Horton Plains National Park
Horton plain, its surroundings forests, and the neighbouring Peak Wilderness connect Sri Lanka’s most significant catchment area of almost all the main rives. The tables are also outstanding the environments and endemic plants and animals representatives of the land wet and montane zones.
Horton plains comprise a gently fluctuating highland hill at the southern end of the central mountains massif of Sri Lanka. It is managed to the north by Mount Totupola Kanda (2,357m) also to the west by Mount Kirigalpotta (2,389m). Two mountains filling from the Horton Plain have added immensely to its awe-inspiring physiognomy, “big worlds end” by 884m. The beauty of the foliage of the peaks encircling the plains as intermittently covered by mist is emphasised by the sparking Baker’s fall. The altitude of the park covers from about 1,800m to 2,389m at the peak of Kirigalpotta. The plateau at 2,100m is the most distinguished tableland in Sri Lanka. The yearly rainfall in the region is about 2540mm, but for Horton Plains, it may exceed 5000mm. Rain happens throughout most of the year, although there is a dry season from January to March. Temperatures are moderate, with an annual mean temperature of 15ºC and ground frost is anticipated from December to February.
Horton Plains is well recognised for its rich biodiversity; its flora gave a high endemism level. 5% of varieties are determined to be endemic to Sri Lanka.
Biodiversity of Horton Plains
Horton Plains is renowned for its rich biodiversity and high level of endemism. The park's flora exhibits remarkable diversity, with approximately 750 recorded plant species belonging to 20 families. The dominant tree species is Rhododendron arboreum, creating a vibrant display of colours amidst the lush greenery. The park's nearly 54 woody plant species are endemic to Sri Lanka, representing its unique and irreplaceable botanical heritage. The grasslands, covering approximately 2,000 hectares of the park, support various specialized plant species adapted to the montane environment. These grasslands play a crucial role in the water catchment area, as they help regulate water flow to the rivers and streams.
The biodiversity of Horton Plains extends beyond its flora, as it is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. Several mammal species inhabit the park, including sambar deer, Sri Lankan leopard, wild boar, purple-faced langur, and rusty-spotted cat. The elusive Sri Lankan leopard is a significant attraction for wildlife enthusiasts, although spotting one requires patience and a bit of luck.
Avifauna enthusiasts will be delighted to know that Horton Plains is a paradise for birdwatching. The park boasts an affluent bird population with over 100 species recorded, including several endemic species such as Sri Lanka whistling thrush, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, and Sri Lanka white-eye. The grasslands and surrounding forests provide an ideal habitat for these feathered creatures, making it a haven for bird lovers.
The reptile and amphibian diversity in Horton Plains is equally impressive. The park is home to several endemic reptile species, including the rare Sri Lankan green pit viper and the rhinoceros-horned lizard. Amphibians such as the Sri Lankan rock frog and the endemic torrent toad can also be found in the streams and water bodies within the park.
Importance of Horton Plains
Horton Plains plays a vital role in the water catchment area of Sri Lanka. The park is the originating point for three major rivers: Mahaweli, Kelani, and Walawe. These rivers provide water for agriculture, hydropower generation, and domestic use, making Horton Plains a crucial watershed area.
The cultural and historical significance of Horton Plains is also noteworthy. The park is home to the Pattipola Archaeological Reserve, which contains evidence of early human settlements dating back thousands of years. In addition, the area is believed to have been inhabited by prehistoric communities, and archaeological studies have revealed ancient burial sites, tools, and artifacts.
As a popular tourist destination, Horton Plains offers several attractions for visitors. The most famous among them is the World's End viewpoint, where visitors can marvel at the dramatic 884-meter drop-off, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Another notable attraction is Baker's Falls, a picturesque waterfall nestled amidst the lush greenery.
Threats and Conservation Efforts
Despite its natural beauty and significance, Horton Plains faces threats that challenge its conservation. One of the major concerns is forest dieback, which is the gradual decline and degradation of the forest ecosystem. Climate change, invasive species, and human activities have contributed to this phenomenon. Efforts are being made to monitor and mitigate the forest dieback and restore the degraded areas.
To protect the unique biodiversity and ensure the long-term conservation of Horton Plains, the park has been designated as a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Department of Wildlife Conservation manages the park, and various measures are in place to regulate visitor activities and minimize environmental impact. These include designated hiking trails, camping and bonfire restrictions, and waste disposal guidelines.
Conservation organizations and local communities also play a crucial role in preserving Horton Plains. Collaborative efforts are underway to raise awareness about the park's importance, promote sustainable tourism practices, and engage in reforestation and habitat restoration initiatives.