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The Sinharaja Forest Reserve in southwestern Sri Lanka is vital to the entire country because it is the only significant remnant of the virgin primary tropical rainforest that once covered Sri Lanka. The vast majority (64%) of trees are both native and rare. In addition, the reserve is home to 23% of Sri Lanka’s unique species, including 85% of the country’s endemic birds and more than 50% of its endemic mammals, reptiles, and butterflies.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve Type Reserve

It was added to the World Heritage List in 1988 as a Natural World Heritage Site meeting criteria ix and x. In 1978, the UNESCO Man & Biosphere Programme officially recognised the area as a Biosphere Reserve (11,187 ha).
IUCN Management Category II: National Park
The biological province of Ceylon is the tropical rain forest (4.02.01).
Total land area: 8,564 hectares.
West Hinipitigala Peak has an elevation range of 300 metres to 1170 metres.


Situated 90 km southeast of Colombo, in the provinces of Sabaragamuwa and Southern, in Sri Lanka’s southwest lowlands. The Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga border it to the north, the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga to the south and south-west, the Kalukandawa Ela and Kudawa Ganga to the west, and the Denuwa Kanda and an old footpath close to the Beverley Tea Estate to the east (6°21′ to 6°26′ N, 80°21′ to 80°34′ E).


Most of the area was set aside as the Sinharaja-Makalana Forest Reserve in 1875, thanks to the Waste Lands Ordinance (Gazette 4046), while the remaining area was proposed as a forest reserve in the early 20th century.

In 1926, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve was formed to protect watersheds and included an area of 9,203 hectares.

All existing and future forest reserves have been classified as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves since 1978.

In 1988, a 7,648-hectare National Heritage Wilderness Area was established and officially notified in Gazette 528/14. There are a total of 8,864 hectares listed in World Heritage sites, 6,092 of which are actual or potential forest reserves.

The State Party established the 11,187-hectare Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area in 1992 by combining the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Biosphere Reserve. The Forestry Service claims that this area is not yet part of the World Heritage Site’s extension (2003).

state regulated by the Forestry Branch of the Ministry of Lands and Land Development. coordinated by the Biosphere Reserve and a National Steering Committee.


This undulating 21-by-4-kilometer strip surrounds the Rakwana mountain range with a series of slopes and troughs. The Maha Dola, which originates in the south, flows into the Gin Ganga, while the Napo Dola, Koskulana Ganga, and Kudawa Ganga rivers, which originate in the north, empty into the Kalu Ganga. The reserve sits at the intersection of two major Sri Lankan rock types. In the southwest, there is a series of formations made up of metasediments, charnockites, and calc-granulites with scapolite. In the highlands, there are khondaites made up of sediments that have been changed by metamorphism and charnockites (Cooray, 1978). The Sinharaja Basic Zone, an outcrop of fundamental rocks, may be found about in the middle of the region. Quartzite, garnet-biotite gneisses, intermediate charnockites, hornblende, pyroclasts, basic charnockites, pyroxene amphibolites, and calc-granulites including scapolite all make up a small percentage of these rocks (Hapuarachi et al., 1964). The aeromagnetic anomaly associated with this area certainly contributed to the desilication that resulted in the formation of the local gem fields (Katz, 1972; Munasinghe & Dissanayake, 1980). The reddish-yellow podzol soils are generally impermeable, weather to laterite in certain parts, and show very little organic matter buildup, with the exception of alluvium in the valleys. The rapid breakdown of organic matter into its component nutrients by a complex soil microbiota, together with the trees’ rapid uptake and recycling of the nutrients, are the reasons for this, as stated by de Zoysa and Raheem (1987).


The northeast monsoon, which runs from November to January, and the southwest monsoon, which goes from May to July, both deliver rain to the forest. The isohyets are nearly entirely within the range of 3810mm to 5080mm. With an annual average of over 2500 mm and an average of 189 mm in February, the driest month, there is never a dry season (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1983). Constant precipitation has a buffering effect on the day-to-day temperature swings that make up for the relatively small seasonal temperature swings (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987). Between 19 and 34 degrees Celsius are typical.


Sinharaja is a pristine slice of Sri Lanka’s ancient tropical rainforest (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999), which is part of a 47,000-hectare deep lowland forest. There is more than half of the country’s remaining comparable forest in that area of Sri Lanka. Of the 337 species found there, 116 are globally endangered. Below about 500 metres, you’ll find what’s left of the Dipterocarp woodland; on the middle and upper slopes, you’ll find Shorea forest, the climax vegetation for the majority of the reserve; and above about 900 metres, you’ll find a transitional zone to tropical montane forest. Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke (1981) report that 220 distinct species of trees and woody climbers have been discovered. Forty percent of them have low population densities (10 or fewer individuals per 25 ha), and 43 percent have restricted distributions, leaving them susceptible to further incursion. About two-thirds (139) of Sri Lanka’s 217 native wet lowland trees and woody climbers can be found in Sinharaja, including 16 species considered endangered or critically endangered (Peeris, 1975; Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1981, 1985). The Forest Department’s 1986 Conservation Plan provided a list of 202 plants, together with information on their endemicity and uses, while De Zoysa & Raheem (1987) gave a review of the structure and composition of the vegetation.

On the lower slopes and in the valleys, Dipterocarpus hispidus (bu-hora) (CR) and D. scattered because to the expansion of tea and rubber plantations; zeylanicus (hora) (EN), of which there are only a few practically pure stands left. A variety of Wormia trees also exist. (diyapara), (milla), Messua spp., and Vitex altissima (diyapara). (na), “Doona,” (dun), and “Chaetocarpus,” (hadawaka). This type of forest is characterised by widely spaced emergents that grow to a height of 45 metres above the forest canopy. Secondary forest and scrub have expanded greatly in areas where the original forest cover was lost to shifting cultivation or rubber and tea plantations (de Rosayro, 1954).

On the middle slope, you’ll find the densest forest. This begins at around 500 metres, or higher than 335 metres (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1985), as stated by de Rosayro (1942). It is distinguished by its membership in the Mesua-Doona (na-dun) clade, which includes Mesua nagassarium (batu-na), M. ferrea (diya-na) and a variety of Shorea species (dun). There are no breaks in the tree cover and it is 30–40 metres high. A variety of plants co-dominate the subcanopy; Garcinia hermonii and Xylopia championii constantly dominate the covert; there is little groundcover (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1985).

On the steeper slopes and ridges, the vegetation changes from tropical wet evergreen to tropical montane forests, characterised by smaller trees. Vegetation in the 1988 expansion to the east is sub-montane evergreen forest, with the stunted trees so typical of montane conditions on exposed peaks. Doona gardneri (dun), Calophyllum calaba (keena), Diospyros sylvatica (sudu kadumberiya), Mastixia nivali (VU), C. species such as VU’s Oncosperma thwaitesii and katu kitual’s (Oncosperma fasciculatum) are endemic only to Vanuatu. Antidesma pyrifolium, Glycosmis cyanocarpa, Lindasea repens, Techtaria thwaitesii, and calamander ebony Diosporus quaesita are some rather rare examples of plant life. In the understory, you’ll find a wide variety of native herbs and shrubs, such as Schizostigma sp., Paspalum confugatum, Arundina gramimifolia, bamboo orchid, and Lycopodium sp. Both Dicranopteris linearis and Badalvanassa are represented here.

Several trees in Sinharaja have circumferences of more than 300 centimetres, including species of Mesua (Mesua ferrea), Mesua thwaitesii (diya na), Dipterocarpus zeylanicus, and D. hispidus, hulan idda (Shorea stipularis), gona pana (Pseudocarpa championii), vitax (Vitex) altissima (VU), and S. Mangifera zeylanica (etamba), Scutinanthe brunnea (mahabulu mora), Palaquium petiolare (kirihambiliya), Hopea discolour (mal-mora) (EN), and Cryptocarya membranacea (tawwenna) (EN). Sinhagala, at an altitude of 742 metres, is home to a number of unique plant species, including the palm Loxococcus rupicola (dotalu) (CR) and the extremely rare endemic Atalantia rotundifolia. There are still 169 wild plants that the local villagers are known to use (Manikrama, 1993). The grasses bamboo, Ochlandra stridula (bata), Calamus ovoideus, and C. jaggery is a sugar substitute made from the sap of the kitul palm, Caryota urens. Use of Elattaria ensal for seasoning with Shorea sp. for cane and Zeylanicus (cardamom) for cardamom. Shorea sp. (dun) flour. (beraliya), Vatima copallifea (hal), Coscinium fenestratum (weni wal), and varnish/incense (Gunatilleke et al., 1994; Lubowski, 1996).


Preliminary wildlife inventories can be found in the Forest Department’s Conservation Plan from 1986. Extreme endemism is common. The Forest Service has identified 270 different kinds of vertebrate animals; of those, 60 (23%), are indigenous to the area. There are just eight native mammal species, 147 native bird species, 10 native amphibian species, 21 native reptile species, 72 native fish species, and 20 native amphibian species. More over half of Sri Lanka’s endemic bird species can only be found in Sinharaja, and many of these are extremely rare or have small populations. There is a lot of endemism in the butterfly, reptile, and mammal kingdoms. Out of the total of 65 butterfly species in this area, 21 are native.

There is a small population of Elephas maximus (EN), also known as Indian elephants, in the region’s northeast. Panthera pardus kotiya (EN), often known as the Sri Lankan leopard, is the most common predator while being nearly impossible to spot. The native purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus), the northern red muntjac (Muntiacus vaginalis malabaricus), the fishing cat Zibethailurus viverrina, the jackal (Canis aureus lanka), the western toque macaque (Macaca sinica aurifrons)), the rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus (VU), the crested wild boar (Sus scrofa cristatus), the sambar (VU), and the white-spotted mouse deer (Moschiola meminna) are some of the mammals that live there. Two of the twenty tiniest animals are the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra nair). The Sri Lankan blue magpie Urocissa ornata (VU), the Sri Lankan white-faced starling Sturnus albofrontatus (VU), and the endemic red-faced malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus (VU) are all threatened or endangered species of birds. Eurystomus orientalis irisi, the Sri Lanka broad-billed roller, has been in sharp decline over the past five years (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987).

Of the many reptiles and amphibians around the world, the Asiatic python (Python molurus) is one of the most endangered. The spineless forest lizard Calotes liocephalus (EN), the rough-nosed horned lizard Ceratophora aspera (VU), which is confined to a portion of Sri Lanka’s wet zone, and the uncommon endemic microhylid frog Ramella palmata are all noteworthy species (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987). Evans (1981) takes a look at the plight of several endangered freshwater fishes, including the endemic red-tail goby Sicyopterus halei, the black ruby barb Puntius nigrofasciatus, the cherry barb Puntius titteya, the smooth-breasted snakehead Channa orientalis, and the combtail Belontia signata. Out of the 65 butterfly species, 21 are native. Both the five-bar swordtail Graphium antiphates ceylonicus and the striking Sri Lanka rose, Atrophaneura jophon (CR), are very common in Sinharaja during certain times of the year while being considered highly rare elsewhere (Collins & Morris, 1985; J. Banks, personal communication, 1986). In 1937, Baker gave the first survey of the fauna, and in 1987, de Zoysa and Raheem gave a comprehensive overview.


The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is among the most biologically diverse areas of the ecological “hotspot” in southern India. It is the largest and only surviving lowland tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. The area also has several useful plants and 64 percent of the island’s unique tree species. Over half of the country’s unique animals, 85% of its endemic birds, and a number of extremely rare endemic reptiles can all be found here (IUCN, 2000). Located in a WWF Global 200 Freshwater Eco-region, which is designated as a Conservation Hotspot by Conservation International, the park is home to a number of rare bird species and is considered a Conservation Hotspot.


Legends and stories reference the area, which has a history dating back to the ancient Sinharaja monarchs. The Sinhala people of ancient Sri Lanka were considered a ‘lion-race’ (Hoffmann, 1979), which may explain the name, which translates to “lion (sinha) king (raja). The forest had its logging halted in the 1970s due to the significance placed on it as a symbol (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999).


There are 32 sizable towns or cities on the outskirts of the Sinharaja jungle in the south, northeast, north, and northwest. Barathie and Widanapathirana (1993) report that several settlements in the south have been erected without permission on state land, and that the population is growing most rapidly around the northern border. The southern, eastern, northeastern, and northern parts of the forest are surrounded by natural woodlands and private estates, respectively. In 1993, it was estimated that more than 7,000 people lived in the villages close to Sinharaja, spread among 1297 households. Inadequate infrastructure in the villages and a frequently bad road system force villagers to travel large distances to transport their produce to marketplaces. Every hamlet in a buffer zone has a number of community-based organisations. The Forest Department has organised a group of volunteers called Friends of Sinharaja (Sinharaja sumithuro) whose mission is to protect and preserve the Sinharaja Forest. The Sinharaja Village Trust is another initiative that links marketing, private entrepreneurship, and training with the goal of increasing biodiversity and boosting ecotourism (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999).

Manufacturing is not a major contributor to the economy. Cattle raising, coffee, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon are also produced. Almost all of the farmland is being turned to tea growing because of the high price of tea, the availability of government subsidies for smallholder tea producers, and the well-established distribution network. The pressure on forests has increased even as the degree of reliance on forest resources differs by region. In 1985, de Silva conducted research suggesting that about 8% of all families may have relied solely on forest items (including timber and non-timber). This kind of use is rising. Kitul palm tapping and jaggery/treacle production are the mainstays of the area around Sinharaja, attracting a large trader community that travels out to the villages to stock up on supplies for the city. A wide range of medicinal plants, as well as hal, beraliya, weni wal, mushrooms, tree barks, rattan, wild cardamom, resins, honey, areca nuts, and more, are culled from the forests. There has been a decline in the latter’s popularity as of late (Manikrama, 1993).


In 1994, there were roughly 17,000. In 2000, there were a minimum of 12,099 pupils, 9,327 local tourists, and 2,260 international visitors. Environmentalists, college students, schoolchildren, and overseas visitors made up 36,682 of the visitors in 2002; this pressure is starting to impact the ecological. Kudawa, Morningsite, and Pitadeniya are the three entrances on the northern, eastern, and southern sides, according to Forest Department, 2003. Kudawa is the main access point and provides everything from tour guides to a conservation office to a visitor centre to six cottages and dorms with room for 102 people. The Mulawella, Waturawa, Nawada tree trail, Gallen Yaya, and Sinhagala trails all begin here. There is housing available for 10 persons at the Morningsite entrance, which is set in a separate submontane forest. Pitadeniya, located south of Sinharaja, is getting built up as part of the UNDP’s Global Environmental Facility Programme’s Southwest Rainforest Conservation Project. The plan calls for the building of a dorm, a bridge across the Gin Ganga, four hiking paths and a visitor centre. Eight hosts must be on hand to assist visitors.


According to Baker (1936), “the only considerable patch of virgin tropical rain forest on the island” is located in the Sinharaja rainforest (Baker, 1937, 1938). Other early investigations were those by de Rosayro (1954, 1959), Andrews (1961), and Merritt & Ranatunga (1959), who used both aerial and ground surveys to determine the viability of the area for selective logging. The conservation value of the woody vegetation was assessed in 1980, 1981, and 1985 by Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, who looked at its floristic composition and phyto-sociology. Studies of native flora and wildlife have been done by WWF/IUCN Project 1733 and March for Conservation (Karunaratne et al., 1981). McDermott (1985), McDermott & Gunatilleke (1990), and de Silva (1985) are the writers who have researched local conflicts over forest resources. The reserve’s vegetation and land use has been mapped and labelled at a scale of 1:40,000 by the Forest Department.

The Natural Resources, Energy, and Science Authority of Sri Lanka maintains a field research station in the northern part of Sinharaja with the essential facilities. The Kudawa Forest Department building sits just beyond the reserve’s borders, making it accessible to both researchers and sightseers. Researchers from the Universities of Peradeniya, Harvard, and Yale, as well as independent and foreign scientists, the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, and the Universities of Colombo and Sri Jayawardenepura have all looked into the plants’ potential applications. Research has mostly ignored the freshly colonised eastern and southern regions in favour of studying the native flora and fauna. The protection and sustainable use of medicinal plants, as well as the inventorying of agricultural species’ wild relatives, are the subjects of well-funded national UNEP/GEF programmes.


The principal source for the above information was the original nomination for World Heritage status.

Andrews, J. (1961). Forest Inventory of Ceylon (A Canadian-Ceylon Colombo-Plan Project). Ceylon Government Press, Colombo.

Baker, J. (1937). The Sinharaja rain forest, Ceylon. Geographical Journal 89: 539-551.

———- (1938). Rain forest in Ceylon. Kew Bulletin 1: 9-16.

Barathie, K. & Idanapathirana, W. (1993). Management plan for the conservation of Sinharaja Forest (Phase II). IUCN, Sri Lanka.

Collins, N. & Morris, M. (1985). Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. pp. 258-260.

Cooray, P. (1978). Geology of Sri Lanka. In: Nutalya, P. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third Regional Conference on Geology and Mineral Resources of Southeast Asia, Bangkok. pp. 701-710.

Evans, D. (1981). Threatened Freshwater fish of Sri Lanka. IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK. Unpublished report. 58 pp.

Forest Department (2003). Sri Lanka Forest Reserve. Summary of the Periodic Report on the State of Conservation of the World Heritage Properties in the Asia-Pacific Region to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Paris.

———- (1986).Conservation Plan for the Sinharaja Forest. Forest Department, Colombo. 87 pp.

Gunatilleke, C. (1978). Sinharaja today. Sri Lanka Forester 13: 57-61.

Gunatilleke, C .& Gunatilleke, I. (1981). The floristic composition of Sinharaja – a rain forest in Sri Lanka with special reference to endemics. Malaysian Forester 44: 386-396.

———- (1985). Phytosociology of Sinharaja – a contribution to rain forest conservation in Sri Lanka. Biological Conservation 31: 21-40.

———- (1995). Rain forest research and conservation: The Sinharaja experience in Sri Lanka Vol.22 (1 &2): 49-60.

Gunatilleke, N. & Gunatilleke, S. (1991). Threatened woody endemics of the wet lowlands of Sri Lanka. Journal of Sustainable Forestry 1(4): 95-114.

Gunatilleke, C. Dodanwela, S. & Welagedara, D. (1987). Guide to the Secondary Vegetation of Sinharaja. Workshop on Ecology and Conservation of Tropical Humid Forests of the Indomalayan Realm, 1-5 May 1987. 63 pp.

Gunatilleke, C.,Silva W. & Senarath, R. (1987). Guide to the Moulawella Trail in Sinharaja Forest. Workshop on Ecology and Conservation of Tropical Humid Forests of the Indomalayan Realm, 1-5 May 1987. 58 pp.

Gunatilleke, I.,Gunatilleke, C. & Abeygunawardena, P. (1994). An interdisciplinary research initiative towards sustainable management of forest resources in lowland rain forests of Sri Lanka and their conservation. Biological Conservation, (55) 17-36.

Hails, C. (1989). Conservation of the ‘Lion King’ forest. WWF Reports April/May 1989: 9-11.

Hapuarachchi, D, Herath, J. & Ranasinghe, V. (1964). The geological and geophysical investigations of the Sinharaja Forest area. Proceedings of the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science 20 (1D).

Hathurusinghe, D. (1985). Constraints to the Protection of the Sinharaja Forest. Unpublished workshop

Hoffmann, T. (1972). The Sinharaja Forest. Wildlife & Nature Protection Society of Ceylon, Colombo. 21 pp.

———- (1977). Epitaph for a forest. Sinharaja – 1976. Loris 14: 31-32.

———- (1979). The forest of the lion king. Animal Kingdom 82(5): 24-30.

———- (1984). National Red Data Lst of Endangered and Rare Birds of Sri Lanka. Ceyon Bird Club and Wild Life & Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, Colombo. 12 pp.

Ishwaran, N. & Erdelen, W. (1990). Conserving Sinharaja – an experiment in sustainable development in Sri Lanka. Ambio 19: 237-244.

IUCN (2005). The Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Cambridge, U.K.

———- (2000). The 1999 List of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka. IUCN, Sri Lanka. 113 pp.

———- (1993). Management Plan for Sinharaja. IUCN, Sri Lanka.

Karunaratne, P.,Pieris,T.& Raheem, R. (1981). A research project in the Sinharaja Forest. Loris 15:326-7.

Katz, M. (1972). On the origin of the Ratnapura gem deposits of Ceylon. Economic Geology 67: 113-115.

Kotagama, S. & Karunaratne, P. (1983). Checklist of the Mammalia of the Sinharaja MAB Reserve, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Forester 16(1-2): 29-36.

Lubowski, R., (1996). The Effects of Economic Development on the Use of Forest Products in the Sinharaja World Natural Heritage Reserve of Sri Lanka, unpublished.

Liyanaga, S. (2001). America’s pound of tropical flesh. Sunday Observer, 19-8-2001, Colombo.

March for Conservation (1985). Fauna of Sinharaja. Unpublished workshop paper. Forest Department, Colombo.

McDermott, M. (1985). Socio-economics of the Protection of the Sinharaja Forest: the Village Factor. Unpublished workshop paper. Forest Department, Colombo.

McDermott, M. & S. & Gunatilleke, N. (1990). The Sinharaja rain forest: conserving both biological diversity and a way of life. Sri Lanka Forester (19) 3-14.

Manikrama, A. (1993). Assessing Folk Knowledge About Forest Use in the Sinharaja Peripheral Villages. Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Peradeniya (unpublished).

Merritt, V. & Ranatunga, M. (1959). Aerial photographic survey of Sinharaja Forest. Ceylon Forester 4: 103-156.

Munasinghe, T. & Dissanayake, C. (1980). The origins of gemstones of Sri Lanka. Economic Geology 70: 216-1225.

Peeris, C. (1975). The Ecology of Endemic tree Species in Sri Lanka in Relation to their Conservation. Ph.D. thesis, University of Aberdeen, U.K.

Rosayro, R. de (1942). The soils and ecology of the wet evergreen forests of Ceylon. Tropical Agriculture (Ceylon) 98: 70-80, 153-175.

———- (1954). A reconnaissance of Sinharaja rain forest. Ceylon Forester N.S. 1(3): 68-74.

———- (1959).The application of aerial photography to stock-mapping and inventories on an ecological basis in rain forests in Ceylon. Empire Forestry Review 38: 141-174.

Silva, W. de (1985). Socio-economics of the protection of the Sinharaja Forest: the village factor. Unpublished workshop paper. Forest Department, Colombo.

WWF/IUCN Project 1733. Effects of Deforestation on Endemic Species, Sinharaja Forest, Sri Lanka.

———— Project 3307. Consolidation of the Protection of the Sinharaja Forest of Sri Lanka.

Zoysa, N. & Raheem, R. (1987 & 1990). Sinharaja – a Rain Forest in Sri Lanka. March for Conservation, Colombo. 92 pp and 61 pp. (Comprehensive reviews of knowledge about Sinharaja.)

Zoysa, N. & Simon, L. (1999). Sustenance of Biodiversity in the Sinharaja World Heritage Site, Sri Lanka, Through Ecodevelopment of the Buffer Zone. Brandeis University, Mass.,U.S.A.