A 500 million-year-old forest reserve in Sri Lanka
BY P. D. A. S. Gunasekera
CDN / 09Aug2005
SITUATED in the tropical climatic area off Balangoda, extending over Kolonna and Embilipitiya, rich with green vegetation, of rare trees and equally rare and valuable medicinal plants and 'sunlit pastures', in which exist animals of every type, fast disappearing in other forests of Sri Lanka with 'bird-watching' sites for the visitors from home and abroad, lies a neglected 500 million year old forest reserve, reduced to a haunt of the game-hunter, the wood-cutter and the timber thieves.
As tourists enter the forest, cool and comfortable, in the hot-climate via Embilipitiya and Suriyakanda and trudging past the school, on the way, the Vaulpone cave, the cynosure of the forest-wanderer and the tourist, lies on the mountain of lime-stone spreading over 20 square-kms, according to a recent survey.
The forest reserve has two inlets; one described above and the other through the Bulutota-Pallebedde road.
Another interesting feature of Vaulpone forest is the Halpiti-oya, a tributary of the Mahaweli-river, having its origin at a height of about 100-200 ft. and entering the cave, after proceeding about 400 ft and falling headlong in a cascade, into the cave, providing a fine sight to the tourists, described as the only known 'internal waterfall' in Sri Lanka or for that matter, 'in the whole world'.
The water in the stream has according to tradition, a medicinal value and those who 'take a dip in it are known to be cured of both external and internal ailments, especially skin deceases.
The cave itself is as old as the forest reserve. Grains used by the oldest inhabitants have been discovered, akin to those found, in the ancient abodes of the 'Balangoda-man' in the 'Batadomba-Lena', Kuruwita, unearthed by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala in the 1980s, a clear indication of the presence of human-life centuries past in the Vaulpone forest.
The cave is 1471 ft long, 16 ft. broad and 23ft high approximately, with varying heights, at different places, consisting of material evidence for investigations by the scientists and the 'sight-seeing' tourists to carry home indelible impressions of "memory mementoes'.
The forest reservation has also a high biodiversity compared to other forests in Sri Lanka. In a survey reported, recently, in the press a group of investigators had discovered 11 species of lizards peculiar to the forest; for the first lime together with rare birds and snakes.
Some recent investigators have also revealed the existence of rare specimens of animals endemic in the rest of the country like, 'Kaballawaa' 'unahapuluwa', Vali-muva', and 'porcupine', with half a dozen types of rare owls peculiar to the place, owls feeding on 'leaves' and a special variety of crows.
The vast forest could also be a breeding ground for the species of animals gradually disappearing in some of the forests in Sri Lanka like the green-pit viper, (Reptilia), crestless-lizard (Reptilia agamedea), Hump-nosed lizard (Replitia agamidea), flying squirrel, rusty spotted cat, golden palm civet under artificial conditions using artificial foods if necessary in suitable breeding environment.
It is, indeed, the duty of the Forest Department and the authorities concerned, to save the Vaulpone reservation with its remarkable contents for posterity by taking steps to protect it from decay and destruction caused by the wood-cutter, game hunter, errant officials and the politicians in the shadow and carry out further investigation to declare it 'another World Heritage Site, with such a world record of 500 million years of existence, according to investigations.