A conservationist, ranger and Teardrop Hotel’s lead Naturalist, Sanka Abeysinghe is at the heart of our conservation efforts, helping us implement and execute a host of sustainability projects in the island’s tea region.
Sanka not only plays a key role in guiding our guests on some fascinating trails in the hills, but also helps educate guests and our own team on the environment and ecosystems in the hills, in the hopes of creating more awareness of the conservation and care that we need to continuously invest in our island home.
We had the good fortune of hiking with him in the tea country surrounding Camellia Hills, where he shared his best tips for exploring the hills, and other interesting insights into his time in the tea country. Read on for the full interview:
Tell us about the island’s ‘Small 5’?
- Fishing cat (VU)
- Rusty spotted cat (NT)
- Thick tailed pangolin (EN)
- Hog deer (EN)
- Slender Loris (EN)
This list represents few illusive and mostly nocturnal species, which are in a critical survival state due to a lack of food sources and shrinking habitat, caused by human activities. Unlike other big mammals, these species don’t get much attention from the public. Despite these obstacles, over the years these animals have developed a behavioral change to co-exist with humans, sharing forest patches, paddy fields, farmlands, and wetlands around the busy urban areas in Sri Lanka.
A Civet cat spotted high up in a tree on a night walk, near Camellia Hills
What are your best tips for walking in Sri Lanka’s tea country?
Tip 1: Sri Lanka’s tea mountains are great for exploring with a loved one, you can do this independently, but the best option is to have the company of a ranger or guide. First, guides know these tea trails like the back of their hand, so you will never get lost. Second, they know the best spots. If for instance, you want to see a specific animal or bird native to the forest, they’ll take you right there. They’ll also tell you about almost all the plants and animal species in the forest. It’s a learning experience you’ll definitely enjoy.
Tip 2: The word is slow. I’ve met people who thought that they were walking to a destination, and rush in and out of a forest. You’re not walking to somewhere; the walk is the destination…enjoy it! Experience every bit of it. A half-mile walk can turn into a fantastic two-hour hike if you really look at everything and pay attention.
Tip 3: Repellent, repellent, repellent: The first thing to do, especially if you are hiking in the hill country in the tea lands, is apply repellent. If your skin is not familiar with the montane forest conditions, it’s better to carry a bug and leech repellent spray as well.
One of many stunning trails at Camellia Hills, Dickoya
Tell us about your favourite viewpoint in Sri Lanka
World’s End, Horton Plains National Park. It’s a stunning viewpoint at the very edge of the hill country, where the cliffs suddenly fall away beneath your feet for the best part of a kilometre (half a mile) to the plains below. World’s End is characterised by misty landscape, often enveloped in dense cloud and rain, and on its western and northern sides it’s flanked by Sri Lanka’s second and third-highest mountains, Totapola and Kirigalpotta.
The return path via Baker’s Falls, presents a picturesque little cascade, with cool waters for the perfect spot to bathe tired feet.
Sambar Deer at Horton Plains National Park
What is your favourite Teardrop tea bungalow for enjoying wildlife and why?
All our hill properties offer a fantastic opportunity to see the flora and fauna of Sri Lanka, but every location and its wildlife experiences differ, slightly. This makes it crucial to work out what kind of wildlife or encounters you’re after.
At Camellia Hills and Goatfell, we mainly focus on the Peak-wilderness Sanctuary and the Horton Plains National Park for our nature experiences, so for anyone who is keen to explore nature or wildlife encounters, these two properties have so much to offer.
It’s important to remember, that the best wildlife experiences can’t be staged. You might be lucky enough to spot a leopard or several endemic bird species during our wildlife tours.
Also, you might find your most memorable encounter is completely spontaneous – a rare migrant bird flying past your room window, or a barking deer leisurely walking past your balcony.
Our job as field guides, is to create the conditions, and give you all the right information, to make wonderful wildlife encounters possible – the rest is up to nature’s whim.
Clockwise from top left: Brown Headed Barbet, Cinereous Tit, White Fourring and Paddy Field Pipit
What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had in the wild?
One of the most recent memorable moments was being able to rescue 13 juvenile crocodiles (hatchlings) caught in an abandoned fishing-net in a lake. The local fishing community around the area first spotted few ensnared juvenile crocodiles, and after having trouble freeing them, they called rescuers for backup. At first, we believed it was less than five hatchlings but eventually after 45 minutes, we managed to rescue and release 13 juveniles in total.