How lions and rhinos came to the forests of Sabaragamuwa

We think of animals like lions, hippopotamuses, and rhinoceroses as African animals. But there are also lions and rhinoceroses in India. If we want to see animals like lions, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, we have to go to a zoo. However, fossil evidence has revealed that these animals lived in the Ratnapura area in the past. Fossils of these animals can be seen at the Ratnapura National Museum or at the Colombo Museum of Natural History. Outside the Ratnapura Museum, you can see amazing creations of these animals. Fossils have also been placed in the British Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Natural History in London, and the Harvard Zoological Museum in the United States.

Research on endangered species

Dr. PEP was the first to tell the world about these ancient animals of Sri Lanka. Deraniyagala. He was the director of the National Museum at the time. Dr. Deraniyagala, a native of Kuruwita, Ratnapura, is a scholar who has provided us with intriguing information about an endangered species of animal found in the gem mines around Ratnapura. He also published an internationally recognized research paper on the subject. He received a doctorate from Harvard University in the United States for his book, which included details and results of his studies of this period. Based on that dissertation, The Pleistocene of Ceylon was first published by the Department of National Museums in 1958.

The highest number of mammalian fossils found in Sri Lanka has been found in the Ratnapura District. Known as the Ratnapura Fauna, these fossils are widely distributed at depths of 4-12 meters above ground level. Some fossils have been found as deep as 35 meters.


According to archeology, we are living in the Holocene today. The Pleistocene ice age preceded the Holocene, which began 10,000 years ago today. It is an age stretching from 10,000-12,000 years to 180,000 years. Sri Lanka and India were united as one territory at that time. After that Sri Lanka became a separate island from India. Ratnapura Early period belongs to the middle and upper part of the Pleistocene ice age. That is, from 78,000 million to 200,000 years today. Evidence belonging to this period has been found in the liquid soil deposits of Ratnapura. The Ratnapura gem mines are also spread in association with these liquid deposits. The lowlands between Avissawella and Ratnapura determine that Deraniyagala was inhabited by a large swamp during the Pleistocene, and that hippopotamus fossils were found in the area. Geologists say that this period can be compared to that of the Narmada fauna of neighboring India. According to geologists, these animals have migrated freely between the two countries along the land belt that was created between Sri Lanka and India tens of thousands of years ago.

Factors of the Pleistocene Ice Age

The most important evidence for Pleistocene deposits has been found in the Ratnapura district. To this day, most of its areas are temperate and humid. There are also evergreen forests, including the Sinharaja. These factors are found at least from the middle of the Pleistocene to the Upper Pleistocene. During this time we can see a clear change in the climatic environment as well as the flora and fauna of our country. These evidences are found in the Ratnapura gem deposits. Animals that lived during this period can be divided into three parts.

Sabaragamuwa Lion Panthera Leo

In 1930, Cheraniyagala had the opportunity to discover the first two lion fossils. Six years later, in 1936, he discovered two lion teeth in the Kuruwita area. He also gave the lion the zoological name Panthera leo sinhaleyus. The two lion teeth were later identified as one of the three left molar teeth of the lower jaw and the right molar tooth of the lower jaw. Archaeologists estimate that these fossils may be about 100,000 years old.

Although Asian lions are now confined to the Giri forest in Gujarat, India, Deraniyagala’s findings show that lions lived extensively in the South Asian region during the Pleistocene.
The Ratnapura tiger

Panthera pardus kotiya is a species of tiger that lives in our country now. They are also commonly known as “leopards”. These animals are a subspecies endemic to Sri Lanka. However, nine fossils have confirmed that a tiger species similar to the tiger living in India lived around Ratnapura. These fossils are thought to date back 14000-17000 years. The tiger is named Panthera tigris.

The tiger prefers to live in dense rainforests and is a frequent predator. Most of the LTTE fossils have been found in the Kuruwita area in the Ratnapura district. In 1963, P.E.P. Tiger fossils were found in Deraniyagala and later in 1982 LTTE fossils were found in the Batadomba cave in Kuruwita.

Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus

Evidence of the existence of Rhinoceros inhabiting African forests in Ceylon was first discovered in 1936 with fossil evidence (Rhinoceros sinhaleyus). Their fossils have been found in Deraniyagala from the Kuruwita Hiriliyadda and Thalapitiya gem mines.

The hippopotamus fossil (Hexaprotodon sinhaleyus) was first found in 1937 and has been found on various occasions since then. Hippo fossils have emerged from the Pahalawela, Gallanda Mandiya and Gonapitiya mines. These mines are located around the Kuruwita Kuruganga. The ancient hippo was found 6.5 meters below the ground. Fossil studies of Deraniyagala have confirmed the existence of two species of rhinoceroses in our country according to the size of the teeth and its morphological features.
Extinct giant elephant

Today, there are only a few elephants in Ratnapura around the Sinharaja forest in Rakwana and in the vicinity of the butterfly sanctuary. Two species of elephants that are not seen at present were living in the forests of Ratnapura at that time. Deraniyagala has named this species of elephant Elephas maximus sinhaleyus which is different in appearance from the present day elephant. They are thought to have lived about 100,000 years ago.

These fossil evidence found by Dr. Deraniyagala at that time are still buried in gem mines around Ratnapura. Some fossils are said to have been kept in miners’ homes. A project to conduct a formal study in this regard was recently initiated by the Ratnapura Project Office of the Central Cultural Fund.

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