Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Located in the southwestern part of Sri Lanka, Sinharaja Forest Reserve (Sinhala: සිංහරාජ වනාන්තරය; Tamil: சிங்கராஜக் காடு) is the country's last viable area of the primary tropical rain forest. Presently, UNESCO has declared it as one of the World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.

World Heritage Site: Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Location: Sabaragamuwa & Southern Provinces, Sri Lanka 
Coordinates: N6 25 0 E80 30 0
Date of Inscription: 1988
Criteria :    (ix) Sinharaja is the last remaining relatively undisturbed remnant of tropical humid evergreen forest in Sri Lanka. The property’s flora is a relic of Gondwanaland and provides an important component to our scientific understanding of continental drift and an outstanding site for the study of the processes of biological evolution. A geological feature of considerable interest is the presence of the Sinharaja basic zone, with the reserve located within the transition zone of two important rock types characteristic of Sri Lanka; the south-western group and the highland group
                   (x) Endemism within the property is extremely high. Protecting the last viable remnant of Sri Lanka’s tropical lowland rainforest, Sinharaja is home to at least 139 endemic plant species within two main types of forest: remnants of Dipterocarpus in the valleys and on the lower slopes, and secondary forest and scrub where the original forest cover has been removed. Sixteen of the endemic plant species within the property are considered rare, including endemic palms Loxococcus rupicola and Atalantia rotundifolia.
Faunal endemism is also high, particularly for mammals, birds and butterflies, exceeding 50%. Nineteen (95%) of Sri Lanka’s 20 endemic birds are present in the property, which is also home to leopard and Indian elephant, both of which are threatened species
Reference: 405; Sinharaja Forest Reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, United Nations.

The forest
Sinharaja is considered the least disturbed and the most extensive patch of lowland rainforest (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990). In Sinhalese, the word Sinharaja means "lion king" and perhaps it refers to the original king-sized royal forest of the Sinhalese, a people of the legendary lion race who constitute more than 70 % of the present-day Sri Lankan population (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990).

Only half percent of the original area of approximately 100,000 ha of the Sinharaja group of forests remains today (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990). The forest cover, even in most of the remnants is now fragmented (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990). The present Sinharaja forest reserve covers 11,187 ha and is the least fragmented patch of the Sinharaja group of forests (Alwis et al., 2016; Samarawickrama et al., 2019). The forest spreads into three administrative districts, viz. Ratnapura, Galle and Matara.

Around the periphery of the reserve, a 3 km wide buffer zone has been established to reduce resource demands on the reserve and to help prevent human encroachment (Wijesooriya & Gunatilleke, 2003). The reserve is accessible via three main entrances and opens to the public throughout the year, from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

To the state of World Heritage
Sinharaja remained inaccessible even after Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948. However, the first road was built into the forest from Veddagala, a village north of the reserve in 1963 to open a jeep track for scientific explorations (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990). In 1971, without considering the opposition from nature lovers and scientists, mechanized logging of the forest was begun but it was abandoned in 1972 (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990). However, logging was again started in 1974 on a limited scale but it was totally abandoned in 1977 (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990). During the period between 1972 and 1977, 1,400 ha of the western portion of the reserve was selectively logged to supply plywood and up to 60% of the canopy was opened for logging activity (Gunawardene et al., 2010).

By the late 1970s, the forest had gained recognition nationally and internationally as an important site of natural habitats. In 1978, Sinharaja was designated as a biosphere reserve and maintained as a part of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990; Kankanamge Epa & Mohotti, 2016). In October 1988, the reserve together with a northeastern extension was named the country's first National Wilderness Heritage Area and in December of the same year, it became Sri Lanka's first natural site to be added to UNESCO's World Heritage list (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990; Surasinghe, 2007).

Presently, the reserve is considered a hotspot of biodiversity along with the Western  Ghats (India), because of its biogeographic value and high species endemism with restricted distribution (Surasinghe, 2007; Wijesooriya & Gunatilleke, 2003).

The wet zone of Sri Lanka comprises about 23 % of the 65,610 km2 area of the island and its forests are characterized by a high concentration of endemic species (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990). When considering  Sinharaja, about 70 % of the known species of woody trees and lianas, ferns and epiphytes, as well as about  95 % of the birds in the forest are endemic to the country (Ishwaran & Erdelen, 1990).

Sinharaja is a mid-elevation rain forest (300–1200 m a.s.l.), set upon a series of ridges running in an east-west direction in the south-western quarter of the country (Gunawardene et al., 2010). Annual rainfall in Sinharaja ranges between 4,000 and 5,000 mm and the average monthly temperature varies between 22 and 28 °C (Alwis et al., 2016; Gunawardene et al., 2010). The main forest type in the reserve is mixed dipterocarp forest, ubiquitous throughout the Asian tropics (Gunawardene et al., 2010). Major streams draining into Kalu Ganga and Gin Ganga rivers originate from the Sinharaja rain forest (Kankanamge Epa & Mohotti, 2016).

Sinharaja Forest Reserve Sinharaja Forest Reserve .
1) Alwis, N.S., Perera, P. and Dayawansa, N.P., 2016. Response of tropical avifauna to visitor recreational disturbances: a case study from the Sinharaja World Heritage Forest, Sri Lanka. Avian Research, 7(1), pp.1-13.
2) Gunawardene, N.R., Majer, J.D. and Edirisinghe, J.P., 2010. Investigating residual effects of selective logging on ant species assemblages in Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka. Forest Ecology and Management, 259(3), pp.555-562.
3) Ishwaran, N. and Erdelen, W., 1990. Conserving Sinharaja: An experiment in sustainable development in Sri Lanka. Ambio, pp.237-244.
4) Kankanamge Epa, U.P. and Mohotti, C.R.W.C., 2016. Impact of fishing with Tephrosia candida (Fabaceae) on diversity and abundance of fish in the streams at the boundary of Sinharaja Man and Biosphere Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka. Revista de biologia tropical, 64(3), pp.1129-1141.
5) Samarawickrama V.A.M.P.K, Kumara, H.I.G.C. and Samarawickrama, D.R.N.S., 2019. Diversity of Reptiles in the Eastern and Southern parts of the Sinharaja Rain Forest. Journal of Tropical Forestry and Environment, 9(1). pp.37-47.
6) Senaratne, A., Abeygunawardena, P. and Jayatilake, W., 2003. Changing role of non-timber forest products (NTFP) in rural household economy: the case of Sinharaja World Heritage site in Sri Lanka. Environmental Management, 32(5), pp.559-571.
7) Surasinghe, T.D., 2007. Conservation overview of herpetofauna of Sinharaja man and biosphere reserve of Sri Lanka. ZOOS'PRINT Journal, 22(1), pp.2535-2538.
8) Wijesooriya, W.A.D.A. and Gunatilleke, C.V.S., 2003. Buffer zone of the Sinharaja biosphere reserve in Sri Lanka and its management strategies. Journal of the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, 31(1-2). pp.57-71.

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This page was last updated on 6 May 2023
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