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 Post subject: Knuckles: Beauty by itself
 Post Posted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 2:05 pm 
Knuckles: Beauty by itself

The rocky cliffs of Knuckles may carry the story of over two million years. It could be one place where early life itself evolved. The mystery of Knuckles goes back many a thousand years. So, is the history of its ancient villages. Meemure, lying in the foothills of Lakegala, boasts of a history dating back to the King Ravana era.

@ RH / June 2006

Rugged, with at least 35 peaks rising above 900 metres enhancing its beauty Knuckles is a landscape found nowhere else in Sri Lanka. Called the 'Mini Alps' its formation, "a series of abrupt peaks and gorges arising out of a tiered arrangement of plains and deep escarpment slopes from almost sea level 6250ft. (about 1,900 metres), scientists say, is the tropical parallel to Swiss Alps.

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The Knuckles Range is named after the five peaks which look like the knuckles of a clenched fist, that could be seen from the south of the range from West to South East Kirigalpottha 1642m (5403 ft), Gombaniya 1893m (6248) Knuckles 1852m (6122) Koboneelagala 1544m (5198) and Dotulugala 1564m (5161). Though this is its popular 19th century name given by the English, the villagers of yore called it 'Dumbara' range, meaning 'misty mountains' referring to its affiliation with mist.

The rocky cliffs of Knuckles may carry the story of over two million years. It could be one place where early life itself evolved.

The mystery of Knuckles goes back many a thousand years. So, is the history of its ancient villages. Meemure, lying in the foothills of Lakegala, boasts of a history dating back to the King Ravana era. Whatever, their origins may be, it is recorded that in the days of the Sinhala kings, the villages on the northern side, Meemure, Kaikawala and Galamuduna were significant settlements.

Located in the intermediate climatic zone, in central Sri Lanka in the Kandy and Matale districts, the range experiences a wide spectrum of rainfall and temperature differences, with some areas having ground frost during January to March. Another factor is the exposure to strong winds (60 m.p.h.). All this has given Knuckles an array of natural vegetation types and a rich composition of animals and plants.

Primary is its watershed value. Ancient Sri Lankans aptly named this range as 'Dum-bara' or 'misty' mountains. Within seconds a clear hill top with a splendid view would be covered in thick fog. Rain is another permanent feature in the highland areas where the annual rainfall surpasses 5000 milli metres. And the result was over 40 rivulets and streams fed the terraced farming systems of the ancient villages. Knuckles is the main water source of Mahaweli, the main water source of the Island for hydropower and for irrigated agriculture in the dry zone, with many tributaries including Hulu ganga, Heen ganga and Kalu ganga springing from the Range.

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The forest cover of Knuckles belongs to four major formations and a distinctive vegetation type known as a 'climatic climax'. The topical or lowland semi-evergreen forests at the lowlands or foothills. Between lowland forest and the montane rainforest, the topical mid-elevational evergreen forest. The dry sub-montane evergreen rain forest in the drier slopes of Knuckles from about 450 to 1060 meters. And upper montane rain-forest with its characteristic mosses, ferns and epiphytic orchids absorbing the moisture ever present in the atmosphere in the X covered highlands.

Most unique to the range is its pygmy forest, or the "Koratuwa" vegetation as it is known locally. It is a closely tangled waist high mass, virtually impenetrable with stunted trees of about two to three feet in height. The uniqueness of this forest formation lies in the fact that at Knuckles, it is found in a relatively low altitude of 1519m (5000 ft.) and in patches of about 100 acres each. It is believed to be a product of exposure to continuous and severe gale force. Other vegetation types found at Knuckles include patanas and savannah grasslands.

"A total of 1033 flowering plants belonging to 141 families have been recorded from the above vegetation types in Knuckles. Of the total number of flowering plant species documented in Knuckles, 160 (15 per cent) are endemic to Sri Lanka, while about 3 per cent are nationally threatened," records the World Conservation Union (IUCN) studies on Knuckles.

Similarly, Knuckles holds a great variety of fauna. Most important is that it is home to many endangered and endemic species. About 230 vertebrate species have been recorded from this area of which 20 percent are endemic to Sri Lanka, including 14 bird and nine fish species. Five of these endemic species, three freshwater fish (Phillip's gara - Garra phillipsi, Martenstyne's barb - Puntius martenstyni, Blotchedfilamented barb - Puntius srilankensis) one amphibian (Marbled cliff frog - Nannophrys marmorata) and one lizard (Tennent's horned lizard - Ceretophora tennenti) are restricted to the Knuckles Forest Range. 25 per cent of the vertebrates found in the Knuckles range are nationally threatened.

In addition a large number of species of reptiles, spiders, butterflies (over 70 species) and other insects have been recorded in the Knuckles Range.

Knuckles, according to environmentalists represents all features of the main climatic zones, not found in any other mountain range in the country. Scientists and environmentalists regard the 1,829 square kilometers of lush green virgin forests lying 3,500 feet above sea level as one of the world's most unique ecosystems.

The misty mountains also provide a habitat for a variety of species not found elsewhere in the world and many endangered species. Leopard, a vanishing breed of animal in the South East region is found in the Dumbara Hills. In addition, wild boar, un katussa (spear headed lizard which is endemic to the Dumbara area and not found elsewhere in the world)), pinum katussa, mukalan pala katussa, sambhur, long tailed squirrels, Indian mouse,loris and antelope varieties are also found aplenty. But with the destruction of their habitat, they are also threatened.

An area which provides all types of climatic features has naturally become the habitat of many bird varieties, including migrant birds. Over 40 varieties of birds and butterflies are also found there. Of the identified 21 endemic bird varieties, 14 are found only in that area. Of the 28 endangered species, nine are found here with three species being only found in the Knuckles. Vicious varieties of spiders and other insects are also found here, though a proper survey on this subject has never been conducted. Some of the most rare herbal plants like iruraja, Maharaja, kohomba, maha hedaya and pihimbiya and many others grow here, also several valuable trees like mahogany, teak and milla.According to forest range officers, rain is a permanent feature and owing to its setting, the area also experiences the highest rainfall in the central hills.

Three rivers which nourish the Mahaweli spring from the Knuckles summit. From the east springs Sulu Ganga, while from the north flows Kalu Ganga(in the Matale District) and from the south , Heen Ganga. In addition, there are several streamlets which flow into the Mahaweli come from the Knuckles summit. Some of the feeder rivulets have already dried up with others facing a similar fate. According to 'Dumbara Surakinno' an NGO founded a decade ago to preserve their natural habitat, the Knuckles Range has had 41 natural waterways springing from it, out of which only 16 remain.

It is believed the majority of these waterways have dried up during the last forty years.

The Knuckles Forest Range, a cradle for plant and animal life is an invaluable asset where biodiversity and watershed values are concerned. "With gigantic trees, vast shrub areas and a colourful array of bird and animal life, the Knuckles Range provides a microcosm of the entire variety of climatic conditions in the country, from extreme wet to nearly arid," notes a study in 1994, by Worldview-NORAD titled 'Gift of Nature to Sri Lanka'.

As any other forest area Knuckles Range also depletes due to expanding populations encroaching the forest for agriculture and housing. Illegal chena cultivation, tree felling for timber and gem mining augment this destruction. But, the highest threat is from the 'cardamom' invasion. During a recent visit to the Knuckles Range organised by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) journalists witnessed the soil erosion in the higher elevations of Knuckles, which provide ideal conditions for cardamom cultivation. According to the Forest Department's latest research carried out in July 2002, out of an estimated 21,000 hectares of the Range 3,000 ha. are covered in cardamom.

Sri Lanka which has lost 50 per cent of its original 70 per cent forest cover within a century, is losing the left over 20 per cent of forest in large amounts day by day.


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 Post Posted: Sat Feb 16, 2008 10:14 pm 
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Joined: Sat Feb 16, 2008 10:05 pm
Posts: 4
This looks like a beautiful reserve!

i'm so sorry i didn't get a chance to visit The Knuckles.
I'd heard about it alot from other tourists when i was in sri lanka
but i didn't get the chance to go...

but this is definately a top priority for me to visit when i come back!

Ritchie from TheReefTank


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