By Janaki Lenin
15 July 2014
(mongabay.com) – In 1983, Sri Lanka became embroiled in a 26-year-long civil war in which a rebel militant organization fought to establish an independent state called Tamil Eelam. The war took an enormous human toll; unknown numbers disappeared and millions more were displaced. Economic development stagnated in the rebel-held north and east of the country, while foreign investment shied away from the country.
During the latter half of the war, between 1990 and 2005, Sri Lanka suffered one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world as government soldiers burned vast tracts to flush rebels out of their forest strongholds.As a result, the country lost about 35 percent of its old growth forest and almost 18 percent of its total forest cover.
The conflict ended in 2009, and while deforestation has slowed somewhat, Sri Lanka is still losing forest cover at a fast clip. Global Forest Watch figures show 49,652 hectares were lost between 2009 and 2012.
Sri Lanka, a small island nation located off the southern tip of India, has the highest biodiversity in all of Asia, and is regarded as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Together with India’s Western Ghats, the region once had nearly 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles) of important wildlife habitat, of which less than seven percent remains intact today. Because of its isolation and tropical climate, Sri Lanka is home to many unique species and subspecies found nowhere else, such as the purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus) and the Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), both of which are listed as Endangered by the IUCN. [more]