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Sinharaja Forest Reserve – UNESCO World Heritage Site

I finally got to have a guided walk in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve on my last day in Deniyaya. I’m used to doing this on my own, but guides are compulsory and I enjoyed the company of a French and Dutch couple who were also staying at the Deniyaya National Motel backpacker’s hostel. Up until then I had been investigating the encroachment into the reserve by the surrounding tea estates, as well as an “Ecolodge” that shouldn’t really be inside the reserve. The Deniyaya National Motel is a great budget place to stay in close proximity to Sinharaja and the scenic tea estates in that area. The owner Sidney Karunawardana, who wasn’t there at the time, provided me with a discounted room for my stay there. It was a cosy little room directly overlooking a pond in the back garden where every night I could photograph and record the chorus of several  different species of frogs. Beyond that was a rice paddy and a Buddhist temple with daily chanting harmonisingwith the frog chorus.














The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is both a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, being a biodiversity hotspot and the last significant patch of lowland rain forest remaining in Sri Lanka. It is only 21 km (13 mi) from east to west, and a maximum of 7 km (4.3 mi) from north to south, but it is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Given that it is such a relatively small area, and you can see that from the photos that I’ve included of the map at the information centre, it is vitally important that far greater protection measures are introduced to prevent the inexorable erosion of the forest around the perimeter as I have witnessed.





Sidney Karunawardana, has been committed to trying to protect the forest for many years, and is using the profits from his hostels for that purpose, but it has been a frustrating cause for him because of the deep-rooted corruption and lack of enforcement that is so endemic in many Asian countries, as I know only too well from Palawan. He is working independently to maximise the focus of his efforts, but in so doing he is hamstrung by a lack of funding, and is hoping that he can generate sufficient income from his hostels to implement a public awareness campaign including targeting children, which is vital for the long-term survival of this incredible patch of rain forest. I have a very long connection with Sri Lanka going back to 1983 when I first went there. Although there are so many other places, and particularly rain forests that I want to get involved with to protect them, I feel an obligation to do whatever I can to help Sidney with his conservation efforts. He faces apathy and suppression of information within Sri Lanka, and hopefully I can play a part by creating more publicity and awareness through my photos and writing. I will have to try to get back there to see if I can get a permit to go deeper into the primary forest to take more photos. On this relatively short walk I was hampered by poor lighting and not having my workhorse 17-40mm zoom lens available.


Endemic Sri lankan green pit viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus)


Green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta)



Endemic hump-nosed lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus)




Endemic Sri Lanka kangaroo lizard (Otocryptis wiegmanni)











I discovered how incredible and beautiful it is in just a 5 hour walk along a path on the fringe of the reserve that is disturbed by motorbikes passing through to the next village. I was amazed at how much of the biodiversity we saw in this disturbed portion of the forest that isn’t even primary forest as far as I could tell. We saw 3 species of reptiles and 3 species of snakes, along with many invertebrates, squirrels and monkeys. The highlight for me was a beautiful green vine snake that I handled, which was hypnotised by its reflection in my macro lens, and even lunged at it. We found some big millipedes, which I love, and I persuaded my companions to handle one to see how it feels as its myriad feet flow in waves over your skin with a slightly sticky feeling. We reached a beautiful waterfall where I had a most refreshing swim. The known species that we saw were the endemic Sri lankan green pit viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus), green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta), the endemic hump-nosed lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus), the endemic Sri Lanka kangaroo lizard (Otocryptis wiegmanni) and the endemic purple faced leaf monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus).






Endemic purple faced leaf monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus)









If you ever go to Sri Lanka then the Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a must see, and you can support Sidney’s important conservation efforts by staying at his most enjoyable hostel near the reserve.




Or if you’re heading to the beaches down south he has a very popular hostel in Matara.



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