Crumbling Pabbatha Vihara architecture and holy Buddhist sites draw scores of visitors to the cultural center of Sri Lanka. Here, ancient Sinhalese dynasties established their first cities and spearheaded impressive architectural and artistic movements. But there is one place in the Sigiriya region left relatively untouched by human beings.
Located in Sri Lanka’s north central province, the Kaludiyapokuna Forest Reserve is a 13 square km dry semi-evergreen forest. With proximity to Minneriya National Park and the Dambulla caves, the forest reserve is situated amongst mysterious, rocky outcrops. Named from an ancient dark water pond, Kaludiyapokuna is home to a diverse number of medium-large mammals. About 3 km off the nearest main road, this forest reserve is one of the last places in Sri Lanka not heavily trafficked by people and receives limited tourism, despite being surrounded by human settlements and farmland on three of the four sides.
Tucked between the winding forest trails and scattered monastery ruins lives four of the five Sri Lankan primate species, including the endemic purple-faced langur, the endemic toque macaque, the tufted gray langur, and the grey slender loris. An astounding 17% of Sri Lankan mammals are endemic, meaning that they are only found on the island and nowhere else on planet Earth. The International Union for Conservation of Natures (IUCN), red list of threatened species count as many as 60 species in Sri Lanka as endangered or critically endangered, including the purple-faced langur, toque macaque, slender loris, and Asian elephant.
The purple-faced langur, one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, is highly sensitive to deforestation and human activity. Its habitat is restricted to wetter rainforests, unlike its more adaptable counterpart, the grey langur, who thrives in human-modified environments.
The grey slender loris, averaging eight inches long with closely-set, disc-like eyes and long thin arms, have drawn the likes of National Geographic and the BBC to film documentaries in Sri Lanka. Endangered, this nocturnal primate faces primary threats from habitat destruction and hunting.
Although primates are widespread across Sri Lanka, the limited tourism at Kaludiyapokuna allows researchers the unique opportunity to observe more natural primate behavior as well as conduct vital lab work to better understand primate hormones, microbiomes, parasites, and genetics.
Between May and September, Asian elephants gather in the nearby Minneriya National Park in droves, with numbers as high as 200. With elephants occupying 50-60% of Sri Lanka, as many as 6000 elephants live on the 23,939 square mile island. These once-flourishing elephants are now being pushed into smaller areas as residential, commercial, and farmland developments increase human-elephant conflict and disrupt the elephants historical migratory routes.
The Kaludiyapokuna Forest Reserve also hosts numerous non-primate species too, such as the endemic golden palm civet, spotted deer, squirrel, barking deer , porcupine, wild boar, hare, leopard, fishing cat, rusty spotted cat and sambar deer.
The Kaludiyapokuna Forest Reserve is vital for researchers to understand the vanishing wildlife and wild places in Sri Lanka, and how they can be better protected in the future. Through education and community-based conservation, the Kaludiyapokuna Primate Conservation and Research Center (KPCRC) is contributing towards safeguarding these species, one day at a time.
Prepared by Olivia Johnson of Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden