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Kanneliya rain forest

Kanneliya Rain Forest in the Galle district, a rich biodiversity hotspot known world over, is threatened with a mystery disease.

The disease that resembles the 'Rust' that completely destroyed coffee cultivations 150 years ago, covers the leaves of the affected plants with a brick red coating, blocking its food production process that may lead the plants to wither.

"It is spreading at an alarming rate in and around the forest reserve," the forest officers and the residents lamented adding that the authorities don't seem to have realized the danger this disease could pose its rich vegetation, diverse to that of even 'Sinharaja', according to experts, since no action has been taken so far to identify the problem let alone find a resistant to it.

"The officials in Colombo were alerted a long time back but no one showed up as yet," a jungle trekker working for the Forest Department as a guide to visitors said.

This disease, has not spared the domestics such as coconut, arecanut, rambutan and ornamental plants in home gardens in the surrounding villages.

The affected plants appear as if the leaves have been poured red paint on them. The disease seem to have affected the bottom parts of the trees in the forest as leaves on the top part still retain their ordinary green colour.

"It has not destroyed the plants completely so far, but we are disturbed at the rate it is spreading and by the fact that it contracts to anything within its path," a concerned villager whose known by nom de guerre Patti Aiya said.

Inside the forest reserve, from creepers like Weniwel to tall 'Hora' trees bared its red leaves and the disease seem to have already engulfed large areas of the unique forest.

Some of the Kanneliya residents voiced that the disease could have contracted from the oil palm cultivations that borders the forest reserve. Large patches of trees in these cultivations had brick red leaves but without a proper study, what caused the disease will remain a mystery.

Other than world heritage site Sinharaja, Kanneliya is the last large remaining rain forest in the country and it is regarded as one of the most biologically diverse areas in Sri Lanka as well the world. It shelters 220 species of animals, out of which 41 are endemic.

Of the 26 endemic birds, 20 varieties can be seen in this terrain including several species that are listed endangered. The area boasts of 234 woody plants out of which 52 percent are endemic. Moreover, 27 floral species here are listed vulnerable and 45 are in the rare plants category. For its unique ecosystem, the Forest complex was designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2004.

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