‘When all the trees are cut down…’


The World Rainforest Day is marked on 22 June every year. The idea of celebrating Rainforest Day began in 2017 and was founded by the non-profit Rainforest Partnership to raise awareness about the risks of deforestation.

This year’s theme for Rainforest Day was “the time is now” and is timely as much large-scale deforestation is taking place all around the world.                    

What are rainforests?

Rainforests are type of forest where rainfall is continuous and abundant all year round. Rainforests are found in tropics and also in temperate zones.  These ecosystems cover six per cent of Earth’s surface. 

Speaking at the event marking Rainforest Day at the National Zoo on Wednesday (22) President of the Young Zoologist Association (YZA) Hasantha Wijethunga said rainforests are 70-100 million years old; take millions of years to grow and are not the result of two to three years. 

Forest cover in Sri Lanka

Director General of the National Zoological Gardens, Dr. Tilak Premakantha speaking at the event said that in Sri Lanka out of 29.2 per cent of its forest cover, 6.4 per cent are rainforests where 75 per cent of the island’s endemic species live.

He added that Sri Lanka has the highest number of biodiversity species per square metre in Asia including amphibians, mammals and reptiles.   

“Even though only Sinharaja, Kanneliya and few other rainforests are popular there are many more small forests around the country where there can be endemic species,” he added.

Adverse effects of deforestation

Dr. Premakantha explained that deforestation effects global warming and animal behaviour changes when forest cover decreases leading to loss of biodiversity.  

Why there is a threat?

According to Wijethunga, unplanned development is the biggest threat to rainforests. He highlighted project plans like building a reservoir by cutting down the Sinharaja Forest which contains more than 60 per cent of endemic trees. He stressed that although there was plan to replant the forest, it is not practical as it takes millions of years to grow a rainforest and none can replace Sinharaja.

Dr. Premakantha warned that Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot with a high risk of habitat loss and claimed one of the main threats to rainforests is unauthorised land grabs.

How to protect rainforests

People should be made aware plus species should be collected and conserved. As Wijethunga said either through the Government or through associations, people should be taught about rainforests and other forests as well. “Also by informing locals about the importance of rainforests and by supporting them to strengthen their economy through various ways, they will not tend to harm forests and instead they will protect forest resources. 

If the peoples’ economy is in a good condition they won’t harm the forest, they go to forest because of poverty,” Dr. Premakantha added.

He said that the Forest Department had previously run workshops for youth in some areas in order to raise awareness so they will refrain from cutting trees and killing animals. The Department had also taken steps to distribute gas stoves. 

“Once the forest is destroyed, no one will be able to restore it and at the same like a paper that have been torn to pieces; it can’t be put together as before,” he explained, while tearing a paper to pieces.

His advice was to protect the forest now rather than growing new ones after destroying the ones we have.

Addressing the gathering, Environmental Lawyer Dr. Jagath Gunawardana said that we are on the verge of deforestation and should take immediate action to protect rainforests.

He said that the forests which have not been protected should be secured and research and exploration should happen for undiscovered flora and fauna. Dr. Gunawardana proposed that laws should be strong and people should be informed well. “Also it should be reported in a language which people can understand.” He also said the inter-association relations should be strong therefore it can help protect rainforests. 

By Kanchana Kolagolla