The abundance of Sri Lanka's birdlife makes it an ornithologist's
paradise. Of the 431 recorded species 251 are resident and no less
than 21 are endemic to the island. Most of the endemic birds are
restricted to the wet zone, e.g. the Ceylon Grackle or to the hill -
country, e.g. the Ceylon Whistling Thrush, the Yellow-eared Bulbul
etc. Some, such as thestriking Redfaced Malkoha and the shy
brown-capped Babbler can be found through out the island although
confined to small areas of forests, National Parks and Forest
Reserves. Among the best areas for these birds are the Sinharaja
Forest Reserve and the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. Around mid August
the first flocks of the species begin to arrive with large numbers of
sandpipers, stilts, plovers, terns, etc. coming from Siberia,
Scandinavia and Western Europe. In the forested areas migratory tree
warblers, thrushes, cuckoos etc. can be seen. The large 'tanks'
(reservoirs) in the dry zone attract numerous types of ducks, while
the large water birds - the storks, herons and egrets - can be easily
spotted in the National Parks. The Kumana Bird Sanctuary in the
Eastern Province and Bundala, Kalametiya and Wirawila in the south,
abound in these aquatic birds. Bundala is especially famous for its
flocks of visiting flamingoes. An interesting place to visit for more
bird life is the Muthurajawela marshes, just outside the northern
border of the Colombo city.
To the naturalist, Sri Lanka offers a tantalising array of interesting
and unique forms. Of the 242 known species, most are found in the
regions of the lower foothills (i.e. up to 910 metres). A few (6
species) can be glimpsed above 1210 metres. A most spectacular scene
is the seasonal migration of butterflies during March and April, when
tradition has it that they fly towards 'Samanala Kande' (Butterfly
Peak), the local name for the mountain more famous as 'Sri Pada' or
Of the 86 species of mammals the pride of place goes to the majestic
elephant. Although rapid destruction of its habitat has depleted the
elephant population, sizeable numbers can be seen in Gal Oya and
Udawalawe National parks and at Handapangala. Extinction also
threatens the island's biggest cat - the leopard, although Wilpattu
National park is justifiably proud of its leopard population. Many
species of deer - the Sambhur, the Hog Deer, the Mouse deer can also
be seen in the Parks.
Other mammals include the Sloth Bear, the protected Dugong, the Wild
Boar, the Porcupine and Monkeys, especially the Grey Langur, which are
common throughout the island. Of special interest is the endemic
purple faced Leaf Monkey, found in the higher hill regions.
All major groups of vertebrates to be found in Sri Lanka, are mostly
endemic to the island, especially the amphibians and reptiles. Most of
the 54 species of fish are marsh and river dwelling fish, the 14
endemic species being restricted to the perennial streams of the wet
zone. They are the beautiful fish of the Carplet group. The British
introduced 16 species into the island including the Trout found today
in the clear, cold streams of Horton plains. Of the 38 species of
amphibia, 16 are unique to the island. One endemic genus, the
Nannophrys, with 3 species, is common in the hill country. This frog
lives on rock ledges covered by a continuous trickle of water and
tadpoles share this habitat. None of the amphibians are poisonous to
The island abounds in reptiles of which 75 are endemic. Of the 2
endemic species of Crocodile, the commonest is the Marsh Crocodile.
The beautiful Star Tortoise is the only land tortoise. All 5 species
of Turtles are protected by law. Of the 83 species of snakes, only 5
are lethal, these being Cobra, Russell's Viper, Indian Krait, Ceylon
Krait, and the Saw-scaled Viper. These are rarely found in builtup
areas of city or village.
FLOWERS AND TREES
To the botanist this is indeed a land of plenty. The diversified
climate allows for trees, tropical as well as temperate. The luxuriant
undergrowth and tall majestic trees of the wet-zone tropical forests
contrast with the arid scrubland and talipot palms of the dry north
and east. In the hills, vegetation varies from the almost tree-less
patanas - Moon plains, Elk Plains, etc. to the dark Rhododendron
forests, wreathed with the protected Spagnum Moss, to the gorse
covered Horton Plains. From March to May numerous flowering trees such
as the fiery Poinciana Regia, the white Mesua Ferrea, the cherry
blossom-like Tabebuia, burst into bloom. Flowering orchids include
endemic varieties such as the protected Daffodil and Wesak Orchids.
The law protects certain endangered species of flora and fauna. Export
and even possession of these species as well as live animals, birds,
reptiles is illegal. Please also remember that production and sale of
items made from wild animals and reptiles is illegal. Occasional
exports are however permitted exclusively for bona fide scientific
purposes and all applications for any such export should be made to
the Director of Wildlife Conservation.
FRUITS AND SPICES
Lanka has a year round abundance of fresh fruits - Pineapple, papaya,
banana and mango are plentiful throughout the year. Between the months
of July and October, mangoosteen, passion fruit, avocado, pear,
durian, rambuttan and oranges are also available. For centuries spices
have been one of Sri Lanka's most celebrated exports, among them
cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, pepper, etc. The Spice Garden at
the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya has the most complete collection
of spice plants and high quality fresh packeted spices are freely
available for sale, especially in Kandy. There are also many private
spice gardens open to the public.
Sri Lanka is the world's leading producer of high quality tea,
which is our main export. Most itineraries which include hill country
resorts also include a visit to a tea estate and factory to see
production and processing which is done in some of the most scenic
areas of the island. Every visitor is allowed 3 kilos of tea for
export, duty free, and it is readily available everywhere. Excess over
this quantity is dutiable.
Another large export item rubber was introduced by Sir Henry
Wickham, who cultivated seedlings from seeds brought from Brazil in
1876. The milk like latex is tapped from the bark and made into crepe
or sheets for export. The plantations are mainly in the south western
zone of the island.
Coconut grows widely in the coastal regions of the wet zone.
Described as the 'tree of life' every part of it is made use of.
Coconut milk, the extract of the kernel, is used for daily cooking.
Other products obtained from coconut are oil, copra, desiccated
coconut, vinegar and arrack, the local drink. Coconut fiber is used to
make rope, rugs, matting, brooms and brushes.