Sinharaja Forest Reserve is another one of Sri Lanka’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. UNESCO also designated it as a Biosphere Reserve, one of the few in Asia. It is a national park whose biodiversity is significant to the global community of environmental preservation. “Sinharaja” means “Kingdom of the Lion” in English. Compared with other important forest reserves in the world, this one in southwestern Sri Lanka is tiny at only 21 kilometers from east to west and 7 kilometers from north to south. Yet, it is so rich with endemic and rare species of trees, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and insects.
There is dense vegetation, which is why the animals are difficult to see but the reserve is filled with endemic and endangered species. It is home to three elephants, 15 leopards, the Sambhur, monk deer, barking deer, badger mongoose, the elusive golden palm civet, and the friendly purple-face lemur. There are rare birds such as the greater racket-tailed drongo, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, white-headed starling, orange-billed babbler, ashy-headed babbler, red-faced malkoha, Sri Lanka blue magpie, Sri Lanka broad-billed roller and the rarest of all Sri Lankan birds, the green-billed coucal. The endangered reptiles and amphibians, on the other hand, include the python, green pit viper, hump-nosed viper, rough-nose horned lizard, tree frogs, green garden lizard and the rare microhylid. There are also endemic freshwater fishes such as the combtail, smooth-breasted snakehead, cherry barb, black ruby barb and red-tail goby.
Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s last remaining viable tropical rainforest. It was declared as a forest reserve on May 3, 1875, a Biosphere Reserve in April 1978 and World Heritage Site in 1988. Today, more than 60% of the trees in the area are endemic and rare, specifically 139 woody trees out of 211, and 13 lower plants out of 25. Average tree height is from 35 meters to 40 meters, while some trees grow to as tall as 50 meters. Officially, the reserve is declared as a home “of humid wet evergreen forest type with a high degree of endemism.” The reserve is so dense, with about 600 to 700 trees and plants per hectare.
Surrounding the forest reserve are 22 villages and the locals are permitted to enter the park to tap palms, collect medicinal plants according to season, occasionally collect rattan, and gather dead wood and leaves so that they may convert these into fuel and construction materials. Gem mining and poaching of wild animals are illegal, yet there are still documented violations.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve is located in the southwestern lowland wet zone of Sri Lanka. It is bordered by the Koskulana Ganga and Gin Ganga rivers within the Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces. The park is often visited by nature photographers, nature lovers, artists, scientists and tourists. To get there, one may take a bus coming from Colombo, Galle, and Ratnapura. When driving, the route is very scenic through Hayes Tea Estate going to Madampe and Balangoda. The roads to the forest reserve are often damaged by flooding, which is why it is good for travelers to leave early and expect a long trip.