Hiyare’s little haven

Private efforts aid conservation at pristine rainforest
By Adilah Ismail, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

Drive along a twisting road to Udugama from Galle, and you will stumble upon one of the best kept secrets of the South. The Hiyare forest reserve, a lush 600-acre picture-postcard rainforest, located only 17 km from the city, is a veritable paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, with its pristine beauty and wealth of flora and fauna.
The serene depths of the rain forest.
An artificial breeding place for frogs
A Kangaroo lizard

Arriving at Hiyare, we enter the premises of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, to be greeted by an endearing baby porcupine which scuttles around, sniffing newcomers unabashedly. After a final sniff of approval he bobs under some foliage and watches us from afar.

This baby porcupine is one of the many injured juveniles brought into the society’s Animal Rescue Programme at Hiyare for medical treatment and rehabilitation. Under this programme, injured wild animals are treated, rehabilitated and then released back into the wild. They are also monitored closely after release to make sure they have settled in suitably. The programme has thus far provided medical care to an assortment of animals and recently saw 22 python eggs being hatched.

While 80% of these rescued animals are treated and then released into the wild, sometimes circumstances make it impossible. The three-legged Hog deer, which gazes diffidently at us from its pen, is a permanent resident as it cannot fend for itself in the wild having lost a limb as a result of a road accident.

The Animal Rescue Programme is one of the many activities carried out under the Biodiversity Conservation Effort at Hiyare - an initiative between the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, the Municipal Council of Galle and Nations Trust Bank. The project consists of a series of conservation activities centric to the Hiyare rainforest.

“Our ultimate goal is to educate interested parties about conservation at a species level,” explains Anusha Madhura de Silva, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle.
Madhura de Silva

“While the bank carries out corporate activities, it places enormous emphasis on giving back to the community. Global warming is one of the biggest threats posed to our environment and although to a large extent its adverse effects haven’t been felt in Sri Lanka, it is only a matter of time before we too are critically affected. It is in lieu of this pressing need that the Biodiversity Conservation Effort was initiated last year,” says Nuzrath Hameed, Manager, Strategic Marketing of Nations Trust Bank.

The Biodiversity Breeding Centre set up in April this year is one of their noteworthy projects. Located slightly apart from the main premises, the centre houses a number of glass tanks where endangered species of freshwater fish such as the Cuming’s Barb and Ornate Paradise Fish, as well as the endemic Anthroprogenic shrub frog are bred under the watchful eye of researchers. The project aims to enable the observation of their breeding habits; to increase their numbers and reintroduce them to areas where the population is significantly low.

“As the breeding habits of amphibians are still unknown, the breeding programme will undoubtedly be a breakthrough in conservation,” explains Madhura steering us through the finer aspects of this effort. The Bank funds all facets of this project – from labour wages to provisions.
A view of the reservoir
A comb tail fish at the Breeding Centre
At home in Hyare: The Hog deer

The Wildlife Conservation Society believes that to begin conservation, it is essential to know about nature. They conduct workshops tailored to the requirements of various interested groups. These include treks to the rainforest and hands-on training inside – as Madhura gesturing towards the 600 acre rainforest, so aptly put it – ‘the biggest laboratory of all’.

Their field centre located on the outskirts of the rainforest overlooks the reservoir and is equipped with a well-resourced library, a laboratory containing equipment suited for biodiversity conservation, a lecture room for presentations and a large dormitory for overnight stays.

“While research is usually concentrated on certain areas of the country, undiscovered fragmented forest patches are important as they contain a staggering amount of undiscovered diversity,” says Madhura. He adds they are grateful to the Director of the Wildlife Department as well as the Municipal Council of Galle for supporting the society’s activities, since its inception in 1993.

Among its many activities, the Society also carries out educational workshops in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to spread awareness about venomous snakes. Their book on Sri Lankan freshwater fish is due for release in December.

Trekking through the damp leaves, the smell of earth permeating the air and gazing at the various creatures which dart from one shrub to another, it is clear that the attraction of the Hiyare rainforest lies in its purity. Not as well known as other forest reserves like Sinharaja and visited solely by genuine nature lovers, mankind’s mark is noticeably absent at Hiyare.

With global warming and pollution rapidly affecting our ecosystem and resulting in the loss of many rare species, these conservation efforts are a step towards nurturing and protecting Hiyare’s rich diversity for the future.

Hiyare's attractions

  • A low country tropical rain forest, Hiyare has a large man-made lake within its boundaries.
  • Endemic species recorded at the Hiyare rainforest include the Sri Lankan Green Pigeon, Ceylon Rose, Two-spotted Threadtail, Black Ruby Barb, Sri Lankan Green Pit Viper and the Sri Lanka Purple-faced Leaf Monkey.
  • The Forest Department manages one part of the rainforest while another section- the reservoir catchment area is administered by the Wildlife Conservation Society under the aegis of the Municipal Council of Galle.
  • To visit the rainforest for educational or research purposes, contact the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle through the Municipal Council, Galle.

Hiyare's amazing biodiversity

  • 118 Bird species - 13 endemic
  • 33 Freshwater fish species - 13 endemic
  • 78 Butterfly species - 3 endemic
  • 55 Dragonfly species -12 endemic
  • 34 Reptile species -14 endemic
  • 18 Amphibian species-13 endemic
  • 28 Land snail species -13 endemic
  • 29 Mammal species - 13 endemic

(Wildlife Conservation Society, Galle)

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