Sri Lanka is the paradise of flora and fauna. The country has over 90 species of mammal (including elephant, leopard, bear and monkeys), hundreds of butterflies, over 80 snake species (including deadly cobras and vipers), and about 435 species of birds.
Sri Lanka has the distinction of having the world's oldest recorded wildlife preserve. More than 2000 years ago, in the 3rd century BC, a region in north central Sri Lanka was set aside by royal decree to be free of all hunting. Today, more than 8% of the land is preserved as national park or nature preserve.
Birds are numerous, many varieties from colder countries wintering on the island. Sri Lanka has well-organized game and bird sanctuaries. 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 the striking 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.
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. The Ceylon elk ( sambhur ) and the polonga snake are unique to Sri Lanka. Insects abound and numerous fish are found in the shallow offshore waters.
An interesting place to visit for more bird life is the Muthurajawela marshes, just outside the northern border of the Colombo city.
Sri Lanka has 90 species of mammals including leopards, monkey and 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.
Flora of Sri Lanka
Tropical rainforest covers much of the southwestern part of the island, where teak and ebony grow.The plant life ranges from that of the equatorial rain forest to that of the dry zone and the more temperate Climate of the highlands. Tree ferns, bamboo, palm, satinwood, ebony, and jak trees abound. Orchids abound in the lush forest.
Well-preserved rainforests, exotic gardens areas provide an enriching insight of how rich Sri Lanka is with her natural resources. With the emphasis on preservation of the environment, Sri Lanka ensures that its natural assets are maintained in their original state. These assets, combined with the island's tourist attractions, make a winning combination. 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 hills in central Sri Lanka have the perfect climate for tea cultivation and whole hillsides are dedicated to growing this compact, dark-leafed camellia for its fragrant leaves. It is in the cool hills that most of the commercial vegetables such as peppers, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce are grown. The coasts are more arid, with low scrub and grasslands, and it's here you'll see tall coconut palms lining the roads. Outside of the city, most homes have their own stands of papaya and mango trees, banana plants, breadfruit and jackfruit trees. Many of the ornamental plants that adorn temples and homes are not native to the Indian Sub-continent but are so familiar now that their origins seem unimportant. Indeed lantana, with its clusters of red and orange blossoms on a prickly shrub, is a native of the Americas but now grows in almost impenetrable thickets in parts of Sri Lanka. The fragrant frangipani, originally from the West Indies, with its white/yellow or pink flowers, is a common tree found outside homes and temples throughout the country.