Sinharaja Rain Forest is an intact piece of Sri Lanka’s historic tropical rainforest (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999). It is part of a 47,000-hectare deep lowland forest, three-quarters of which was logged in the nineteenth century. There is more than half of Sri Lanka’s surviving comparable forest there. Worldwide, 116 of the 337 species that live there are threatened.

Table of Contents


The Sinharaja Rain Forest in southwest Sri Lanka is essential to the entire nation because it is the only significant remaining remnant of the virgin primary tropical rainforest that once covered the entire island. Sixty-four percent of the tree population is made up of numerous unusual and indigenous trees. Furthermore, the reserve may contain 23% of all unique animals in Sri Lanka, including 85% of all endemic birds and more than 50% of all endemic mammals, reptiles, and butterflies.

TYPE: Sinharaja Forest Reserve

NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE: 1988: Listed on the World Heritage List under Natural Criteria ix and x. The UNESCO Man & Biosphere Programme designated it as a Biosphere Reserve (11,187 ha) in 1978.
IUCN Management Classification: II National Park
The biological province (4.02.01) is the Ceylonese Rainforest.
The land area is 8,564 hectares.
ALTITUDE: 300 m to 1,170 m on West Hinipitigala Peak.


Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces in Sri Lanka’s southwest lowlands, 90 km southeast of Colombo 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 antiquated footpath close to Beverley Tea Estate to the east.

Dates and the history of the establishment
The majority of the property was classified as the Sinharaja-Makalana Forest Reserve by the Waste Lands Ordinance (Gazette 4046) in 1875; the remaining section was suggested for a forest reserve in the early twentieth century.

To protect watersheds, a 9,203-hectare Sinharaja Rain Forest was established in 1926.

All current and future forest reserves were classified as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in 1978.

Gazette 528/14 of 1988 announced the establishment of a 7,648.2-hectare National Heritage Wilderness Area. World Heritage sites cover a total of 8,864 hectares, of which 6,092 are forest reserves and 2,772 are prospective forest reserves.

1992: By including an adjacent forest extension within the World Heritage site, the State Party established the 11,187-hectare Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area, which was formerly the Sinharaja Rain Forest and corresponded with the Biosphere Reserve. According to the Forest Department (2003), it is not yet a World Heritage Site expansion.


The Forest Department of the Ministry of Lands and Land Development is in charge of monitoring the situation. A National Steering Committee organised the event in collaboration with the Biosphere Reserve.


A network of ridges and valleys encircles the Rakwana mountain massif in this 21-by-4-kilometer expanse of undulating piedmont. The Maha Dola river empties into the Gin Ganga (river) on the southern boundary, while the Napo Dola, Koskulana Ganga, and Kudawa Ganga rivers pour into the Kalu Ganga on the northern edge. The reserve is located at the meeting point of two key rock types found in Sri Lanka. In the southwest, the formations include metasediments, charnockites, and calc-granulites with scapolite. In the highland group, there are khondaites made up of metamorphosed sediments and charnockites (Cooray, 1978). The Sinharaja Basic Zone is a large outcropping of basic rocks in the centre. Rocks come in many types, such as calc-granulites with scapolite, basic charnockites, pyroxene amphibolites, and hornblende (Hapuarachi et al., 1964). This zone is related to an aeromagnetic anomaly, which most likely contributed to the desilication that resulted in the local gem fields (Katz, 1972; Munasinghe & Dissanayake, 1980). The primarily reddish-yellow podzol soils are impermeable, weather to laterite in some parts, and have very little organic matter buildup, with the exception of alluvium in the valleys. According to de Zoysa and Raheem (1987), this is due to a combination of variables, including the climate, a diverse soil bacteria that swiftly breaks down organic matter into its component nutrients, and the trees’ faster nutrient intake and recycling.


Rain falls on the forest during the northeast monsoon, which lasts from November to January, and the southwest monsoon, which lasts from May to July. It’s virtually totally in the 3810mm to 5080mm isohyet range. There is never a dry season, and the annual rainfall averages over 2500 mm, with 189 mm in February, the driest month (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1983). The influence of continuous rainfall mitigates the minor seasonal variation in temperature, which varies significantly throughout the day (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987). Temperatures range between 19°C and 34°C.


Sinharaja Rain Forest is an intact piece of Sri Lanka’s historic tropical rainforest (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999). It is part of a 47,000-hectare deep lowland forest, three-quarters of which was logged in the nineteenth century. There is more than half of Sri Lanka’s surviving comparable forest there. Worldwide, 116 of the 337 species that live there are threatened. The three primary types of forest found there are remaining Dipterocarp woodland below 500 metres, Shorea forest, climax vegetation throughout the majority of the reserve on the middle and upper slopes to 900 metres, and a transitional zone to tropical montane forest above 900 metres. There are 220 species of trees and woody climbers identified, according to Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke (1981). 40% have low population densities (10 or fewer people per 25 ha), and 43% have restricted distributions, making them vulnerable to further incursion into the reserve. Sinharaja Rain Forest is home to 139 (64%) of Sri Lanka’s 217 indigenous wet lowland trees and woody climbers, with 16 of them being uncommon (Peeris, 1975; Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1981, 1985). De Zoysa and Raheem (1987) provide an overview of the vegetation’s structure and composition, and the Forest Department’s 1986 Conservation Plan includes a list of 202 plants with information on their endemicity and uses.

Dipterocarpus hispidus (bu-hora) (CR) and D. zeylanicus (hora) (EN) are the main canopy trees in the valleys and on the lower slopes. They can be found in a few almost pure stands, but they are often spread out because of tea and rubber plantations. Wormia spp. are the other trees. Messua spp. (diyapara), Vitex altissima (milla), Doona (dun), and Chaetocarpus (hadawaka) Dispersed emergents standing 45 metres above the main canopy are a characteristic feature of this type of forest. Where the original forest cover was destroyed by shifting cultivation or rubber and tea plantations, secondary forest and scrub have spread widely (de Rosayro, 1954).

The greatest forest is found on the midway slope. According to de Rosayro (1942), this begins at around 500 metres, or above 335 metres (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1985). The Mesua-Doona (na-dun) community, which includes Mesua nagassarium (batu-na), M., is what defines it. ferrea (diya-na) and a variety of Shorea species (dun). The tree canopy is 30–40 metres high, continuous, and devoid of emergents. A variety of plants co-dominate the subcanopy; Garcinia hermonii and Xylopia championii constantly dominate the covert; there is little groundcover (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1985).

The vegetation transitions between tropical wet evergreen and tropical montane forests on the upper slopes and ridges, where the size of the trees reduces. The vegetation in the 1988 expansion to the east is sub-montane evergreen forest, and the stunted trees on exposed tops are characteristic of montane situations. Diospyros sylvatica (sudu kadumberiya), Terminalia parviflora (hampalanda), Mastixia nivali (VU), Doona gardneri (dun), Calophyllum calaba (keena), C. Some species are unique to the region, such as Oncosperma fasciculatum (katu kitual) and Thwaitesii (VU). Antidesma pyrifolium, Glycosmis cyanocarpa, Lindasea repens, Techtaria thwaitesii, and calamander ebony Diosporus quaesita is one of the few unusual species. The undergrowth is made up of a variety of natural herbs and shrubs, including Schizostigma sp., Paspalum confugatum, Arundina gramimifolia, bamboo orchids, and Lycopodium sp. Dicranopteris linearis and Badalvanassa are the two species.

The following trees in Sinharaja Rain Forest have girths greater than 300 cm: Mesua ferrea, Mesua thwaitesii (diya na), Dipterocarpus zeylanicus, D. Shorea stipularisi (hulan idda), Vitex altissima, Pseudocarpa championii (gona pana) (VU), S. hispidus, S. trapezifolia (tawwenna) (EN), Hopea discolour (mal-mora) (EN), Palaquium petiolare (kirihambiliya), Scutinanthe brunnea (mahabulu mora), Syzygium rubicundum (maha kuratiya), and Mangifera zeylanica (etamba). At an elevation of 742 metres, the palm Loxococcus rupicola (dotalu) (CR) and the rare endemic Atalantia rotundifolia are only found in Sinhagala. There are still 169 wild plants that local communities are known to use (Manikrama, 1993). The following key species are widely used: bamboo, Ochlandra stridula (bata), Calamus ovoideus, and C. The kitul palm, Caryota urens, is used to manufacture jaggery, a sugar substitute. Spice: Elattaria ensal, Shorea sp. Zeylanicus (wewal) for cane and Cardamom. Use (dun), Shorea sp. for flour. (Gunatilleke et al., 1994; Lubowski, 1996), Vatima copallifea (hal), Coscinium fenestratum (weni wal), and varnish/incense (Gunatilleke et al., 1994; Lubowski, 1996).


The Forest Department’s Conservation Plan for 1986 includes preliminary wildlife inventories. Endemism is noticeable. The Forest Department has documented 60 (23%) of the 270 vertebrate animal species. There are eight endemic mammals, 147 endemic birds, ten endemic amphibians, twenty-one endemic reptiles, seventy-two endemic fish, and twenty endemic amphibians. Sinharaja Rain Forest is home to 95% of Sri Lanka’s indigenous bird species, more than half of which are rare or have low population levels. Endemism is notably abundant in mammals, reptiles, and butterflies. 21 of the 65 butterfly species identified here are indigenous.

Elephas maximus (EN), or Indian elephants, have a small population in the northeast. Despite being infrequently seen, the Sri Lankan leopard, Panthera pardus kotiya (EN), is the dominant predator. The fishing cat Zibethailurus viverrina, the jackal (Canis aureus lanka), the sambar (VU), the crested wild boar (Sus scrofa cristatus), and the white-spotted mouse deer (Moschiola meminna) are some of the mammals that live there. Each of these groups of animals lives there. Two of the twenty tiniest creatures are the Indian pangolin, Manis crassicaudata, and the Eurasian otter, Lutra lutra nair. There are several birds in Sri Lanka that are either very rare or in danger of going extinct. These include the ashy-headed laughingthrush (VU), the green-billed coucal (Centropopus chlororhynchus) and the red-faced malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus). Sightings of the Sri Lanka broad-billed roller, Eurystomus orientalis irisi, have decreased significantly over the last five years (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987).

Python molurus, the Asiatic python, is one of the most threatened endemic reptiles and amphibians, with several others categorised as nationally vulnerable. This species of spineless forest lizard (Calotes liocephalus) is very interesting. The rare rough-nosed horned lizard (Ceratophora aspera) only lives in a small area of Sri Lanka’s wet zone. And the uncommon endemic microhylid frog Ramella palmata is also very interesting (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987). Evans (1981) looks at how likely it is that the native 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 will go extinct. Out of 65 butterfly species, 21 are indigenous. The beautiful Sri Lanka rose, Atrophaneura jophon (CR), and the five-bar swordtail Graphium antiphates ceylonicus are both very rare in other places but common in Sinharaja at certain times of the year (Collins & Morris, 1985; J. Banks, pers. comm., 1986). Baker published an early review of the fauna in 1937, and de Zoysa and Raheem (1987) present a comprehensive overview.


The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is one of the richest areas in the ecological “hotspot” in southern India. It is the largest and last viable example of a lowland tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. There are various useful plants present, as well as 64% of Sri Lanka’s indigenous trees. There are also 23% of the country’s endemic animals, including 85% of its endemic birds, over 50% of its endemic mammals, and several rare endemic reptiles (IUCN, 2000). The park is one of the world’s endemic bird places and is located in a WWF Global 200 Freshwater Eco-region that Conservation International has designated as a Conservation Hotspot.


The region is described in mythology and legend, and it has a history dating back to the time of the ancient Sinharaja emperors. The name, which literally translates as “lion (sinha) king (raja),” could refer to the prehistoric Sinhala people, who were supposed to be a ‘lion-race’ of Sri Lanka (Hoffmann, 1979). Because of its symbolic role, logging was prohibited in the 1970s (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999).


The Sinharaja forest has 32 medium-sized to large communities on its southern, northeastern, northern, and northwest boundaries. According to Barathie and Widanapathirana (1993), the population along the northern border is growing, and certain villages in the south were developed on state land without permission. Natural woodlands and private estates encircle the forest’s southern, eastern, northeastern, and northern reaches. In 1993, the population of the villages surrounding Sinharaja was believed to be over 7,000, with 1297 families residing there. The villagers must transport their produce over considerable distances to marketplaces due to the insufficient infrastructure in the villages and the usually poor road system. There are a number of neighborhood-based organisations in every buffer zone village. The Forest Department founded the group Friends of Sinharaja (Sinharaja sumithuro), which aids in preserving and protecting the forest. Another is the international non-governmental organization-funded Sinharaja Village Trust, which integrates marketing, private enterprise, and training to enhance biodiversity and the development of ecotourism (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999).

Growing tea, rubber, coconuts, rice, and chena is the principal industry. There is also some cattle husbandry, as well as some coffee, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon. Cropland is being converted to tea growing in virtually all of the villages, largely because tea has a high price, government subsidies are available for smallholder tea farmers, and there is a solid marketing infrastructure in place. Although local dependence on forest resources varies, this hasn’t alleviated the pressure on them. According to de Silva’s 1985 study, approximately 8% of all households may have been fully reliant on forest items, including timber and non-timber. This type of usage is increasing. The main activities in and around Sinharaja include tapping kitul palms and producing jaggery and treacle, for which there is a bustling market of traders who come to the villages and buy the products to sell in the city. Other forest goods obtained include hal, beraliya, weni wal, mushrooms, tree barks, rattan, wild cardamom, resins, honey, areca nuts, and a range of medicinal plants. However, the latter is becoming increasingly obscure (Manikrama, 1993).


In 1994, there were approximately 17,000 tourists. In the year 2000, at least 12,099 pupils, 9,327 local tourists, and 2,260 foreign visitors visited the site. In 2002, 36,682 visitors were environmentalists, college students, kids, and international visitors; this pressure is beginning to threaten the ecology. The three entrances are Kudawa, Morningsite, and Pitadeniya, which are located on the northern, eastern, and southern sides, respectively. Kudawa is the main access point, and it also features a research, education, and extension centre, a conservation office, an information centre, six lodges and dormitories that can accommodate 102 people, and tour guides. The Mulawella, Waturawa, Nawada tree trail, Gallen Yaya, and Sinhagala nature trails all begin here. The Morningsite entrance, which is located in a separate submontane forest, has accommodations for 10 people. The Southwest Rainforest Conservation Project, which receives funding from the UNDP’s Global Environmental Facility Programme, is building Pitadeniya south of Sinharaja. A dorm, a bridge over the Gin Ganga, four nature trails, and an information centre are all part of the plan. There should be eight guides on hand to assist guests.


Baker (1936) described the Sinharaja rainforest as “the island’s only significant patch of virgin tropical rain forest” (Baker, 1937, 1938). De Rosayro (1954, 1959), Andrews (1961), and Merritt & Ranatunga (1959) were other early studies that used aerial and ground surveys to evaluate the area’s potential for selective logging. Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke assessed the conservation value of woody vegetation in 1980, 1981, and 1985 by examining its floristic composition and phytosociology. The WWF/IUCN Project 1733 and the March for Conservation have conducted research on indigenous animals (Karunaratne et al., 1981). McDermott (1985), McDermott & Gunatilleke (1990), and de Silva (1985) explored conflicts involving local uses of forest resources. The Forest Department has prepared a 1:40,000 scale annotated vegetation-land use map of the reserve.

The Natural Resources, Energy, and Science Authority of Sri Lanka has a field research station in the northern region of Sinharaja, which is provided with the minimal essentials. Outside the reserve, scientists and visitors use the Forest Department building at Kudawa. Researchers from the Universities of Peradeniya, Harvard, and Yale have looked into the potential uses of plants, as have other independent and foreign scientists, the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, and researchers from the Universities of Peradeniya, Colombo, and Sri Jayawardanepura. Studies largely focus on the flora, animals, and ecology, with less emphasis given to the recently invaded eastern and southern regions. Well-funded national UNEP/GEF programmes exist for the inventorying of agricultural species’ wild relatives as well as for the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants.


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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top