The tropical island nation of Sri Lanka - formerly Ceylon - boasts incredible natural and cultural diversity despite its modest size, including 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A spectacular palm-fringed coastline attracts surfers, while marine enthusiasts head offshore in search of Blue whales. Part of the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot, wildlife displays a high level of endemism, and Asiatic leopards, Sri Lankan sloth bears, and Ruddy mongooses are often spotted on safaris, while hundreds of wild elephants can be witnessed on their annual migration through Minneriya National Park, together forming the largest Asian elephant gathering on the planet. Anuradhapura, established in 380 BCE, is one of the world’s oldest cities - it later became capital of the nation’s first kingdom. Today its vast ruins of ancient palaces, monasteries, and dagobas stand testament to the golden era of Sinhalese civilization and sit at the heart of Sri Lanka’s ‘Cultural Triangle’, joined by the Sigiriya rock fortress, Dambulla Buddhist cave temples, and other historic sites. While the nation gained independence in 1949, Portuguese, Dutch, and British influence live on in its colonial architecture, emerald tea plantations crisscrossed with railroads, and cricket-playing traditions. In 1292, Marco Polo praised Sri Lanka for its alluring beauty; the nation remains a gem of the travel world today, for its unique charms, inviting hospitality, and opportunities for exploration.
The end of Sri Lanka’s 26 year civil war in 2009 saw the explosion of its tourism industry, and strides towards implementing policies and practices that will support the country’s sustainable development from the ground up are on-going. Natural conservation is engrained in the nation’s history, with the first wildlife reserve established over 2,000 years ago, and today hundreds of protected areas cover upwards of 25% of the remarkable country, while elephant poaching is punishable by death. Supported by the World Bank, the Ecosystem Conservation and Management Program engages local community members to become more deeply involved in natural preservation efforts, while the 2017 ‘Sustainable Tourism for Development’ summit ran a school outreach program that educated children on responsible tourism to help build its future leaders. Early ecotourism efforts, including the establishment of the Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka, have been instrumental in helping to foster an interest in sustainable tourism best practices as Sri Lanka emerges once again onto the world tourism stage.
Although relatively small, Sri Lanka is one of 25 global biodiversity hotspots and has one of the highest biodiversity densities in Asia. A remarkably high proportion of the species among its flora and fauna are endemic: 27% of 3,210 flowering plants and 22% of mammals. In the southeast, Yala National Park protects herds of elephant, deer and peacocks. To the northeast, the largest of the island’s parks, Wilpattu National Park, conserves habitats that support many species of water birds including storks, pelicans, ibis, and spoonbills. The island has four biosphere reserves: Bundala, Hurulu Forest Reserve, the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya, and Sinharaja. Of these, Sinharaja Forest Reserve is home to 26 endemic birds and 20 rainforest species, including the elusive red-faced malkoha, the green-billed coucal and the Sri Lanka blue magpie. The total vegetation density, including trees, shrubs, herbs and seedlings, has been estimated at 240,000 individuals per hectare. Sri Lanka is also home to some 250 species of resident birds. It has declared several bird sanctuaries including Kumana. Overall, Sri Lanka's forest cover fell from around 49% in 1920 to about 24% by 2009. Sri Lanka is a party to Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands.Why the Tiger Ranking?