de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2003). Galle, the Rainforest Capital of Sri Lanka. Serendipity. February 2003. Page 8.
There is more to Galle than a colonial heritage argues Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
A carpet of large leaves of the endemic breadfruit tree Wal Del (Artocarpus nobilis) covered the wide foot path. The leaves, usually a bright green colour, had turned shades of red and ochre, as they decayed in the damp heat. They looked like nature had rolled out a red carpet welcome for visiting eco-tourists. An act which needs to be followed by the state agencies responsible for our forests, if eco-dollars are to play a part in conserving our vanishing bio-diversity.
“Galle is better known for its colonial Dutch heritage, with the Dutch Fort city one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. But Galle also has the potential for becoming a mecca for rainforests. It provides a convenient gateway for some of the largest remaining stretches of lowland rainforest in Sinharaja and Kanneliya, a few hours away. Even closer, just half an hour away, are patches of rainforest such as the Kottawa Arboretum. Ideal for a pre-breakfast rainforest experience for visitors to Galle”. Asantha Sirimane from Lanka Business Report rolled the camera whilst I spoke. He was intrigued to learn that Galle could become a dual destination, for culture and eco-tourism.
To make ‘could become’ into a ‘will become’ a few infrastructural changes are required. One, which the Forest Department has promised to do, is to make it possible for hoteliers and those in the travel trade to pre-purchase tickets. At the time of our visit, one had to first visit the District forest Office in Galle to purchase tickets. This is not a viable option with birdwatchers who check in on the previous night and may decide to birdwatch the following morning. Such small hindrances are easily overcome, but if not done, will be serious obstacles to developing Sri Lanka’s potential as a destination for eco-tourism. Providing ease of access is key to success. The other hurdle Sri Lanka needs to overcome is to develop interpretation. The ability to tell entertaining and educational stories about what is around us.
Amila Salgado drew our attention to a group of Red-lipped snails (Acavus haemastoma) on a tree. There is more to these snails than meets the eye, we explained to Asantha. In fact they symbolise the richness of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity and the wealth of stories which can be told around it. About 90% of Sri Lanka’s known land snails are thought to be endemic. A staggering level of endemicity. Under the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, Fred Naggs of the British Museum of Natural History is working with Sri Lankan Dinarzarde Raheem and other collaborators from the Department of National Museums and the University of Peradeniya on a survey of the land snail fauna. Their findings suggest another 100 species may await description. Land snails can also be a window to the past. The shells can remain preserved for long periods of time and can yield clues about the earth’s past climate. Land snails such as Acavus haemastoma have changed little since the southern continents were joined as the supercontinent Gondwana over 100 million years ago. These snails became separated as Gondwana split up and today are found in Africa, South America, Australia, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Sri Lanka. They can serve as ‘calibrators’ for an insight into the rate of evolutionary change.
Amila wandered off looking for the endemic Hump-nosed Lizard. I was distracted by a an endemicYellow-fronted Barbet, calling from the canopy. As the morning wore on, the prospect of breakfast at the Lighthouse Hotel, became an increasing distraction. Honey Yogurt with peaches… mmmm.
The writer is the CEO of a wildlife and adventure travel company. He is the lead author of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Sri Lanka (OBC) and A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka (New Holland). To subscribe to his free, wildlife e-newsletter, e-mail him at with “subscribe wildlife news” in the message header.