Giant Creeper that perished to Death-dealing touch | Sunday Observer

Giant Creeper that perished to Death-dealing touch

Pix: Ranga S. Udugama and  Jagath Gunawardana
Pix: Ranga S. Udugama and Jagath Gunawardana

In 2016 a research conducted by the United Nations found that globally humans are destroying the environment faster than it can recover. The situation in Sri Lanka has been no different. Despite the government’s concerted efforts human behaviour continue to destroy the environment. While in time the environment replenishes itself however sadly certain environmental damage caused by humans as with the case of the Giant Creeper (Yodha Pus Wela) in the Kanneliya Forest Reserve is not reversible.

The once majestic and famous Giant Creeper of the forest is no more. With a few stumps and sections of the creeper lying around it is no more a visitor attraction. Declared as a ‘Victim of Visitation’ environmental experts say the sole reason for the demise of the Giant Creeper is due to behaviour and actions of humans visiting the forest reserve. With no means to revive the creeper they now urge that the public should be more mindful during visits to natural habitats to prevent similar tragic destructions in the future.

Yodha Pus Wela

The Kanneliya Forest Reserve is considered to be a biodiversity hotspot with its biodiversity said to be even richer than that of the world famous Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

When the forest reserve opened its doors to visitors in 2003 a few natural wonders within the reserve were chosen as visitor attractions. Among these was a Giant Creeper (Pus Wela) believed to be at least over 400 years old.

Stretched out over four acres in the forest canopy the woody creeper belonged to a species named Entada rheedii, an endemic species found in the Wet Zone and the lower hills. According to eminent environmentalist Jagath Gunawardana this type of creeper has many medicinal values. “Its bark, leaves and seeds can be used in traditional medicine,” he explained adding that the name Pus Wela derived from its light seeds. According to Gunawardana people believed it to be empty due to its lightness and therefore calling it Pus.

While the Creeper generally grows along water bodies Gunawardana explained that as in Kanneliya these creepers can also thrive away from its usual chosen habitat. “The creeper grows slow but can survive for hundreds of years,” he said.

Victim of visitation

However despite surviving for probably over 400 years the Yodha Pus Wela of Kanneliya is no more. With signboards directing visitors to the attraction now scratched out little remains of the once majestic specimen.

According to Beat Officer of the Kanneliya Forest Reserve, M.H Asitha De Silva the creeper was already dying when he was first appointed to the Forest Reserve. “We were told that the cause was due to constant human touch with the iodine in sweat reacts adversely while damaging the creeper,” the officer said. The park is seeing a constant rise in visitors. “Thousands of people visit the area and increased visitors caused the destruction of the creeper,” he said, a fact environmentalist Jagath Gunawardana agreed with.

According to Gunawardana the Giant Creeper has not died due to a natural cause, but was instead killed by visitors who were motivated by a desire to get photographs and experiences at the cost of this living entity which has been there for several centuries. “The large influx of visitors to Kanneliya resulted in more people sitting on, standing on and leaning on to the main trunk and the main branches for the thrill of it and to pose for photographs,” he said adding that the increase of photography increased the threat to the Giant Creeper.

Heedless visitors

But as Gunawardana points out, the Department of Forest Conservation to their credit made great efforts to halt its destruction. “They erected fences several times but people broke them down,” he said. “People used to climb over it and not heed warnings”. According to Gunawardana visitors would often take offence if they were advised by nature lovers to refrain from acting in such a manner.

“We have advised our guides to inform the park’s visitors on how they should act,” De Silva said. According to him the forest officers make great efforts as well to explain the rules to visitors while it is ensured that they enter the reserve with a guide. “This is for the protection of the people and the environment as well to ensure they don’t harm the environment,” De Silva explained. But as he points out many only around 10 per cent of the visitors are nature lovers while others visit the reserve for mere leisure purposes. “Therefore there is a clash between the aims of the people and the forest officers,” he said. ‘Visitors keep increasing every year’.

“During holidays we get around 20,000 visitors while during the off season it is around 2,000” he said, explaining that while difficult to manage visitors they do not heed the warnings. “Forest officers have stressed on how to behave but people just do not listen,” he said.

Meanwhile, accusations have also been levelled against guides for allowing visitors to circumvent rules of the park. “Guides also allow people to behave as they please to make sure they don’t lose the tip,” a former research assistant at the park Chitrasiri said. “It took just around two years to be destroyed while it has been in existence for over 300 years,” he said he feels sad that it is no more. “There are other creepers deep inside the forest and I am glad they are not reachable by humans,” he said.

Respecting Nature

Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardana points out that this tragic incident should awaken and educate people to respect nature when visiting natural habitats. “Taking a photograph is fine but one should not stand or sit on trees because we might be unknowingly destroying them,” he said. According to him people should understand that authorities have placed restrictions and people should respect them as there are good reasons implementing such regulations. While saying that ecotourism is a good move he stressed that tourism should not destroy the environment. “It’s the local visitors that are the worst violators,” he claimed adding that authorities can only go up to an extent in protecting the forests.

“People should bear the responsibility as one careless move can cause irreplaceable damage”.