flora and fauna

Unbelievable bio-diversification of flora and fauna in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a magical Indian Ocean island found located just north of the equator, and at the South-most tip of the Indian peninsular. For its tear-drop shape holding a mere 25,000 square miles together, it offers a unique land-mass variety, ranging from arid deserts steeping on the remote coastline to lush inaccessible mountain peaks. As a result the island is blessed with rather unusual climate zones making it essential for a tourist to be mindful of what clothing to pack. The fascinating beauty of the ever-changing landscape in Sri Lanka may have been the most likely reason for the early travelers to the Island to name it as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

The extreme North-Eastern and the North Western coastal areas are but arid flat bush-land where wild elephants still roam in addition to wild asses and ponies. Similarly, the parched South- Eastern corner of the land-mass is a vast National Park which boasts of the highest density of leopards in the world. The elevate center of the island is a plateau of 3000 feet from which rise great ranges of hills that are seen sloping gradually towards the coastal plains. All major rivers of the Island and their many tributaries have their sources in the sprouting springs of these evergreen summits. Some of the well known peaks, etched-out into the clouds, are well over 7000 feet in height. One such peak is the holy ‘Adam’s Peak’, reached by thousands of enthusiastic Buddhist devotees’ world over in season and adventure-bound tourists in the hostile off-season. The Western slopes of the main mountain massif get lashed periodically by vile monsoons; worst being the South West monsoon effective between May and July and as such are clad in dew drenching rain forests. They are home for numerous species of flora & fauna, most being endemic to the island. Such are areas spared by sprawling tea and rubber plantations introduced to the island during the colonial times. The drier Eastern slopes receive less rainfall but are exposed to harsh bursts of North East monsoon during the months of December to February each year. Temperatures amidst the mountain ranges could drop down to near zero at certain times during this period.

The wet zone is generally confined to the South West of the Island and is identified by the excessive rain fall the zone receives. Here, everything seems to grow at all the time and the lushness in the flourishing foliage is seen enveloping everything else. Whilst coconut features as the main crop on the flat plains, lower slopes of hills are generally clad in rubber and spice plantations and valleys in green rice fields. Tea dominates the landscape in the higher altitudes. Yet, there is a sufficient forest cover left to dress the towering hills where the elusive hill leopard still roams. Most colorful endemic birds as well as very rare migrant birds have been recorded in these leech infested rain forests, which are identified as highly productive work sites for professional bird watchers. The plant life, with some treasured forest orchids blooming on fabulously lush tree tops, would take any nature lover’s breath away instantly with its awe and wonder. Whilst numerous gushing waterfalls in the mountains cascade down natural rock formations and empty into limpid rock pools, pellucid brooks stream along pebbled beds through lovely forest glades in tranquil silence.

The vast dry zone forests are known to separate provinces and most are either protected sanctuaries or declared National Parks, accessible only after prior approval. Whilst the elephant dominates fauna, leopard and sloth bear are common wherever sufficient forest cover is left undisturbed. Flora in the dry zone wilderness includes some noble forest-trees like ebony, satin wood, teak and tamarind. Some important wetlands comprising of lagoons and mangrove swamps like Bundala in the South and Chundikulam in the North attract thousands of migratory birds to their shallow, food-rich waters and pristine shores every European winter. Besides, man-made irrigational water bodies which are called tanks in Sri Lanka, vast in size and numerous in numbers, have become great feeding and breeding grounds for not only colonies of aquatic birds but birds of prey as well. Some of these inland reservoirs are infested with crocodiles and monitors. Over the years, these have created amazing food-chains thus aiding a healthy growth of precious bird and wild life in the Island. The dry zone in which many an ancient civilization of Sri Lanka flourished is the most sought-after landscape by visiting tourists. Its deciduous forest cover, still very much intact and often dotted with priceless ruins and gigantic monuments, merges ever-so exhilaratingly with the traditional rural villages where tourists often find a heaven in these weird modern times.

The variety in vegetation and different climatic zones prompt an expansion of thriving butterfly and insect population too, notable so in both zones. Though it was known that whales did frequent the seas around Sri Lanka during the winter months, no one thought them to feature so prominently as since of late. Now, whale-watching is added as an essential component to most of the itineraries, coupled with precious chances to encounter shoals of dolphin and many other sea creatures in addition to regular sightings of blue and sperm whales.