Brief History of Sinharaja Forest Reserve

There is a protected forest area in southwestern Sri Lanka called the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. It contains the island's largest remaining tract of undeveloped tropical forest. Its altitude varies from about 300 to about 1,170 meters. An area of 8,864 ha includes a proposed forest reserve of 2,772 ha and an existing forest reserve of 6,092 ha. This slim strip of the undulating territory consists of mountains and valleys tied together by an extensive network of waterways and creeks.

These many rivers, streams, and smaller tributaries form a complex drainage system that empties into both the southern and northern hemispheres. The Napola Dola, Koskulana Ganga, and Kudawa Ganga all drain into the Gin River on the south edge of the forest. In contrast, the Kalu River drains into it on the northern border. Most precipitation occurs during the southwest monsoon from May to July and the northeast monsoon from November to January. The average annual rainfall fluctuated between 3,600 and 5,000 millimeters during the last 60 years.

Sinharaja Rain Forest has always been shrouded in mystery, and its secretive past adds to that allure. Because "Sinha" means "lion" and "raja" means "king" in Sinhala, the name "Sinharaja" translates to "the lion king." Legend has it that the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka are descended from the progeny of a princess and a lion king from the forest. According to the legend, the lions of the woods dropped from this pairing. Historical data suggest that Sinharaja is home to one of the world's least degraded and most ecologically significant of Sri Lanka's remaining lowland rainforests.

Most of the forest's interior was designated a forest reserve on May 3, 1875, marking the beginning of the illustrious history of conservation for the area. In 1978, the Sinharaja forest proclaimed a Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) as a single example of the Tropical Humid Evergreen Forest ecosystem in Sri Lanka. Doing so ensures that the forest will be there for future generations to enjoy.

It is also included in UNESCO's International Network of Biosphere Reserves because of its exemplary preservation efforts. In 1988, Congress approved the National Heritage Wilderness Land Act, which made it possible to protect this region as a national wilderness. Also, the World Heritage Convention included it in its list of protected sites in 1989. One of Sri Lanka's natural resources has received this honor for the first time. Biologically speaking, the Sinharaja forest's plants are a remnant from Gondwanaland, providing new light on continental drift phenomena.

Furthermore, nowhere else can you find a finer resource for investigating how biological evolution occurs than here. The Sinharaja primary zone is a highly significant geological feature. The reserve is inside the transition zone between two major bedrock characteristics of Sri Lanka: the southwestern and the highland groups.

At least 139 plant species are endemic to Sinharaja and can only be found there. In particular, mammals, birds, and butterflies all have species compositions higher than 50%. In reality, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a conservation area large enough to support both the maintenance of ongoing biological evolutionary processes and the in-situ preservation of rare and exotic species. Detailed research conducted in Sinharaja over many decades with the correct methodology led to these conclusions.