Kanneliya Forest Reserve: Recovers from heavy logging | Sunday Observer

Kanneliya Forest Reserve: Recovers from heavy logging

The Kanneliya Forest Reserve remains one of the lesser known reserves in the country despite being one of the most biologically diverse areas. Overshadowed by the more popular Sinharaja Forest Reserve, nevertheless, Kanneliya which spans across a similar landmass, has much to offer nature lovers.

Reachable from Colombo after a three hour drive, the area leading up to the Reserve is highly populated, the small gates deceiving the vastness of the rainforest lying beyond it. For a visitor not knowing what to expect, the Park entrance gives off the vibe of a zoological garden. But, this could not be more far from the truth.

While visitors are granted access to the Reserve at a nominal fee, Forest Department Officers also inform them of the Reserve’s rules and regulations. No polythene, no alcohol, no straying from the path and absolutely no entering the Reserve without a guide, are just some of the few rules. Obeyed by nature lovers and flouted by many other visitors, the rules are set in place, not only to protect the Reserve but the visitors as well, according to the officers.

Moving on, the trick to getting the best out of one’s visit to Kanneliya is to secure a good guide. Despite his retirement, the name of a former Guide and Research Assistant keeps cropping up among lovers of nature who visit the Park hoping to spot some of its many rare species of flora and fauna. According to Forest Department Officers, a former watchman and informal guide of the Park, Chithrasiri’s knowledge about Kanneliya is unmatchable.

As a child having walked through this vast rainforest regularly, and going on to assist Researchers to discover new species, Chithrasiri has acquired an incomparable knowledge of the Kanneliya Forest Reserve making him a much sought after guide. Always on the watch, he is quick to point out animals and plants a visitor might easily miss. Able to spot even the most obscure animals, Chithrasiri makes the trip to Kanneliya worthwhile.

Not only can he identify plants, he also shares his knowledge on its many uses among those he thinks would not misuse the information shared, which furthermore proves his love towards this rich nature Reserve.

Once a guide is chosen, visitors have many activities they could opt for, and various sites to visit. The cascading Anagimala Ella Waterfall, just two kilometres from the Park entrance is a popular site, while the Wavul Lena (Bat Cave) is also easily accessible. For those willing to spend more time and effort, the Naragas Ella waterfall deep within the Forest and the Kabbale Mountain which gives a glimpse of the surrounding area are also worth a visit. The giant Nawada tree too is a popular site. As the Forest Officers point out, this site was arranged to show visitors, trees that were once within the Kanneliya Forest before logging caused much destruction to this bio diverse area.

As the officials and Chithrasiri would explain, Kanneliya was the victim of heavy selective logging in the past, which continued for nearly four decades. While the Forest continues to recover today, the loss once caused is immeasurable which reminds us once again of the destructive choices made by the rulers, for short term gain.

But, Kanneliya also holds many other stories, some unearthly, others macabre. According to villagers, Kanneliya saw its share of violence during the JVP insurrection.

As bodies of killed youth were thrown in the rivers of the area, some say, lit pyers within the forest were a common sight. Afraid to venture into the forest those days, Chithrasiri says, the Forest has witnessed many deaths, pointing out to ashen spots along the trail where nothing appears to grow despite being located in a rainforest. Vastly different to the soil around it, these dark grey spots are said to be where youth were burnt, hence, cursing that spot of land not allowing any plant or creeper to grow there.

While this information could leave a visitor shaken, nevertheless, the charm of Kanneliya does not diminish. It is evident, many visit the Reserve for leisure rather than actual interest in nature, putting Forest Officers in a difficult situation.

According to them, there have been many a situation where drunken visitors have caused issues, with many visitors not understanding that this is a protected nature Reserve despite all the advice given and notices displayed.

The Reserve today, is sans one of the most popular attractions, the Yodha pus wela which died a slow death due to its exploitation by the visitors, which alone is proof of the destructive nature of humans who have no sensitivity towards the environment. Wildlife smuggling has also become an issue with locals and foreigners alike caught entering the Reserve illegally to obtain rare species of animals to be smuggled.

However, the thankless efforts of these Forest Officers and Guides must be admired. Striking a balance between the protection of the Reserve and the interests of the visitors, these Officers, full of love and admiration for the Forest continue to work tirelessly to protect the Reserve which the country once almost lost, due to human greed.