Eco-Explorer Sri Lanka, Horton Plains

Horton plains a plateau named after the former British Governor Sir Robert Horton of 1831-1837, is known for its splendor, pristine beauty and tranquil atmosphere is situated approximately 163 km from Colombo and 2,100 meters above sea level. Horton plains has a rich diversity of plants and animals such as the Sambar Deer, Sri Lankan Leopards, Wild boars, Stripe-necked Mongooses, However species such as Slender Loris are facing challenges for survival as it has been listed as one of the most endangered species in the world, hence visitors to Horton plains need to be extra cautious in preserving the park as its one of the few places you can experience a cool atmosphere with scenic beauty all year round.

Fauna of the Horton Plains  consist of a wide variety of species such as the Sambar Deer with its distinguishable antlers, is  almost  iconic of Horton plains and visible all across the park, other species include the Purple-faced Langur, Wild Boar, Toque Monkey, Fishing cat and Otters.

Visitors to the park will also be presented with the unique opportunity to feast their eyes on  a wide variety of stunning Endemic  species such as the Yellow-eared bulbul,  Sri Lankan Wood Pigeon,  Spot Winged Thrush, Ceylon Bush Warbler,  Sri Lanka Spurfowl,  as well as the Sri Lanka junglefowl among many others making it a bird watchers paradise.

The Slender loris which was last seen in 1937 had disappeared for over 60 years until it reappeared and was photographed in the last few years.  The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is currently working with local universities and a local NGO Land Owners Restore Rainforest in Sri Lanka (LORRIS), to conduct research and conserve the red slender loris and its habitat.

Carly Waterman,  Programme Manager of the EDGE of Existence a project of the ZSL stated that the conservation efforts are taking place in 2 phases, where the initial phase which commenced in 2009 had involved surveying over  a 1000  known potential Slender Loris Habitats to further inquire  into the distribution, habitat preferences and threats facing Sri Lanka’s lorises. “The rediscovery of the Horton Plains slender loris during these surveys was particularly exciting as it had not been closely observed in the wild since 1937 and, despite considerable effort in the last decade, no specimens had been collected – leading to fears this subspecies may already be extinct. The team has also undertaken genetic research to clarify the taxonomic status of the different slender loris species and subspecies. The data collected during Phase One of the project have helped to inform the development of the first national conservation action plan for the red slender loris and its habitat, which will be launched later this year, “says Waterman.

Since the identification of the Horton Plains loris as an urgent conservation priority, phase 2 is currently being implemented, “The main threat to the Horton Plains loris is the loss of its forest habitat. More than 80 per cent of Sri Lanka’s montane evergreen forest has been lost and that which remains is highly fragmented. As forest patches become fewer and further between, the forest-dependent loris become trapped and are unable to travel outside of their particular patch to find food or mates or to escape natural disasters. This project is establishing forest corridors on disused scrubland and degraded plantations to reconnect forest fragments in the montane region. “ says Waterman and also stated that the The project team was working closely with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Forest Department local community groups and schools in the region to raise awareness of the slender loris and focusing on the importance of protecting and restoring its habitat, This is something even visitors to the Horton Plains need to be aware of and maintain, “ So far, with support from ZSL, the team has planted more than 5,000 native trees to connect fragmented forest patches, with thousands more saplings currently being cultivated in nurseries ready to be planted this year. Says Waterman.

With the staggering low numbers of the remaining Slender lories it’s no surprise that they are rarely sighted in the Horton Plains, Waterman stated that there was no accurate estimate of the Slender loris population in the Horton Plains and fears there may be fewer than a 100 left.

Reports of plastic litter plastic litter being ingested by species of the Horton plains particularly the Sambar Deer causing it severe harm have surfaced; in the recent past, hence it’s the responsibility of visitors to abstain from such harmful actions, A point also stressed by the ZSL “Visitors should take care not to damage the forest. Dropping cigarettes or matches could potentially cause forest fires, while littering can be harmful to the animals that inhabit the forest. The area is rich in biodiversity and we hope that visitors will take the time to appreciate its beauty and help spread the word about the area’s importance. Says Waterman.

The Slender Loris being one of the world’s most endangered species certainly does require a bulk of  the attention of conservationists however efforts of the ZSL also aim to  preserve other species, “The replanting project will benefit many species besides the Horton Plains slender loris, including the endemic Sri Lankan leopard, Toque macaque, purple-faced leaf monkey, Sri Lanka whistling thrush, Sri Lanka bush warbler and many more species.” Said Waterman.

The exploitation of natural resources for profit, litter dropped by visitors are some of the many challenges facing the preservation of not just the Horton Plains but many ecosystems around the world, hence it’s the individual responsibility of everyone to abstain from destructive practices and voice opposition to them as the preservation of ecosystems not only benefit the locals of the area but the entire world, just as the destruction of them will have a negative impact on the rest of the world.