Project Background

Rock shelters, tunnels and perpetually dark caves occur in large numbers in Sri Lanka. Rock shelters such as Batadomba lena are important as archaeological and historical sites. Archaeologists trained in Sri Lanka work on rock shelters mainly excavating for prehistoric and/or historical information.

Tunnels such as Ravana Ella and Sthreepura in Welimada are popular among adventure lovers. The importance of perpetually dark caves to food security, public health and sustainable economies has been largely un-noticed. Dark caves without archaeological sites or temples in Sri Lanka are mostly unrecorded and unexplored by scientists, researchers and naturalists but often explored by youths for fun.

Throughout history perpetually dark caves have been feared, respected, admired but never ignored. Their biota was for a long time unnoticed because naturalists reasoned that conditions in them were too tough for life. But in 1689 the eyeless salamander (Proteus anguinus) was discovered in a dark cave in Slovenia in southern central Europe and the science of Bio-speleology began. Since then many countries have focused on cave biodiversity and have recorded insects, crustaceans, mollusks, chilopods, diplopods, arachnids, fish, amphibians, bats, reptiles and birds.

Sri Lankan dark caves support important biodiversity, which has been largely neglected by the conservation community to date. The dark caves are threatened by improper landscape management and disturbance due to unregulated cave tourism. Adventure tourism in these dark caves is unregulated and the guides are untrained, management guidelines and guide training materials are required in order to conserve cave biodiversity. Recent observations made by Lanka Institute for Cave Science (LICAS) indicate these issues pose major concerns in the famous touristic dark caves in Sri Lanka. As almost no dark caves in Sri Lanka have been surveyed and none are legally protected for their biodiversity yet, there is an urgent need to identify and protect key sites for cave biodiversity nationally

Beyond their contributions to regional mammal diversity, Sri Lankan cave dwelling microchiropteran bats provide vitally important services to society by controlling major insect crop pests and pollination as well as supporting local incomes through the sale/use of guano and site-based ecotourism ventures.

By raising awareness of these values and building capacity for conservation of cave biodiversity, the project will directly contribute to improved food security and sustainable economy in the country.

Project Activities

The project will complete rapid surveys of all famous dark caves such as Ravana Ella tunnel, Sthreepura tunnel in Velimada, Vavula lena in Kosgala, Vavulapan in Pallebedd, Karannagoda cave complex in Ella, Maa lena in Rathnapura, Roopa galena in Rathganga, Alulena in Kithulgala, Nitre cave in Meemure in Sri Lanka to:

  1. Determine species richness in each cave
  2. Construct food-chains and food-webs for each cave
  3. Identify and characterize key sites for conservation in terms of their biological, economic and cultural values
  4. Determine threats to these sites by establishing their associated human-cave interactions.

Project initiated in: 2017

Status: Ongoing