Eco-Tourism in Sri Lanka
Nature Holidays are Growing in PopularitySri Lanka, blessed with an abundance of flora and fauna, has a lot to offer the holiday maker in terms of nature tourism and is taking steps to develop this niche of holiday.
Conservation in Sri Lanka goes back to its ancient Buddhist tradition which teaches respect and compassion to all living things. The world’s first wildlife sanctuary was set up by Royal edict in the 3rd century BC in Mihintale (where Buddhist doctrine was first preached) and is still a sanctuary today.
Understanding the importance of conservation ecological integrity, large wilderness tracts were set aside by successive rulers, as reserves for rain catchment and pest control purposes. Today. The sanctuaries, national parks, and reserves, where law protects flora and fauna comprise 14% of the island’s total land area 65,610sq km.
Within this land area there are more than 70 sanctuaries, National Parks and numerous wetlands and mountain ranges, therefore the biodiversity in Sri Lanka is regarded to be greater per sq. metre of surface area than any other country in the Asian region. Compared with other Asian countries Sri Lanka’s ecosystem has more rain forests, mountains, lowlands, virgin forests and wetlands for its area. Other ecosystems which can be found are mangroves, sand dunes, beaches and coral reefs. Numbering over 220, Sri Lanka for its size has perhaps the largest number of waterfalls of any country in the world.
Sri Lanka is a global biodiversity hot spot. About half of its species are endemic, including all fresh water crabs, 90% of the amphibians, 25-75% of the reptiles and vertebrates, around 50% of fresh water fish, 26% of flowering plants and 145 mammals.
The richness of species is astonishing and there are known to be over 3,368 species of flowering plants, 314 ferns, 575 mosses, 190 liverworts, 896 algae, 1,920 fungi, 400 orchids, 242 butterflies, 117 dragonflies and damselflies, 139 mosquitoes, 525 carabis beetles, 266 land snails, 78 fresh water fish, 250 amphibians, 92 snakes, 35 fresh water crabs, 21 geckos, 21 shinks and 322 non-migrant birds. The island also provides a critical habitat for internationally mobile species, including 5 species of endangered marine turtles, about 100 species of waterfowl, and many other migratory birds.
In Sri Lanka, although eco-tourism is in its infancy, concerted efforts are being taken to develop eco-tourism methodically by the Ministry of Tourism in Sri Lanka supported by all the stake holders in the tourism industry, eco-tourism NGO’s and other sectors responsible for environment, natural resources, wildlife and forestry.
Sinharaja Rain Forest in Sri LankaA world heritage site (Nature), Sri Lanka’s most beautiful and biggest rain forest is situated close to Ratnapura and is between the villages of Rakwana, Deniyaya and Matugama. A variety of indigenous plants and animals, flowing rivers and silent streamlets cover up nearly 9,800 hectares. Out of a total of 830 indigenous flowering plants in the island, Sinharaja has nearly 500 plants and out of the 21 native bird species in the country 17 species have made Sinharaja their home.
The Namaluyana Mountain RangeNamaluyana is South Asia’s largest rose pink quartz mountain range. Steeped in history and legend, it is situated about 160 km north of Colombo in the picturesque hamlet of Ulpathgama Galkiriyagama in the Anuradhapura district. According to folklore pink quartz from this unique mountain range was used to build India’s Taj Mahal. The large number of Na trees (iron wood) in the vicinity (from which it has derived its name) confirms that it was a park in ancient times with a wealth of biodiversity. Visitors can complete an arduous but enjoyable trek to the rose quartz range that winds through a shady landscape of green which looks ethereal during the flowering season (May-June) of the Na trees.
IFS-Popham Arboretum, DambullaThe IFS-Popham Arboretum was established in 1963 by Sam Popham, an officer in the Royal Navy and later a tea planter, his method of planting was so special that it came to be known as the Popham method. Historically the land and the plains of the north east and south east of Sri Lanka were covered with semi evergreen forests. However, due to the clearing of the land for chena cultivation (shifting cultivation), the area turned to scrub jungle. Sam Popham selected some of this land, cleared it of scrub jungle and released seedlings of the earlier evergreen forest.
Nowadays the Arboretum is a haven for 70 species of evergreen and deciduous trees. Some of the finest trees of Sri Lanka’s dry zone are to be found here, including the world’s only true Ebony. The forest’s hardwood timber trees, shrubs of medicinal value, fruiting and flowering trees provide the natural habitat necessary for many species of mammals, birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians to flourish in the Arboretum.
Read more in Holidaying in The National Parks of Sri Lanka, A Guide to the National Parks of Sri Lanka and Eco-Adventure Activities in Sri Lanka.