Crusaders of the woods

By Marisa de Silva

“He that planteth a tree is a servant of God, he provideth a kindness for many generations, and faces that he hath not seen shall bless him.” – Henry Van Dyke. Exhibiting wisdom beyond their years, the Junior counterpart of the Young Zoologists' Association (YZA) has taken on the mammoth task of replanting a barren rainforest area of the Kahagalla Hill, Atale in the Kalutara District. These young conversationalists, along with their parents, started out on the first leg of this project on September 13, where they managed to plant nearly 800 trees, connecting two stretches of forest area. “The trees planted were lowland, wet zone trees, and more than 70% of the plants were endemic to Sri Lanka,” said YZA-Junior Section In-Charge, Shantha Jayaweera.

This rainforest patch on Kahagalla Hill is the only natural habitat of surviving fauna at Atale. Therefore, it is vital to expand the extent of forest cover there, which will in turn create an ideal habitat for pocketed animals. “The two villages bordering Kahagalla, namely, Boralugoda and Kalugala, are very rich in biodiversity, with its numerous rainforest lands,” added Shantha.

As a result of Atale's limited forest cover, the pocketed animals living within, are struggling to survive. Many rare animals and plants have been sighted on the isolated forest patch on Kagalla Hills. The main forest patch includes rocky cliffs, and it is an ideal nesting site for rare Black Eagles. The lowland wet zone, Slender Loris, and the most beautiful snake in Sri Lanka, the black and gold tree snake (Malsara), is also isolated within this forest. The Cruiser, Ceylon Rose, Five Bar Swordtail and Lascar Butterflies also live in this forest, elaborated Shantha.

Plants provided by the Organization for Aquatic Resources Management (OARM ) included Atambe, Waldel, Hedawaka, Kanpotta, Milla and many other indigenous plants and species. The planted trees were then fertilised with compost that was carried up the hill on the juniors and their parents' shoulders, which was quite a gruelling two kilometre distance. Furthermore, the hill was very slippery and not conducive for climbing, explained Shantha.

All these plants will be maintained for several years to come, and more trees will be planted in the future, especially as the parents of the Juniors have the financial support to continue conducting these activities. The RFO Mr. A.M. Sumedha Buddhadasa and other officers of the Forest Department, gave us their fullest support and a few young villagers, namely, Saman Nishantha, also from Atale, who volunteered to help out with the project. One youth from the village will also be employed to maintain the plants.

The first plant was planted by Rahal, one of the youngest members of the Junior YZA and it turned out to be a Hedawaka plant. About 30 juniors and their parents participated in this activity. The mother of the first ever Junior YZA member, Manoja Weerakkody, also contributed her time for this activity. Akram, one of the Juniors, actually participated even whilst fasting. Mr. Majintha Madawala and Asanka Peiris represented OARM. After all this hard work, everyone had a bath in the Maguru Oya, said Shantha.

Kahagalla Hill belongs to the Forest Department, with the exception of a few private lands. The land area of the hill is more than 30 hectors and “U” in shape. It sits in a very remote, isolated corner of Atale. The two sides of the hill has the Maguru Oya on one side, and the flourishing agricultural lands of Atale, on the other. About five hectares of hill still remain as rainforest area, whilst the rest is barren.

The YZA, a volunteer NGO, based at the National Zoo, has been educating young people interested in wild life and environmental conservation, since 1971. The NGO is completely run by volunteers, who conduct educational programmes every Sunday at the Zoo. The Junior counterpart of the YZA was formed in 1999 for kids between the ages of six and twelve. Their education programmes are on Saturday from 10am-12 noon.

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