Sinharaja National Park

Sinharaja National Park and U.N. World Heritage Site is one of the oldest national parks in the world, dating to the third century BC. From purple-faced monkeys to the world’s largest butterflies— they are all concentrated in this 43-square-mile (112-km2) remainder patch of primeval rain forest that once covered all southwest Sri Lanka (much of it cleared to make plywood, then rice paddies and tea plantations). Densely filled with trees towering to a canopy of 150 feet (45 m) high, crossed with crystalline streams, it dates back to the third century BC when a succession of monarchs set aside “thahanakalle” (forbidden forests). Three-fourths of the trees are unique to this place, representing a gene pool found nowhere else (almost all the plants including thousands of orchids have unique rain forest “drip-tip” leaves enabling them to shed constant moisture). Among 147 bird species are 19 of Sri Lanka’s 26 endemics including rare blue magpies, white-headed starlings, green-billed coucals, and ashy-headed babblers as well as red-faced malkohas.

Leopards are here, although rare, along with more than 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s endemic mammals, including purple-faced (reddish-purple) leaf langurs and western toque macaques.

Bizarre, rough, sword-nose horned lizards are among 21 endemic reptiles. Rare endemic amphibians include wrinkled frogs, torrent toads, limbless yellow-banded caecilians which live under wet earth, and sharp-nosed tree frogs which lay their eggs in foam on the undersides of cardamom leaves overhanging streams, enabling hatching tadpoles to drop directly into water.

More than half of Sri Lanka’s endemic butterflies are here, including rare five-bar swordtails and exquisite, huge chartreuse and blue birdwings.

Threats include illicit logging, gem mining, agriculture, and grazing. Plans (not yet activated) call for buffer zone planting around the park boundary to prevent encroachment.

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