Ian Lockwood


Defying the Odds (again ) in Sinharaja

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OSC’s annual DP Geography field study in Sinharaja investigates patterns of land use, home garden agriculture and the impact of tourism in the shadow of a critical Sri Lankan protected area.

In the DP geography class, current patterns and cases studies play a vital role in helping students understand broad concepts such as power, change, globalization and economic development. The ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka has been an unfortunately clear case study that provides multiple teachable moments. During recent field work students from OSC’s Class of 2023 witnessed these issues in real life, as seen in surveys of a rural settlement near Sinharaja rainforest.

At the end of April OSC’s IB DP2 Geography class spent four days conducting field research in village areas next to Sinharaja rainforest. This UNESCO-designated World Heritage site located the south-western “wet zone” of the country is well known for its rich biodiversity. OSC classes have been conducting field work in Sinharaja since 2005 and we have established a positive relationship with the community. The location offers ideal conditions for student learning, inquiry and field work on socio-economic, tourist and land-use themes. As usual, we were privileged to stay at Martin’s Wijesinghe’s Jungle Lodge. He sadly passed away last November but his daughters are continuing to provide a fine, basic guest house for people interested in learning about the area.

Kudawa fieldwork and SInharaja explorations are accomplished on foot in a variety of settings.

The Class of 2023 geography class is composed of seven young men and women from six different countries. The class embraced the learning opportunities, didn’t complain about the leeches and seemed to relish the village meals and local vegetables. Thevuni and Thisathma, as Sinhala speaking individuals, played a key role. The other team members including Huirong, Josh, Lucca Sam and Sara all played important supporting roles. OSC’s logistic coordinator Desline Attanayake provided support in the interviews and took part in all aspects of the study. We hired three Sinharaja guides each day and they were essential in leading us through home gardens and helping the students to get a better understanding of the area. The surveys were gathered on foot in rain or shine. We also interacted with two different groups of university professors and students that were in Sinharaja at the same time. It was intriguing to learn about their studies and see how others conduct academic research in this unique rainforest ecosystem.

OSC’s DP Geography students conducting field work in the Kudawa village area in April 2022. Each of the students had an individual research question that could be answered through a face-to-face survey. Their questions were combined into a common 50 question survey that was loaded onto the Survey 123 app. Responses were also collected on paper as a backup. Over the course of two full days of house to house visits 48 responses were collected in the Kudawa area.

Each of the students explored an individual geographic research question but pooled all of their sub-questions into a single survey that small groups could run. The survey of 50 questions could take up to 20-30 minutes with introductions and a look around their properties. The respondents were gracious with their time and several teams were invited to have refreshments. With three different teams going in different directions we collected 48 different interviews. Responses were collected using Survey 123 a GIS-enabled data gathering app that all the students could run off their phones (we also recorded every response on paper). This allows students to map their results and do basic spatial analysis on the findings using ArcGIS, the GIS software package that they are learning to operate.

It’s amazing how much you can see on a relatively short visits to Sinharaja. This collage features amphibians and reptiles from the IA trip that were photographed while on our walks or in the evening near Martin’s.

Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) that we found on a night walk looking for frogs. It was not as docile as the individual that we had seen during the day.

Long-snout(ed) Tree Frogs (Taruga longinasus) photographed in Sinharaja during the IA visit. Female on the left and two different males in the center and right. This is an endemic species closely associated with the lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka’s wet zone. I hear it every time I visit Sinharaja but they are usually in the canopy and are tricky to find. On this trip with my geography students pre-monsoon showers had dampened conditions and a few were at eye level. I’ve posted images of the other two Taruga sp. in earlier posts.

In addition to conducting the surveys, students got a flavor of being ecotourists in a tropical forest. They walked the different forest trails, encountered birds, snakes and spiders, and soaked their feet in jungle streams. Just before returning to Colombo on Saturday we hiked up Moulawella peak to take in the full extent of Sinharaja. It was a challenging adventure but all members of the team made it up and down safely. The sky was exceptionally clear and we could see the Indian Ocean in the south and east and Sri Pada in the north. It helped round off an exhilarating adventure in geographic learning. The students are now working on processing their data and writing up their IA reports.

On our last day the class and I did the traditional Moulawella hike before heading back to Colombo. It a short but tough climb up through secondary and then primary forest to the ride and peak with its panoramic view over the western part of Sinharaja rainforest. The experience gives hikers a sense and appreciation of Sinharaja and its conservation value. We were blessed with clear weather such that we could see the seas in the south and Sri Pada looking to the north.

Moulawella south panoramic view (April 2022)-a view that I was eager to share with Professors Nimal & Savitri Gunatilleke.

Here is a new way of looking at the same image-through a Panoramic viewer.

OSC’s Class of 2023 IBDP Geography class- continuing a tradition of learning about the rainforest and its hinterlands through the support of Martin Wijesinghe’s family.


Geography IA Trip 2007

Geography IA Trip 2008

Geography IA Trip 2009

Geography IA Trip 2012

Geography IA Trip 2013

Geography IA Trip 2014

Geography IA Trip 2015

Geography IA Trip 2016

Geography IA Trip 2017

Geography IA Trip 2018

Geography IA Trip 2019

Geography IA Trip 2020

Geography IA Trip 2021 (Cancelled because of COVID)

General Sinharaja Reflections



De Silva, Anslem and Kanishka Ukuwela. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Reptiles of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishing, 2017. Print.

De Silva, Anslem and Kanishka Ukuwela & Dilan Chathuranga. A Photographic Guide to the Amphibians of Sri Lanka. Oxford: John Beaufoy Publishing, 2021. Print.

DeZoysa, Neela and Rhyana Raheem. Sinharaja: A Rainforest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Gunatilleke, C.V.S, et al. Ecology of Sinharaja Rain Forest and the Forest Dynamics Plot in Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage Site.Colombo: WHT Publications, 2004. Print.

Kotagama, Sarath W and Eben Goodale. “The composition and spatial organization of mixed-species flocks in a Sri Lankan rainforest.” Forktail. 2004. Print & Web.

Liyanage, L. P. K. et al. “Assessment of Tourist and Community Perception with Regard to Tourism Sustainability Indicators: A Case Study of Sinharaja World Heritage Rainforest, Sri Lanka.” World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology International Journal of Social and Business Sciences. Vol 12 No. 7. 2018. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Wet: Field Notes From Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone.” Sanctuary Asia. August/September 2007. 3-11. Print. PDF.

Lockwood, Ian. “Montane Biodiversity in the Land of Serendipity.” Sanctuary Asia. July 2010. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Sinharaja: The Heart of South Asian Biodiversity.” Sanctuary Asia. April 2020. PDF

Singhalage Darshani, Nadeera Weerasinghe and Gehan de Silva Wijeratne. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Flowers of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2018. Print.

Sri Lanka Survey Department. Sheets 80_x & 81_x (1:10,000) 2nd Edition. Colombo: 2017. Maps & Spatial Data.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva.  Sri Lankan Wildlife (Bradt Guides). Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Ltd. 2007. Print.

Vigallon, S. The Sinharaja Guidebook for Eco-Tourists. Colombo: Stamford Lake Publications, 2007. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2022-05-29 at 4:38 pm

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