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Knuckles forest Sri Lanka
Knuckles forest is one of the most valuable natural assets of the island of Sri Lanka. It was declared as a natural world heritage site in 2010 by UNESCO, due to its ecological importance. Knuckles being the second natural world heritage site of the list of natural world heritage sites of Sri Lanka and first being the Sinharaja rainforest.
The knuckles range is situated covering part of Kandy and Matale district and the reserve is separated from the Central Mountain range by Mahaweli (longest river) Valley in the directions of South and East, and the Matale valley in the direction of West. Knuckles the name derived from the word knuckle or clenched fist because in the distance it looks like a clenched fist. Geographical location of the reserve has made it a forest reserve with unique characters.
Knuckles forest range harbours a large number of endemic fauna and flora of Sri Lanka. Other than the human activities there are several numbers of natural threats to the native vegetation in the forest. The distribution of invasive plants is recognized as one of the leading natural threats for the vegetation of knuckles forest range.
The mountain range spread from Laggala to Urugala and there are another three distinct smaller ranges in size, parallel to the main mountain, same-times there are many much smaller mountains running parallel to the knuckles mountains range. Altogether thirty-four such ranges are identified within the 62 square miles that rise up from 3000 to 6500 feet in height.
The geographical upheavals of the Knuckles Mountain rise up to 6500 feet. One important unique character of the Knuckles mountains range is the collection of different climate conditions within its borders. Therefore there are different floras corresponding to these different climatic zones in the reserve. Knuckles forest contains mountains and cliffs range that begins in Laggala and ends in Urugala. These mountain ranges add some unique characters to the Knuckles reserve.
The historical value of Knuckles
The historical value of Knuckles mountain range is considered to be very high and therefore it is been considered as an important heritage of the island. The existence of knuckles is known to the island since prehistoric period. One of the earliest names of the Knuckles is “Giri Divaina” and was inhabited by stone age man. According to the archaeological founding,s there had been settlements of Yaksha tribe in the area. With the arrival of Vijaya and his followers, Yaksha clan had lost their control in the mountain and had retreaded more towards the South-East slope of the central mountain range, where they were waiting for the perfect opportunity regain their control. Kandy is the proud owner of Knuckles mountain range and historical and natural importance of Kandy is considerably heightened due to the presence of Knuckles within its border.
Knuckles mountain range is unique due to many factors; perennial water resources, a large number of mountain and peaks, high bio-diversity of the forest and formation of cloud forest are being considered as the main factors. The history of Knuckles goes back to many millennia. The knuckles mountain range is also a cultural heritage of the island can be considered an as a mirror to the past.
The Knuckles mountain range has a unique and remarkable climatic condition within its borders. The travellers can experience vivid climate conditions during the trek here. The visitors can experience all these different climate conditions within a half an hour walk. Mountains and peaks of Knuckles forest is the major factor for the existence monsoon effect within the forest, it regulates the course of the wind while contributing to the climatic diversity in the forest. It is recorded a very high rainfall in the forest throughout the year. The rainfall is measured between 3000-5000 ml. The temperature fluctuation within the forest is also very high and it is between 5.5 degrees to 35 degrees Celcius. The approximate wind speed in the forest is 7.2 km/hour, and the main contributor of high wind in the forest is the south-west monsoon that enters the valley through a gap in the mountains. The humidity of the forest is measured to be between 57%-90%.
Walpolamulla, the remote village within Knuckles
Walpolamulla is one of the ancient villages in Sri Lanka that is extremely rich in natural wealth. It is being considered as one of the places to go in Sri Lanka, especially for nature lovers and history enthusiast. The beginning of the village is going back to more than 5,000 years or era of Rama Sita. The first written evidence of the village is originated during the British rule in Sri Lanka. The village is situated in the deep jungle of Knuckles forest range and there are only three houses in the village.
This small village is inhabited by only 6 people and they have a verdant thick jungle with wild animals around the village. The village shows the simplest form of living that one can imagine in the world. There are no electricity and electronic appliances such as audio set-up, TV, fridge, washing machine, Telephone etc. Even they have no running water; people are using the nearby stream with pure water gushing down from the mountain to fulfil their water requirement. These villagers are blessed with unpolluted, fresh air amidst the calm and serene environment. The people of the village enjoy the fresh fruit the and vegetable that grow in their gardens. The vistas around the village are breathtaking with verdant hills that are full of green.
The people of Walpolamulla have minimum contact with the outside world and they are rarely leaving the village to get the dry rations. It is believed that these villagers have a close relationship with Vedda community in Sri Lanka. They are very good at hunting like people of Vedda community. Their houses are made of a mixture of mud and cow dung while the roof is thatched with leaves.
The village of Walpolamulla is totally free from the so-called modern changes in the society and that could be a reason for its isolation from the modern generation.
Mountains / Peaks
Nowhere else in Sri Lanka, an area of comparable size does one find such a collection of magnificent peaks.
One of the most devastating invasive plant known as “Sudda” (Austroeupatorium inulifoium) has started to spread in the forest of Knuckles. It is one of fastest invading plants in the world and it is capable of suppressing the growth of native plants. Today, it has spread in many parts of the central mountain range including Peradeniya, Nawalapitiya, Kadugannawa, and Bulatkohuitiya and it will invade the other parts of the island in the near future. This plant is known as Ostro in English and it is a plant of Asteraceae family. This devastating plant is native to countries such as South America, Argentina and Brazil. It is believed, the plant was introduced to the island to use for manufacturing organic fertilizer. It was used for suppressing propagation of the illuk plant in Indonesia by Dutch in 1935. It is a thick perennial shrub grows up to 2-5 meters; the leaves are long, measured 7-14 cm.
Austroeupatorium inulifolium is recognized as a weed in the agriculture in the Global Compendium of Weeds (2008). It has become a very destructive invasive plant in the Philippines. It creates very dense shrubs in plantations such tea and rubber making it difficult to work on the plantation. Same times it suppresses the growth of valuable crops.
The distribution of plant takes place mainly through the wind. The lightweight seeds are dispersed very quickly in the areas with heavy wind such as knuckles. Therefore the distribution of Sudda is considerably faster in knuckles forest range. Maximum growth of the plant is recorded in the semi-mountainous areas with heavy rain and low temperature. Even though details studies are not carried out with regards to the plant, it is capable of creating many devastating effects for the native plants. This plant has been categorized as a highly aggressive plant and it is listed as a plant, not allowed to enter Australia.
Cultivation of cardamom under the forest canopy has become one of the major contributors to the degradation of forest habitats in the Knuckles Mountain Range. This involves the clearing of the shrubs and undergrowth canopy trees.
Overgrazing is occurred by large herds of domestic/feral cattle and buffalo and it can clearly be seen in Pitawala patana plains in Knuckles range.
Overuse of agricultural chemicals by farmers for paddy cultivation in the area is also a major threat to the fauna, flora of the forest reserve. Lack of knowledge for use of the chemical inappropriate manner and suitable quantities in the fields have caused over usage of them, ultimately additional quantities being released to the environmental.
Further, those who visit the Knuckles Mountain Range tend to litter the non-biodegradable materials such as glass bottles, plastic, and polythene into the environment carelessly.
Illegal gem mining can be seen in certain areas of Knuckles Range and this course for degradation of habitats in the forest reserve. Hena cultivation and man-induced fires in chena land have resulted in the destruction of forest especially in the buffer zone of the Knuckles.
Direct exploitation of species is also a major problem in this area. Human activities such as illegal felling of timber and fuelwood species and illegal hunting of animals can be seen in this area. Further shooting animals or set trap guns and noose traps to kill animals, the collection of fish species from streams for the ornamental fish trade and collecting of herbaceous plants for ornamental plant trade are threats to the natural resources in this area. Over-collection of plants and animal species for commercial purposes and research /study purposes is a major threat to the sustainability of the forest reserve. These activities are challenging for the existence of endemic and threatened species in the forest reserve.