and south-west by the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga, on the west by the Kalukandawa Ela and Kudawa Ganga and on the east by an ancient footpath near Beverley Tea Estate and by the Denuwa Kanda.
This narrow strip of undulating terrain consists of a series of ridges and valleys. It is drained by an intricate network of streams, which flow into the Gin Ganga on the southern boundary and Kalu Ganga, via the Napola Dola, Koskulana Ganga and Kudawa Ganga, on the northern boundary. Soils, which largely belong to the red-yellow podzolic group, are well-drained and show very little accumulation of organic matter.
This characteristic is attributed to a combination of favourable climatic conditions, a diverse soil microflora effecting rapid breakdown of organic matter into constituent nutrients, and accelerated uptake and recycling of nutrients by the trees. Clear-felling of the forest, where most of the nutrients are locked up, therefore renders the soil impoverished of essential nutrients and incapable of supporting sustained commercial forestry or agriculture.
Based on meteorological records gathered from in and around Sinharaja over the last 60 years, annual rainfall has ranged from 3614mm to 5006mm and temperatures from 19øC to 34øC. Most precipitation emanates from the south-west monsoons during May-July and the north-east monsoons during November-January. Conditions are dry in February.
Two main types of forest can be recognised. Remnants of Dipterocarpus forest occur in valleys and on their lower slopes, with hora and bu hora present in almost pure stands. Secondary forest and scrub occur where the original forest cover has been removed by shifting cultivation and in other places the forest has been replaced by rubber and tea plantations Mesua-Doona (Shorea) forest, the climax vegetation over most of the reserve, covers the middle and upper slopes above 500m or above 335m.
Na usually predominates in the canopy layer. 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. Of 211 recorded species of trees and woody climbers, 40% have low population densities (less than or 10 or fewer individuals per 25ha) and 43% have restricted distributions, rendering them vulnerable to further encroachments into the reserve A variety of plants of known benefit to man are present, of which palm kitul (for jaggery, a sugar substitute), wewal (for cane), cardamom (as spice) and weniwal (for medicinal purposes) are used intensively by villagers.
Endemism is high in Sinharaja, particularly for birds with 19 (95%) of 20 species endemic to Sri Lanka present. Endemism among mammals and butterflies is also greater than 50%. Threatened mammals are the leopard and the Indian elephant. The endemic purple-faced langur is present. Birds considered to be endangered or rare are the Sri Lanka wood pigeon, the green-billed coucal, the Sri Lanka white-headed starling, the Sri Lanka blue magpie, and the ashy-headed babbler, all of which are endemic, and the red-faced malkoha. Of interest is the presence of Sri Lanka broad-billed roller, sightings of which have decreased markedly in the last five years. Of the reptiles and amphibia, the python is vulnerable and a number of endemic species are likely to be threatened.
Threatened freshwater fish are the combtail, the smooth-breasted snakehead, the black ruby barb, the cherry barb and the red-tail goby. Of the 21 species of endemic butterfly, the Sri Lanka Rose is vulnerable. The Sri Lankan Five-bar Sword, which is considered to be very rare, is not uncommon in Sinharaja at certain times of the year.
The Sinharaja region has long featured in the legends and lore of the people of Sri Lanka. Its name, literally meaning lion (sinha) king (raja), perhaps refers to the original ‘king-sized or royal forest of the Sinhalese’, a people of the legendary ‘lion-race’ of Sri Lanka or to the home of a legendary lion of Sri Lanka.
There are two villages within the south-west of the reserve, Warukandeniya and Kolonthotuwa, and about 52 families live in the north-western sector. At least 20 other settlements occur on the periphery, an unknown number of which have been illegally established on state land without approval from the relevant authorities. The total population is in excess of 5,000 people The extent to which local people are economically dependent on rain forest resources is variable but about 8% of households might be completely dependent..
Of the many constraints to the protection of Sinharaja, socio-economic ones relating to the people and organisations in the immediate vicinity of the reserve are perhaps among the most important. Encroaching cultivations are probably the biggest problem, particularly along the southern boundary. Contractors open up routes to facilitate logging operations and, although no felling is permitted within 1.6km of the reserve boundary, this may render the reserve more accessible to illicit timber operations. Planting of Honduran mahogany along abandoned logging trails as an enrichment species may lead to displacement of natural species, especially as it is a prolific seed producer. The most important forest produce is firewood, significant quantities of which are used in the production of jaggery.
The traditional use of minor forest products, most important of which are kitul for jaggery and wewal or cane for weaving baskets is now restricted to forest surrounding the reserve. Illicit gem mining was considered to be a serious problem in eastern parts of the reserve. It is organised mostly by wealthy merchants from outside the Sinharaja region and needs to be stopped. 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.
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Friday, October 19, 2007
S i n h a r a j a