Udawatta Kele Sanctuary

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Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
Sri Lanka - 029 - Kandy Temple of the Tooth.jpg
Udawatta Kele seen in the background of Temple of the Tooth
Map showing the location of Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
Map showing the location of Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
Location of Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
Location Central province, Sri Lanka
Nearest city Situated within the city limits of Kandy
Coordinates 7°17′58″N 80°38′20″E / 7.29944°N 80.63889°E / 7.29944; 80.63889Coordinates: 7°17′58″N 80°38′20″E / 7.29944°N 80.63889°E / 7.29944; 80.63889
Area 103 hectares (0.40 sq mi)
Established 1856 (Forest reserve)
1938 (Sanctuary)
Governing body Department of Wildlife Conservation

Udawatta Kele Sanctuary, often spelled as Udawattakele, is a historic forest reserve on a hill-ridge in the city of Kandy. During the days of the Kandyan kingdom, Udawatta Kele was known as "Uda Wasala Watta" in Sinhalese meaning, "the garden situated above the royal palace". The sanctuary is famous for its extensive avifauna. The reserve also contains a great variety of plant species, especially lianas, shrubs and small trees. There are several giant lianas. Many of small and medium size mammals that inhabit Sri Lanka can be seen here. Several kinds of snakes and other reptiles might also be seen. Udawatta Kele was designated as a forest reserve in 1856, and it became a sanctuary in 1938.[1] The Sri Lanka Forest Department has two offices in the reserve, one of which (i.e. the one located at the southeastern entrance) has a nature education centre with a display of pictures, posters, stuffed animals, etc. Being easily accessible and containing a great variety of flora and fauna the forest has a great educational and recreational value. Groups of school children and students regularly visit the forest and the education centre. The forest is also popular with foreign tourists, especially bird watchers. The forest is also of religious importance as there are three Buddhist meditation hermitages and three rock shelter dwellings for Buddhist monk hermits.


It has been recorded that the brahmin called Senkanda, from whose name the city's original name Senkandagalapura derives, lived in a cave in this forest.[2] The rock-shelter or cave now known as the Senkandagala-lena is located on the slope above the temple of the tooth and can be visited. The legend says the brahmin brought a sapling of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi here and planted it in the present day site of Natha Devala.[3] It was used as a pleasure garden by the Kandyan kings. The forest was reserved for the Royal family and the pond situated in the forest was used for bathing.[1] The public was restricted from accessing the forest hence the name Thahanci kele (Sinhalese for Forbidden forest).[4]

During the colonial era some of the land near the Temple of the Tooth was used to build the Kandy garrison cemetery.[5] In 1834 governor Horton built a path, Lady Horton's drive, within the forest in remembrance of his wife. Henry W. Cave mentions the trail is about three miles long.[6] Lady McCarthy's drive, Lady Torrington's road, Lady Gordon's road, Lady Anderson's road, Gregory path, Russell path, and Byrde lane are the other named walks in the forest. Some are abandoned and overgrown now.


Udawatta Kele is situated on a hill ridge stretching between the Temple of the Tooth and the Uplands-Aruppola suburbs. The highest point of the ridge (7°17'55.41"N, 80°38'40.04"O) is 635 meters above sea level, and 115 meters above the nearby Kandy Lake. The sanctuary contains three Buddhist forest monasteries, i.e. Forest Hermitage, Senanayakaramaya and Tapovanaya, and three cave dwellings for Buddhist monks, i.e. Cittavisuddhi-lena, Maitri-lena and Senkadandagala-lena. The sanctuary also acts as a catchment area for the supply of water to the city of Kandy.[7]


The visitors' entrance is located on the western side of the forest, about 15–20 minutes walking from the Temple of the Tooth. Directions: From the Temple of the Tooth, go north along the D.S. Senanayaka Veediya road and after half a kilometer turn right at the post office near the Kandy Municipality, and follow the road up the hill. The entrance is on the right side of the Tapovanaya Monastery. There is parking space for cars and vans near the entrance, and a refreshment stall. The entrance fee for Sri Lankan visitors is Rs. 30,-; the fee for foreign visitors is Rs. 570,-. Sri Lankan visitors have to register and leave their identity card at the entrance. Amorous unmarried couples are not allowed to enter the forest. The shady lovers' walk, which runs along the banks of the royal pond, is the most popular walk.[5]

During rainy weather there are many leeches lurking along paths that will attempt to suck blood from the feet and legs of unwary visitors. Mosquito repellent or herbal balms such as Siddhalepa will protect against them.


The vegetation of the park comprises dense forest, mostly abandoned plantations and secondary formations.[8] Of the 460 plant species that have been recorded in the forest, 135 are species of tree and 11 are lianas. These include 9 endemic species.[9] The forest features an emergent layer, a canopy and an understory.[1] Because of the dense two upper layers, understory is not present everywhere in the sanctuary, especially in areas with the invasive Balsam of Peru tree, (Myroxylon balsamum) Mahogany trees, (Swietenia macrophylla) and Devil's Ivy, (see Invasive Species section below).

A great variety of species are found in the forest. Some common native tree and shrub species are: Acronychia pedunculata (Sinhalese: "Ankenda"), Artocarpus nobilis ("Wal Del"), Artocarpus heterophyllus ("Kos"), Caryota urens ("Kitul"), Aglaia elaeagnoidea ("Puwanga"), Bombax ceiba ("Katu imbul"), Canarium zeylanicum, Cinnamomum verum ("Kurundu", cinnamon), Ficus virens, Filicium decipiens ("Pihimbiya"), Goniothalamus gardneri, Haldina cordifolia, Hunteria zeylanica, Mallotus tetracoccus, Mesua ferrea ("Na", ”Iron-wood”), Michelia champaca ("Sapu"), Mangifera zeylanica ("Atamba"), Neoclitsea cassia ("Dawul Kurundu”, Wild Cinnamon), Glycosmis sp., Litsea quinqueflora, Micromelum minitum ("Wal Karapuncha"), Pavetta blanda, Psychotria nigra, Vitex pinnata ("Milla") and Walsura gardneri.

There are many vine and liana species growing in the Udawattakele forest, most notable is the giant creeper Entada rheedii ("Pus Wel"). Some other species are Anamirta cocculus ("Tittawel”), Diploclisia glaucescens, Hiptage bengalensis, Hypserpa nitida ("Niriwel"), Morinda umbellata ("Kiri-wel"), and Paramignya monophylla. The Udawatta Kele is probably the best place in Sri Lanka for seeing full-grown rattan palms, ''Calamus'' (palm), of which there are at least two species. Some of the climbing palms here are over 25 meters long, growing up and over trees. Elsewhere in Sri Lanka rattan palms are often cut down when young for making rattan, but in the Udawattakele they are well protected.

Orchid species, mostly epiphytic, include Cymbidium bicolor, Luisa teretifolia, Polystachya concreta, Thrixspermum pulchellum, Tropidia curculigoides and Vanda testacea.

The sanctuary also is home to many species of non-flowering plants, Pteridophytes, such as the large ferns growing on steep banks along the shady road on the eastern side of the hill ridge.[10]

The tree species Alstonia macrophylla, introduced from Southeast Asia, is a common pioneer in previously cleared areas but poses no great threat to biodiversity because seeds sprout only in sunny, open areas, and when the trees get large, native shrubs and trees grow beneath them to eventually take their place.


Layard's Parakeet is one of the endemic bird species seen in the park

Udawatta Kele is a famous birdwatching site. About 80 avifaunal species have been recorded from the sanctuary.[8] The endemic bird species are Layard's Parakeet (Psittacula calthropae), Yellow-fronted Barbet (Megalaima flavifrons), and Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillus. The rare Three-toed Kingfisher Ceyx erythacus has been observed occasionally. Sri Lanka Myna, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Spotted Dove, Emerald Dove, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Brown-headed Barbet and Black-backed Kingfisher are common in the forest.[11] Red-faced Malkoha and Kashmir Flycatcher are two birds listed as threatened that can be found in Udawatta Kele.[12]

Despite the forest reserve being completely surrounded by the Kandy town and it suburbs, there are many kinds of mammals, most of which are nocturnal. Mammals that can be seen the sanctuary are the endemic Pale-fronted Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica aurifrons), Mouse deer (Moschiola meminna), Porcupine (Hysterix indica), Indian Muntjac, Boar, Asian Palm Civet, Golden Palm Civet, Small Indian Civet, Ruddy Mongoose, Indian Giant Flying Squirrel, Greater Bandicoot Rat, Dusky Palm Squirrel, Indian Pangolin, Greater False Vampire Bat, Slender loris and Indian Flying-fox.

Several kinds of reptiles also inhabit the forest: There are snakes such as the Common hump-nosed pit viper (Hypnale hypnale), Green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta), Green pit viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus), Banded kukri (Oligodon arnensis), Boie's rough-sided snake (Aspidura brachyorrhos) Sri Lanka Cat Snake (Boiga ceylonensis), Oriental Ratsnake (Ptyas mucosus) and Spectacled cobra (Naja naja). Lizards that can be seen include the Green Forest Lizard (Calotes calotes), Sri Lanka Kangaroo-lizard (Otocryptis wiegmanni) and the Whistling lizard (Calotes liolepis). There are also several species of skinks, geckos, frogs and toads.

Some Sri Lanka wet zone butterflies are also present.[1]


Devil's Ivy infestation in Udawattakele

The forest reserve has suffered from encroachment by squatters and land grabbing by surrounding land owners,[4] but the forest ecosystem is now mainly threatened by invasive, introduced plant species that increasingly crowd away native plant and tree species and the animals and insects that live on them. These invasive species have no natural enemies such as diseases or insects and animals that feed on them and therefore grow and multiply much more rapidly than in their native habitats. Three introduced species pose the biggest threat to the natural biodiversity of the Udawatta Kele forest: The highly invasive Peru balsam tree Myroxylon balsamum from South America is the first. Dense stands of thousands of young trees can be seen along the roads in the eastern and northern side of the forest. The Pothos or Devil's Ivy, Epipremnum aureum, creeper from the Salomon Islands is the second major threat. In the Northwestern and Western part of the reserve, around the royal pond and near the presidential palace and Temple of the Tooth, the creepers completely cover several hectares of the forest floor. They also climb high up tree trunks, with their large leaves blocking the light for other species underneath. The creepers are gradually spreading further to the east and south. Some years ago they were even planted on road banks elsewhere in the forest. Mahagoney, Swietenia macrophylla, a timber tree from South America, is also quite invasive and disrupts the forest's diverse ecology. The Glow Vine, Saritaea magnifica, from Brazil is another invasive species, and covers several trees near the royal pond and near the Maitri cave. In some areas Aglaoneama communatum, Philippine Evergreen, is covering the forest floor and road banks.

Severely degraded forest areas are situated between the Temple of the Tooth, the forest department office at the western entrance, and the slopes northeast of the royal pond. A few patches of unspoiled forest, with mostly native species of trees and shrubs, are remaining on the northern and eastern sides of the forest. There is also a patch of native forest on the southeastern side, near the forest department office at the southeastern entrance.

The Forest Department has no management plan to maintain the biodiversity of the forest reserve and is not taking any action to curb the spread of and eradicate invasive species. Necessary control measures would be the uprooting of seedlings, collecting and destroying seeds, and removal of mother trees and creepers.[9]

In recent years the population of wild boar, of which there were none or very few in the forest until the early 2000s, has also increased dramatically due to the absence of predators. The boars' digging of the soil for seeking food and making mud-bathing places, causes soil erosion on hill sides and damage to the undergrowth.

Pictures of the Udawatta Kele Forest[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d (Sinhala) Senarathna, P.M. (2005). Sri Lankawe Wananthara (1st ed.). Sarasavi publishers. pp. 151–152. ISBN 955-573-401-1. 
  2. ^ (Sinhala) Seneviratna, Anuradha (1989). Kanda Udarata Mahanuwara. Colombo: Ministry of Cultural affairs (Sri Lanka). pp. 12–15. 
  3. ^ (Sinhala) Abhayawardena, H.A.P. (2004). Kandurata Praveniya (1st ed.). Colombo: Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp. 60–62. ISBN 9789555750929. 
  4. ^ a b de Silva, Haris (2009-06-15). "Illegal clearing of Udawatta Kele" (PDF). The Island (Upali Newspapers Limited). Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  5. ^ a b Pradeepa, Ganga (2009-03-20). "Udawattakele". Daily News (The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.). Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  6. ^ Cave, Henry W. (2003). Ceylon along the Rail Track (2nd Visidunu ed.). Visidunu publishers. p. 105. ISBN 955-9170-46-5. 
  7. ^ Sakalasooriya, Indika (August 5, 2007). "Sanctuary of the kings" (PDF). nation.lk. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  8. ^ a b Green, Michael J. B. (1990). IUCN directory of South Asian protected areas. IUCN. pp. 263–265. ISBN 978-2-8317-0030-4. 
  9. ^ a b Wedathanthri, H.P.; Hitinayake, H.M.G.S.B. "Invasive behavior of Myroxylon balsamum at Udawattakele forest reserve". tripod.com. University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  10. ^ Karunarathna, Dewwanthi (March 5, 2008). "Pteridophyte Flora of Udawattakele forest: the past, present and future". environmentlanka.com. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  11. ^ "Udawattakele Sanctuary, Kandy, Central Province". info.lk. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  12. ^ "Important Bird Area factsheet: Udawattakele, Sri Lanka". birdlife.org. BirdLife International. 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-07.