Habitat Restoration and Support of Livelihoods impacted by COVID-19, through Removal of IAS (Invasive Alien Species) in the Lunugamvehera National Park


  • It is estimated that around 5% of the land area at the Lunugamvehera National Park is currently taken over by the invasive alien species (IAS) Lantana camara (S. Gandapana) and Eupatorium odoratum (S. Podi singho maran) which are rapidly spreading across the Park
  • The extensive spread of invasive plants inhibits the growth of native plant species and thereby causes extensive loss of habitat and grazing grounds in the Lunugamvehera National Park posing a serious threat to the elephants and other herbivore populations that are resident or visit the Park, and their interconnected ecological food webs.
  • Rapid response in preventing seed dispersal is critical in controlling the spread of any invasive alien species. Hence, urgent action is critical to remove these plants prior to seed generation, to facilitate the growth of native varieties.
  • The Lunugamvehera National Park is surrounded by communities whose livelihoods have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis.  This Project intends to make a positive impact by providing them with a steady source of income by employing villagers for the manual removal of the invasive plants.
  • The total budget is estimated at LKR 49 Million for clearing the IAS from approximately 900 hectares of the Park (approximately LKR 50,000/- per hectare)
  • This Habitat Restoration Project is to be implemented by the Federation of Environmental Organizations (FEO) in partnership with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).


Sri Lanka is renowned globally for its high percentage of protected area coverage. Unfortunately, these much-valued habitats are severely affected by numerous threats that inhibit the wildlife occupancy to the maximum carrying capacity. Further, it is known that since ancient times, many wildlife species have used landscapes outside of the protected areas, within the human dominated terrains. However, modern-day demands for land and unsustainable land use practices, are exerting severe pressure on wildlife by degrading their habitat quality.  They are being driven to seek refuge within the protected areas, which are not capable of supporting even the existing communities of wild species living within it.

A close encounter while clearing in the park, with one of the gentle giants of the forest as a Supervisor

The Lunugamvehera National Park is inhabited by a wide variety of fauna including elephants, leopards, several ungulate species, sloth bears etc.  The Park is interconnected with several other protected areas creating a critically valuable habitat cluster for Dry Zone fauna and flora.  Poor land use management practices, together with water scarcity, has enabled many an invasive alien plant species to establish and spread extensively within the national park. Invasive alien plant species rapidly displace native vegetation with their capacity to grow, reproduce and disperse, tolerate harsh environmental conditions, and deter herbivores from consuming their required daily plant biomass. This not only deprives the herbivores of their much-needed food, but also prevents the growth of plants that can provide cover for their safety, resting and reproduction. This altering of the ecological balance will cascade through food webs affecting the entire diversity within the park. It is currently estimated that over 5% of the park is enveloped by invasive alien plants. Out of these plant species, Lantana camara (Gandapana) and Eupatorium odoratum (Podi singho maran) are the most dominant.

However, this issue is most critical to the survival of elephants and large ungulates resident in, and visiting the Park.  The loss of primary feeding grounds for elephants will lead to the escalation of Human – Elephant Conflict (HEC) as elephants look for alternative food sources.

The management measures adopted for any alien plant invasion will depend upon factors such as the severity and stage of the infestation, terrain, cost and availability of labour and other necessary resources. A critical factor in the control of an IAS is early detection and rapid response in preventing seed dispersal.  Given that the life span of seeds of an invasive species can last up to several years sitting in the soil seed bank, totally eradicating an IAS within one growing season is not feasible. Hence, consistent maintenance of controls, for 3-5 years, is vital for the sustainable management of any invasive alien plant species.


IAS are observed in many national parks in Sri Lanka where the species composition of alien
plants varies from one location to the other. However, the two focal plants for this project are dominant in many Dry Zone parks including the Uda Walawe and Lunugamvehera National Parks, et al. The rapid spread of the IAS diminishes the availability of natural vegetation that comprises the primary feeding grounds of elephants and other herbivores.

This map shows the critical  importance of the Lunugamvehera NP
as a corridor between Yala NP and Uda Walawe NP

Lunugamvehera provides habitat to many wild animals. It is linked to both the Yala and Uda Walawe National Parks that enables frequent animal movements between these areas, as they seek food and water. The park is also surrounded by several villages, whose communities depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Lack of food often prompt animals to raid agricultural areas outside the park causing human – animal conflict. This is further escalated by incidents of poaching of wildlife which is widely recorded in the area.

  • The problem is aggravated by the fact that Lantana is toxic to herbivores, and thus not a suitable alternative fodder.  Further, the Eupatorium odoratum plant will shade out the growth of grass while the thick growth of Lantana camara will block access to water bodies, shade and escape cover.
  • A well-known negative impact of invasive alien species is the long-term irreversible changes to the biodiversity of the host eco-system, in this case Lunugamwehera and its surrounding habitat, central to the survival of much wildlife. Further, this will also affect the livelihood of the local communities dependent on the income generated by visitation to the park.
  • As the density of Lantana increases, species richness decreases, its allelopathic qualities can reduce the vigor of plant species nearby and reduce their productivity.


  • Lantana was introduced to Sri Lanka from South America in 1926, by the Royal Botanical Gardens, and was later popularized as an ornamental plant.  Its invasive characteristics allowed the plant to infest diverse habitats and it is currently widespread in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka. The plants can grow in clumps or as dense thickets, crowding out more desirable species. In disturbed native forests, it can become the dominant understory species, disrupting succession and thereby decreasing biodiversity. The spread of Lantana is aided by the fact that it produces thousands of berries every year, starting at a very early stage, that are fed on by a wide variety of birds and animals, and its seeds are then dispersed far and wide.  In addition, its leaves are toxic to most animals and thus avoided by all herbivores.
  • Podi singho maran (Eupatorium odoratum), a plant native to America, dispersed from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, in the 19th Century.  It’s a rapidly growing perennial herb that can grow up to 4m in height.  It is one of the fastest spreading IAS plants in Sri Lanka producing up to 90,000 seeds per plant that are effectively dispersed by the wind. The seeds need light to germinate. It can also regenerate from the roots.  It contains carcinogenic alkaloids which makes it toxic to herbivores.

Invasive plant removal has been previously attempted in the park using multiple methods. These include bulldozing, using brush cutters, manual removal and burning.

  • Most of these previous methods, other than manual removal, have also removed other plant populations, including the much needed native plants and seed banks, further facilitating the spread of invasive plants.
  • The dispersal of the focal invasive within the park, thereby, can be categorized into two major groups and several subcategories of age classes.
  • Old growth (never removed), primarily within the vegetation (in clumps) and along the roadsides

Re-growth along the previously cleared areas (< 6 months old, 6 months to 1 year,
1 to 2 years, > 2 years)

This study primarily focuses on the previously cleared areas which the Park Warden estimates as being approximately 900 ha in extant.

  • On 23rd January 2021, FEO carried out a site visit, with the DWC, to assess the severity of the invasive plant growth within the park.
  • Upon receiving the DWC approval to carry out the project, on the 6th and 7th February 2021,  FEO carried out pilot tests to scientifically establish the cost and effectiveness of alternative methods of removal of the Lantana and Podi singho maran infestations.  The method of plant removal was tested at five different sites and the feasibility of alternative methods as well as practical issues of implementation was discussed at length with the Park Warden and other onsite DWC staff members.

The Project was initiated on the 9th February 2021 along the main trails within the park. These are thickly covered with a mixed growth of both species ranging from 2 -13 feet in height with an undergrowth of smaller younger plants.


  • It is critical to remove IAS before the seeds mature and disperse.  The attempt is to remove as much growth as possible manually (inclusive of roots), before they shed seeds. The remaining plants, which are more difficult to uproot, will be removed via a ‘slasher’ and the roots will be removed manually, at a later stage, when the soil is moist and plants may be easily uprooted.   The final disposal will undergo experimental trials (piling, piling and burning, piling and leaving to dry, spreading and leaving to dry).  Further, selected plots will be observed, on a weekly basis, to monitor the rate of regeneration of both the natives and invasive plants.
  • Removal of the focal invasive plants will be by employing multiple crews, under the supervision and security of the DWC. The hired crews will be transported daily to the work sites.
  • The hired labour will be drawn from local communities who have lost their income sources due to the COVID-19 pandemic from local farming communities. Most of these people are registered at the park office as trained workers. In addition, those who are selected for the project will be given awareness training on invasive species control.  This community is being targeted with a view to establish a community-based organization that may, in the future, function as a supporting force for safeguarding the LNP and its surrounding environment.
  • The target for this year’s activity will be the clearing of over 80% of the identified area. It is expected that this will minimize the spread of the plant during the successive years.
  • The process will have to be repeated for at least 3-5 years, to eradicate the focal plants from the cleared areas
  • The costs for the recurring years will be less than the figure estimated for this year as there will be no ‘old’ growth, but plants of less than 1 year of age and those sprouting from the remnant roots.  The seed bank would also be depleted as we will be removing a majority of the plants before seed dispersal.


  • LKR 49.9 million is estimated for the initial stage of clearing an area of 900 Hectares. 
  • The primary cost is the labour, by employing those who have lost their income sources due to the COVID19 induced downturn in tourism, their transport to the clearing sites, equipment costs and supervision costs.
  • Summary of Budget expenses


900 Hectares                                                  –            Rs. 49,899,500/=

  • Labour for clearing and gathering        –      Rs. 37,440,000/=
  • Transport to clearing site                        –      Rs.   2,265,000/=
  • Tea and Water                                          –      Rs.      877,500/=
  • DWC Supervision & Protection               –      Rs.  1,237,500/=
  • Supervision, Project management
    and community awareness         –      Rs.  2,636,000/=

  • Equipment and safety accessories         –      Rs. 1,573,500/=
  • Miscellaneous / Contingency                   –      Rs. 3,870,000/=

To break this down into an easily manageable figure, we thought of approaching the funding the same way we are approaching the project – ONE HECTARE AT A TIME!

Did you know that clearing a single hectare of land would cost approximately LKR 50,000/- ? We kindly invite your organization to come on board as a sponsor.  Your contribution will be recognised publicly on all our social media platforms which has a sizeable following, including many influencers who keep re-posting our content.

Clearing of over 50 Hectares
(Over Rs 2,500,000/-)

Clearing of 11 – 50 Hectares
(Rs. 500,000 – Rs. 2,500,000/-)

Clearing of 1 – 10 Hectares
(Rs. 50,000 – Rs. 500,000/-)

Our plan is to take back our Park from the invasives. We seek YOUR support to make this happen. Together we can win this battle!


As someone who loves this country and its environment, your support to this project by contributing to its funding will help:

  • Safeguard the environment of a much valued protected area which provides a haven for numerous species of wildlife
  • Mitigate the impact on the escalating Human-Elephant conflict that could arise due to this major loss of fodder for the elephants of the Park.
  • Support those less fortunate who are affected by the current Covid-19 pandemic
  • The project will raise the awareness of the local community as to the importance of the park not only for the environment, but also for their daily livelihoods. It will help cultivate a close relationship with the wildlife staff which, at present, is largely antagonistic, and inculcate in them a sense of responsibility to safeguard this ecosystem for the future.

You can make a direct donation to the FEO Bank account detailed below:

Account Name:
Federation of Environmental Organizations

Registered Address:
49/8 Fife Road, Colombo 5

Account Number:
0175 6000 0138

Bank  |  Branch No:
Sampath Bank  |  175

Branch Address:
Colombo Super Branch
No 103 Dharmapala Mw, Colombo – 7

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