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Sri Lanka

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Natural Resources

Minerals of commercial value found in Sri Lanka are gemstones, graphite, ilmenite (a mineral sand), limestone, quartz, mica, industrial clays, and salt. The only commercially extractable nonferrous metals are titanium, monazite, and zircon, which are found in beach sands in some coastal areas. Sri Lanka has been known since ancient times for the variety of its precious and semiprecious stones. These include high-value gemstones such as sapphire, ruby, cat’s-eye, topaz, and beryl, as well as semiprecious gemstones such as garnet, moonstone, tourmaline, and feldspar.


Plants and Animals

The natural vegetation of Sri Lanka varies according to climatic zone and elevation. Dense evergreen rain forests are found in the southwestern lowlands. Trees include mahogany and many varieties of palm, including coconut, betel, and palmyra. In the central highlands, montane evergreen forests are interspersed with grasslands. The drier evergreen forests in the north and east contain trees such as ebony and satinwood. Thorn forests and drought-resistant shrubs prevail in the driest areas. Along the coast, mangrove forests border lagoons and river estuaries. Screw pines and palm trees also grow in coastal areas. A variety of water hyacinths, ferns, acacias, and orchids are found in many areas.

The animal life of Sri Lanka includes 88 species of mammals, 30 of which are threatened with extinction. The Asian elephant, cheetah, leopard, and several species of monkey are endangered and officially protected. The island’s many species of primates include the long-tailed langur, toque macaque, and slender loris. Other mammals include the sloth bear, several species of deer, mongoose, and wild boar. Reptiles are numerous, with 144 known species. Some are threatened with extinction, including all five of the island’s marine turtle species. Snakes include the cobra, viper, and python.

Sri Lanka has one of the world’s most diverse frog populations, with more than 100 identified species. More than 400 bird species inhabit the island, some on a migratory basis. Many are colorful, tropical species, including the blue magpie, paradise flycatcher, flamingo, and parrot.


Environmental Issues

Deforestation is one of the most pressing environmental issues in Sri Lanka. In the 1920s, 49 percent of the island was covered in forest. By 2005, the forest cover had dwindled to about 29.5 percent. Forests have been cut to expand agricultural areas and for fuel and timber. Deforestation has led to soil erosion, landslides, and floods.

Loss of forest habitat is the primary threat to the survival of many animal species. National reserves and sanctuaries, covering about 15 percent of the total land area as of 2007, have been established for the protection of forests and wildlife. Sinharaja Forest Reserve, which protects the island’s last extensive remnant of tropical lowland rain forest, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.

Water pollution is also a serious environmental issue in Sri Lanka. Pollutants such as sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, and toxic metals degrade the quality of water available for human consumption. The pollutants also wash out to sea in Sri Lanka’s rivers, damaging marine habitats. The mining of coral reefs for the lime industry has also damaged some marine habitats of Sri Lanka.

The government of Sri Lanka has ratified international agreements pertaining to global warming, desertification, endangered species, hazardous wastes, law of the sea, and wetlands.


The People of Sri Lanka



The population of Sri Lanka is about 21.3 million (2009 estimate), yielding an overall population density of 329 persons per sq km (853 per sq mi). However, the population density is much greater in the southwestern and northern areas, where the majority of Sri Lankans live. The population grew nearly 13 percent from 1990 to 2000, with an increase of about 0.9 percent in 2009. About 79 percent of the population lives in rural areas.


Principal Cities

The largest city of Sri Lanka is Colombo, a seaport on the western coast that serves as the country’s commercial capital. About 1.5 million people live in the Colombo municipal area, which includes several contiguous towns and the urban district of Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. The country’s administrative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura (Kotte), is located on the outskirts of Colombo.

Other important urban areas include Kandy, the capital of a Sinhalese kingdom until it was annexed by the British in 1815; the seaport of Jaffna, on the Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka; the seaport of Trincomalee, on the eastern coast; and the seaport of Galle, on the southwestern coast. Jaffna was the country’s second largest city until an ethnic-based civil war erupted in northern Sri Lanka in 1983. The city subsequently lost a significant portion of its population as people fled to escape the violence.

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