Central Highlands of Sri Lanka World Heritage Site
The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka (CHSL) has been a serial World Heritage site since 2010; three protected areas situated in the south-central part of the island. The three protected areas are Peak Wilderness Protected Area (PWPA), Horton Plains National Park (HPNP) and Knuckles Conservation Forest (KCF). CHSL includes the largest and least disturbed remaining areas of the submontane and montane rain forests in Sri Lanka’s south-western wet zone. Its largely undisturbed forests are home to the unique Sri Lanka leopard, and the only habitats of many threatened plants and animals. The site also holds immense spiritual significance as Adams Peak in HPNP is well-known for the Sri Pada "sacred footprint", a 1.8 m rock formation near the summit which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Shiva and in Muslim tradition that of Adam. The whole of the World Heritage site is managed by the state of Sri Lanka
View slide show of the park
Flora and fauna
The Sri Lankan montane rain forests represented by CHSL can be considered a super-hotspot within the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot. More than half of Sri Lanka’s endemic vertebrates, half of the country’s endemic flowering plants and more than 34% of its endemic trees, shrubs, and herbs are restricted to these diverse montane rain forests. The altitudinal range and location of the Knuckles has a diverse range of vegetation, with flora so distinct that it is recognized as a separate floristic region within Sri Lanka. At least 10 of the 23 endemic bird species that make Sri Lanka an Endemic Bird Area also occur in the Knuckles range. The Peak Wilderness and Horton Plains, together with surrounding forest areas, comprise Sri Lanka’s most important water catchments from which almost all of the country’s major perennial rivers originate. Up to 13 of the 23 endemic bird species that make Sri Lanka an Endemic Bird Area occur in the Peak Wilderness and Horton Plains.
The world heritage site is home to the endemic purple-faced langur of Sri Lanka (Semnopithecus vetulus), the Endangered Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) and the Sri Lankan leopard, a unique sub-species (Panthera pardus kotiya) as well as a number of other endemic vertebrate species including amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. It may contain more than a third of the Sri Lankan amphibian species, including two dozen or more Sri Lankan endemics, 23 endemic frog species of which at least seven species are completely confined in the site and a number of globally threatened plant and animal species.
The nature and magnitude of existing and potential threats to CWSL varies between the protected areas. In the case of PWPA, the major human use is from 2 million pilgrims who visit Adam’s Peak annually and contribute to both forest and environmental degradation along the pilgrim trails leading up to the peak. Illicit gem mining with no ecological restoration also takes place in some sections in the periphery of PWPA. The Forest and Wildlife Departments have recently taken steps to address these issues. Wide ranging protective legislation has been enacted rationalizing the legal status of the various constituents of PWPA, which give adequate mandate and powers to both DWLC and the Forestry Department to regulate the forest and environmental degradation. More efforts are needed to address the issue of environmental legislation, in which the Department of Culture and other relevant stakeholders can play a major role.
In HPNP the major threat is from the spread of invasive species European Gorse (Ulex europeus), forest die-back, occasional fires and vandalism on the nature trail by visitors. DWLC efforts in the abatement of these threats needs to be further strengthened.
In KCF, the major threat is from cultivation of cardamom inside the forest. This spice crop was planted in some sections of the natural forests many decades ago; starting on a small scale eventually extending beyond the leased areas. Maintenance work to sustain the cardamom crop resulted in degradation of the natural forests. The Forest Department than took a series of measures to address this threat: the lease agreements were terminated and all resident cultivators were relocated elsewhere. The areas that were planted with cardamom are now reverting to their natural forest state. Eleven of the former non-resident and influential lessees continue to harvest cardamom from the land using hired labour, in spite of the expiry of their leases. The Forest Department has initiated legal action and court orders have been received against this illegal activity, which are now being implemented.