Nature & Environment in Sri Lanka

Knuckles Mountain view - Kandy   

The mountains and the southwestern part of the country, known as the "wet zone", receive ample rainfall at an average of 2,500 mm (98 in). In the wet zone, the dominant vegetation of the lowlands is a tropical evergreen forest, with tall trees, broad foliage, and a dense undergrowth of vines and creepers. Subtropical evergreen forests resembling those of temperate climates flourish in the higher altitudes. Forests at one time covered nearly the entire island, but by the late 20th century lands classified as forests and forest reserves covered around ⅓ of the land. Most of the east, southeast, and northern parts of the country comprise the "dry zone", which receives between 1,200 mm (47 in) and 1,900 mm (75 in) of rain annually. Much of the rain in these areas falls from October to January; during the rest of the year there is very little precipitation. The arid northwest and southeast coasts receive the least amount of rain at 600 mm (24 in) to 1,200 mm (47 in) per year. Varieties of flowering acacias are well adapted to the arid conditions and flourish on the Jaffna Peninsula. Among the trees of the dry-land forests, are some valuable species such as satinwood, ebony, ironwood, mahogany and teak. The Yala National Park in the southeast protects herds of elephant, deer, and peacocks, and the Wilpattu National Park in the northwest preserves the habitats of many water birds, such as storks, pelicans, ibis, and spoonbills. During the Mahaweli Ganga Program of the 1970s and 1980s in northern Sri Lanka, the government set aside four areas of land totaling 1,900 km2 (730 sq mi) as national parks. The island has four biosphere reserves, Bundala, Hurulu Forest Reserve, the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya, and Sinharaja.
The national flower of Sri Lanka is the Nymphaea stellata (Sinhalese Nil Mahanel), the national tree is the Ironwood (Sinhalese Na), and the national bird is the Sri Lanka Junglefowl, which is endemic to the country

For a small island, Sri Lanka has many nicknames: Serendib, Ceylon, Teadrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient. This colourful collection reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of the affection it evokes in its visitors.

   Mahaweli Ganga by Gampola  
  Mahaweli River flowing through Gampola  

Sri Lanka unfurls before the senses as soon as you arrive: the heavy warm air, the endless array of rich green foliage, the multi colour Buddhist flags, and the variety of gems, jewellery and spices are in the market. Sri Lanka festivals announce themselves with multicoloured lights strung over town clock towers and bazaar alleys. The sky turns deepest thundercloud black before a replenishing downpour fills the hundreds of lakes and rivers. Marco polo thought Sri Lanka was the finest Island of its size in the entire world.

The Island hangs like a pendant from the ear of India, physically and culturally. The main languages and religions were inherited from India, but Sri Lanka’s culture and society have unique, distinct qualities. The island became a stronghold of Buddhism when that faith faded it its homeland thousand years ago. The Island has a longer history of Western rule than any other Asian country its size. Signs of Portuguese, Dutch and British influences linger in institutions.

One of the country’s sweetest surprises is the way that wildlife mixes into daily life here and what takes your fancy? Beaches?. The coastal stretch south of Colombo has palm lined beach after palm-lined beach. Culture? Try the Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants or the masked devil dances. Ancient civilisation? Explore the man made lakes, temples and 60m high solid brick dagabas (Buddhist shrines) of the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Scenery? Head of the hill country where the heat of the plains and the coast fades away to reveal gorgeous rolling hills often carpeted with tea plantations. Surfing? Many rave about the breaks at Arugam Bay, Kirinda and other beaches. Wildlife? There are a dozen major national parks inhabited by elephants, leopards, monkeys, crocodiles and deers. All this comes with welcoming, friendly people, good food, pleasant places to stay and reasonably low costs – all wrapped up in a compact, easy to navigate packages.

Sun & Sand

Beach In Sri Lanka   

Some of the best beaches in the world are to be found here in Sri Lanka. Unspollt stretches of golden sand lining sweeping bays of azure and aquamarine water, fringed with coconut palms abound the stuff of dreams. Quite often these are protected by off shore coral reefs, an attraction by themselves, making swimming safer. The further form Colombo you travel, the more stunning and deserted are the beaches. However, it is always wise to seek local advice about possible dangerous currents before you swim,


Water Falls

   Kurunduoya Falls  

Sri Lanka, in comparison to its size, has perhaps the largest number of waterfalls of any country in the world. Indeed, there are nearly 100 in Sri Lanka over 5-10 metres, the largest being no less than 263 metres high. Featured here, however, is the second highest, the Diyaluma falls, at 220 metres. Several factors are necessary for such an abundance of waterfalls. First, the geological formation of the land has to be such that there is a sharp upthrust of the earth’s surface resulting in precipitous edges. Second, the rivers should flow over a hard rock face to minimize erosion. There is an exception featured here, the Ravana Falls, which flows over khondallte, a kind of limestone, and thus erosion is discemible. Third, there should be plenty of rainfall to swell the rivers, in Sri Lanka all these factors are satisfied in the central highlands.

Usually waterfalls fall into a pool. A typical example of this in Sri Lanka is the Dunhinda falls. In certain cases, where the waterfall is very high and the volume of water is small, the water is small, the water disintegrates into mist or spray before it reaches the bottom. Many of Sri Lanka’s waterfalls come under this category, particularly during the dry season. Some waterfalls fall onto massive rocks at the base so that the weight of the water is broken on them to spectacular effect. A typical example of this is the aforementioned Diyaluma falls.

It is a universal phenomenon that water fall often have legends attached to them, and Sri Lanka is no exception. There are often common elements to these legends, too. For instance, the existences of a secret cave behind the veil of water, in which is stashed fabulous treasure. Sometimes waterfalls are associated with tragedy. More often than not they become the venue of a joint suicide by two ill-fated lovers, such as is the case with the Dunhida Falls.

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Garden  
Peradeniya Botanical Garden  

The Dutch introduced the first botanic gardens, which were located at Slave Island, Colombo, in order to cultivate European fruit and vegetables fulfill a cultural dietary imperative. However, the tropical lowlands of the island the Dutch held were not suitable for the fulfillment of such a cultural dietary imperative, so after the British took control in 1796, the gardens were abandoned. Frederick North, the first governor of Ceylon, set up his own private garden fruit and vegetable garden at Peliyagoda, supervised by Joseph Joinville, Who was the Clerk for Natural History and Agriculture. And until he left in 1804, General Mac Dowell, the senior military officer, imported plants from the East India Company’s botanical garden at Calcutta. But these efforts were modest in extent.

In 1810, Sir Joseph Banks, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, advanced hi suggestion to the British government for the establishments of a Royal Botanic garden and Minor gardens in Ceylon. Banks argued that a botanic garden was essential for a multitude of political and scientific reasons, including the necessity to bolster British prestige among the practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine. As a result, the first English botanic garden was opened in the island, once again at Slave Island, on August 11, 1812. However, the very next year the gardens were flooded and then transferred to Kalutara, where 600 acres of sugar estate were specially converted. In the months following the British accession to power in the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815, the military opened up a garden in the highlands and began to report heartening horticultural results.

In 1821, just six years after the fall of kandy, the Royal Botanic Gardens found their final home when they were transferred to a site at Peradeniya. In 1860, a site beneath the Hakgala rock, near Nuwara Eliya, was chosen for the Hakgala Botanic Gardens, established specifically to nurture and reproduce cinchona (cultivated for quinine), Which bridged the changeover from coffee to tea in the island’s plantation industry. The site for a third botanic garden – Henaratgoda – was chosen near Gampaha in 1876 for the cultivation of the first of millions of rubber trees to be grown in Asia. These three gardens are remarkable because all have been involved in the great inter-tropical exchange of flora that took place due to colonial expansionism during the 19th century.

National Parks in Sri Lanka

   Minneriya National Park  

Sri Lanka has over 20 wildlife sanctuaries – which are home to a large variety of species, including the leopard, sloth bear, elephant, slender Loris, numerous other reptiles & amphibians.

Ancient Conservation Techniques It is said that King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka established the world's first wildlife sanctuary at Mihintale in the 3rd century BC. Certainly the conservation of nature is an ancient tradition in the island, a tradition that is inextricably linked with the adherence of the Sinhala people to Buddhism. At the Ruwanweli dagoba in Anuradhapura there is a stone slab inscribed with a decree issued in the late 12th century by King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa that reads:By the beat of a drum he ordered that no animals should be killed within a radius of seven gau (a measurement of distance equivalent to about 4 miles) from the city, he gave security to animals. He also gave security to the fish in the 12 great tanks, and bestowing on the people gold and cloth and whatever other kind of wealth they wished, he commanded them not to catch birds and so gave security to birds as well . . .

While all animals and plants in these prototype sanctuaries were to be left alone, and violators punished, elephants received the greatest protection, for they were the property of the monarchy. The enlightened kings of the time were also aware of the importance of preserving trees and set aside areas of forest known as thanasikelle or forbidden forest. Some of these ancient reserves exist to this day, such as the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Udawattekelle Sanctuary.

With the arrival of the Europeans, however, in particular the British in the early 19th century, such conservation philosophies were overturned. This affected both the flora and fauna of the island. The systematic slaughter of large game such as elephants took place because they were perceived as a threat to colonial expansion, in particular the plantation industry. One British pioneer alone shot over 1,300 elephants. Then, when tourism started later in the 19th century, the island became a focus for so-called sportsmen in search of big game to hunt.

Depredation of the island's big game continued into the 20th century even after wildlife conservation came into focus. This was mainly due to human expansion and loss of habitat, although poaching also played a part. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the World Conservation Union lists 43 animal species as threatened in Sri Lanka. They include Sri Lanka's own subspecies of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) and the leopard (Panthera pardus).