sinharaja forest reserve

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve in southwest Sri Lanka is important to the whole country because it is the only large piece of the original tropical jungle that used to cover the whole island. A lot of rare and native trees make up 64% of the tree population. The area is also home to 23% of all the animals that are only found in Sri Lanka. This includes 85% of the country’s endemic birds and more than 50% of its endemic mammals, reptiles, and butterflies.

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The Sinharaja Forest Reserve in southwest Sri Lanka is important to the whole country because it is the only large piece of the original tropical jungle that used to cover the whole island. A lot of rare and native trees make up 64% of the tree population. The area is also home to 23% of all the animals that are only found in Sri Lanka. This includes 85% of the country’s endemic birds and more than 50% of its endemic mammals, reptiles, and butterflies.

COUNTRY: Sri Lanka
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is this type of reserve.

Natural World Heritage Site: In 1988, it was added to the World Heritage List based on Natural Criteria ix and x. According to the UNESCO Man & Biosphere Programme, it was made a Biosphere Reserve (11,187 ha) around the world in 1978.
II National Park is the IUCN classification for management.
The environmental province is the Ceylonese Rainforest (4.02.01).
It covers 8,564 hectares of land.
West Hinipitigala Peak is 300 m to 1,170 m above sea level.


It is in the southwest plains of Sri Lanka, 90 kilometres southeast of Colombo, in the provinces of Sabaragamuwa and Southern. Its border is between 6°21′ and 6°26′ N and 80°21′ to 80°34′ E. The Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga are to the north; the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga are to the south and south-west; the Kalukandawa Ela and Kudawa Ganga are to the west; and the Denuwa Kanda and an old road near Beverley Tea Estate are to the east.


1875: The Waste Lands Ordinance (Gazette 4046) named most of the land the Sinharaja-Makalana Forest Reserve. In the early 1900s, the last bit of land was offered as a forest reserve.

1926: To protect waterways, a 9,203-hectare Sinharaja Forest Reserve was set up.

In 1978, all of the forest areas that were already in place or were going to be created were named UNESCO Biosphere areas.

Gazette 528/14 from 1988 reported the creation of a National Heritage Wilderness Area that is 7,648.2 hectares in size. There are a total of 864 hectares of World Heritage Sites. Of these, 6,092 hectares are forest reserves and 2,772 hectares are potential forest reserves.

In 1992, the State Party added a neighbouring forest extension to the World Heritage site to make the 11,187-hectare Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. This area used to be the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and was in the same area as the Biosphere Reserve. The Forest Department said in 2003 that it is not yet an addition to the World Heritage Site.


The Forest Department of the Ministry of Lands and Land Development is in charge of the condition. put together by the Biosphere Reserve and a National Steering Committee.


There are a series of hills and valleys around the Rakwana mountain massif in this 21-by-4-kilometer stretch of rolling piedmont. There is a complicated system of streams that drain it. In the south, the Maha Dola flows into the Gin Ganga river, and in the north, the Napo Dola, Koskulana Ganga, and Kudawa Ganga rivers flow into the Kalu Ganga river. The reserve is in a place where two main types of rocks that are common in Sri Lanka meet. In the southwest, there are a number of layers made up of metasediments, charnockites, and calc-granulites with scapolite. The highland group is made up of khondaites, which are metamorphosed sediments, and charnockites (Cooray, 1978). In the middle is the Sinharaja Basic Zone, which is a pretty big mass of basic rocks. Small amounts of quartzite, hornblende, pyroclasts, basic charnockites, pyroxene amphibolites, and calc-granulites with scapolite can be found in this type of rock (Hapuarachi et al., 1964). A strange magnetic field lines up with this area, and it’s likely that this field helped with the removal of silica that created the gem fields nearby (Katz, 1972; Munasinghe & Dissanayake, 1980). Except for alluvium in the valleys, the mostly reddish-yellow podzol soils don’t let water through, sometimes turn into laterite, and don’t let much organic matter build up. de Zoysa and Raheem (1987) say this is because of a number of things, such as the climate, the complicated microbiota in the soil that breaks down organic matter quickly into its nutrients, and the trees’ ability to take in and recycle the nutrients more quickly.


The forest gets wet during both the northeast monsoon (November–January) and the southwest monsoon (May–July). There are a lot of them in the 3810mm to 5080mm range. It rains over 2500 mm a year on average, with 189 mm on average in February, which is the driest month (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1983). There is never a dry time. Because it rains all the time, the small yearly changes in temperature are less noticeable. The temperature changes a lot during the day (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987). Outside, it’s between 19°C and 34°C.


Sinharaja is an untouched part of Sri Lanka’s historic tropical jungle. It is part of a 47,000-hectare deep lowland forest, though three-quarters of it was cut down for timber in the 19th century. That’s where more than half of Sri Lanka’s remaining similar forests are. 116 of the 337 species that live there are in danger around the world. Three main types of forest can be found there: remaining Dipterocarp woodland below about 500 metres; Shorea forest, climax vegetation throughout most of the reserve on the middle and upper slopes up to 900 metres; and a transitional zone to tropical montane forest above about 900 metres. In 1981, Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke discovered that there are 220 different species of trees and woody climbers. Out of these, 40% have low population numbers (10 or fewer people per 25 ha) and 43% have limited distributions, which means they are more likely to have people move into the reserve. 139 (64%) of Sri Lanka’s 217 native wet lowland trees and woody branches live in Sinharaja. Sixteen of these are rare (Peeris, 1975; Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1981, 1985). De Zoysa and Raheem (1987) give an overview of the structure and makeup of the vegetation. The Forest Department’s Conservation Plan from 1986 had a list of 202 plants with details on where they are native and what they are used for.

As you go down into the valleys and along the lower hills, Dipterocarpus hispidus (bu-hora) (CR) and D. zeylanicus (hora) (EN), which can be found in a few almost-pure stands but are generally spread out because tea and rubber plantations are being built on top of them. Wormia spp. are the other trees. Plants like Vitex altissima (milla), Diyapara, and Messua spp. Na, Dun, and Chaetocarpus each have a name. This kind of forest is known for its spread-out emergents that stand 45 metres above the main canopy. When shifting cultivation or rubber and tea farms cut down the original forest cover, secondary forest and scrub have spread out over a large area (de Rosayro, 1954).

There is the most forest on the middle hill. This starts at about 500 metres, which is higher than 335 metres according to de Rosayro (1942) (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1985). It is made up of the Mesua-Doona (na-dun) group, which includes Mesua nagassarium (batu-na), M. species (diya-na) and a few Shorea species (dun). The tree crown is 30–40 metres high, straight, and there are no emergents. There are a lot of different plants in the subcanopy, but Garcinia hermonii and Xylopia championii always have the most hidden. There isn’t much groundcover (Gunatilleke & Gunatilleke, 1985).

On the higher slopes and peaks, where the trees get smaller, the plants change from tropical wet evergreen forests to tropical montane forests. The plants in the 1988 addition to the east are sub-montane evergreen forests. The trees that are stunted on the open tops are typical of montane conditions. Some of the plants that grow in this area are Terminalia parviflora (hampalanda), Mastixia nivali (VU), Doona gardneri (dun), Calophyllum calaba (keena), and C. katu kitual and Oncosperma fasciculatum (VU) are two species that can’t be found anywhere else. Glycosmis cyanocarpa, Lindasea repens, Techtaria thwaitesii, and calamander ebony Diosporus quaesita are some species that aren’t very common. The undergrowth is made up of many native herbs and shrubs. Some popular species are Schizostigma sp., Paspalum confugatum, Arundina gramimifolia, bamboo orchid, and Lycopodium sp. These are the species: Badalvanassa and Dicranopteris linearis.

There are trees in Sinharaja that are wider than 300 cm. They are Mesua ferrea, Mesua thwaitesii (diya na), Dipterocarpus zeylanicus, and D. The plants that are included are Shorea stipularisi (hulan idda), Vitex altissima, Pseudocarpa championii (gona pana) (VU), S. Some of the plants that grow in the area are Cryptocarya membranacea (tawwenna), Hopea discolour (mal-mora) (EN), Palaquium petiolare (kirihambiliya), Scutinanthe brunnea (mahabulu mora) (EN), Syzygium rubicundum (maha kuratiya) (EN), and Mangifera zeylanica (etamba). At an elevation of 742 metres, Sinhagala is the only place where you can find the palm Loxococcus rupicola (dotalu) (CR) and the rare indigenous Atalantia rotundifolia. The people who live there are still known to use 169 wild plants (Manikrama, 1993). Key species that are used a lot are Ochlandra stridula (bata), Calamus ovoideus, and C. The Caryota urens kitul palm is used to make jaggery, a sweetener that can be used instead of sugar. For spice, use Elattaria ensal and Shorea sp. Make cardamom and Zeylanicus (wewal) to make cane. Use (dun), Shorea sp. for flour. The plants that were studied were Vatima copallifea (hal), Coscinium fenestratum (weni wal), and varnish/incense (Gunatilleke et al., 1994; Lubowski, 1996).


There are basic lists of animals in the Forest Department’s 1986 Conservation Plan. There is a lot of endemism. Only 60 (23%) of the 270 vertebrate animal types that the Forest Department has recorded are found only in this area. Eight animals are unique to the area, along with 147 birds, 10 amphibians, 21 reptiles, 72 fish, and 20 amphibians only found there. 95% of Sri Lanka’s native bird species live in Sinharaja. More than half of these species are rare or don’t have many individuals. There are a lot of endemisms in mammals, snakes, and butterflies. It is home to 21 of the 65 kinds of butterflies that live here.

They are called Elephas maximus (EN) and they live in small groups in the northeast. The main attacker is the Sri Lankan leopard, Panthera pardus kotiya (EN), even though it is rarely seen. Most of the animals that live there are mammals. These include the northern red muntjac (Muntiacus vaginalis malabaricus), the fishing cat Zibethailurus viverrina, the jackal (Canis aureus lanka), the western toque macaque (Macaca sinica aurifrons)), the rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus (VU), the crested wild boar (Sus scrofa cristatus), the sambar (VU), and the white-spotted mouse deer (Moschiola meminna). There are twenty very small animals. Two of them are the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra nair). There are several birds that are very rare or in danger of going extinct. They are the endemic ashy-headed laughingthrush (Garrulax cinereifrons), the green-billed coucal (Centropopus chlororhynchus), the Sri Lanka white-faced starling (Sturnus albofrontatus), the Sri Lanka blue magpie (Urocissa ornata), and the red-faced malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) (Hoffmann, 1984). The Sri Lanka broad-billed roller, Eurystomus orientalis irisi, has been seen much less often in the last five years (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987).

Python molurus, the Asiatic python, is one of the most endangered endemic reptiles and amphibians. It is also one of many species that are considered nationally fragile. The spineless forest lizard, Calotes liocephalus (EN) is the rarest agamid on the island. Other species that are worth mentioning are the rough-nosed horned lizard Ceratophora aspera (VU), which only lives in a small area of Sri Lanka’s wet zone, and the uncommon endemic microhylid frog Ramella palmata (de Zoysa & Raheem, 1987). Evans (1981) studies how endangered the unique red-tail goby Sicyopterus halei, the black ruby barb Puntius nigrofasciatus, the cherry barb Puntius titteya, the smooth-breasted snakehead Channa orientalis, and the combtail Belontia signata are in fresh water. Seventy-five kinds of butterflies live in the United States. The five-bar swordtail Graphium antiphates ceylonicus and the beautiful Sri Lanka rose Atrophaneura jophon (CR) are both very rare in other places, but they can be found in large numbers in Sinharaja during certain times of the year (Collins & Morris, 1985; J. Banks, pers. comm., 1986). Baker gave an early summary of the fauna in 1937, and de Zoysa and Raheem (1987) give a full description.


As a natural “hotspot” in southern India, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve is one of the best places to visit. It is the biggest and last lowland tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka that can still grow plants. There are many useful plants and 64% of Sri Lanka’s native trees On top of that, 23% of the country’s native animals live there. This includes 85% of the country’s native birds, over 50% of its native mammals, and many rare endemic snakes (IUCN, 2000). The park is home to some of the world’s rarest bird species and is in a WWF Global 200 Freshwater Eco-region that Conservation International has named a Conservation Hotspot.


Folklore and stories talk about the area, and its past goes back to the time of the Sinharaja rulers. The name, which means “lion king” in Sinhala, may refer to the Sinhala people who lived in Sri Lanka in the past and were thought to be a “lion-race” (Hoffmann, 1979). Because it served as a sign, the trees were not cut down in the 1970s (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999).


There are 32 small to large towns on the edges of the Sinharaja forest in the south, northeast, north, and northwest. Barathie and Widanapathirana (1993) say that the population is growing along the northern border, and that some villages in the south were built on state land without approval. The southern, eastern, northeastern, and northern parts of the forest are surrounded by natural forests and private farms. It was thought that over 7,000 people lived in the areas around Sinharaja in 1993, with 1297 families residing there. People in the area have to travel long ways to get their goods to markets because the infrastructure in the villages isn’t good enough and the roads are often bad. In every town in the buffer zone, there are a number of civic groups. The Forest Department set up a group called Friends of Sinharaja (Sinharaja sumithuro), whose members help keep the forest safe and in good shape. The Sinharaja Village Trust is another one. It is backed by an international non-governmental organisation and works to improve biodiversity and promote ecotourism through marketing, private business, and training (de Zoysa & Simon, 1999).

The main business is growing tea, rubber, coconuts, rice, and chena. Some people raise horses, and there is also coffee, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon. Tea is being grown on land that used to grow crops in almost all of the villages. This is mostly because tea is expensive, small-scale tea farmers can get help from the government, and there is a strong system for selling tea. Different areas rely on forest resources in different ways, but that hasn’t made the pressure on them go away. According to a 1985 study by de Silva, 8% of all families may have relied solely on wood and other forest products. More and more people are using it this way. In and around Sinharaja, people mostly do things like tap kitul palms and make jaggery and treacle. There is a lively market for these goods in the villages, where traders buy them to sell in the city. Other things that are taken from the forests are hal, beraliya, weni wal, mushrooms, tree barks, rattan, wild cardamom, resins, honey, areca nuts, and many kinds of therapeutic plants. The last one, on the other hand, is becoming less and less well known (Mankrama, 1993).


A little over 17,000 people came in 1994. In 2000, there were at least 12,099 kids, 9,327 local tourists, and 2,260 people from other countries at the site. In 2002, 36,682 people came to the park, including environmentalists, college students, kids, and people from other countries. This increased traffic is beginning to hurt the environment. The three exits are Kudawa, Morningsite, and Pitadeniya (Forest Department, 2003). They are on the northern, eastern, and southern sides, respectively. Kudawa is the main entrance. It has a conservation office, an information centre, six cabins and dorms with room for 102 people, and tour guides. Trails named Mulawella, Waturawa, Nawada tree walk, Gallen Yaya, and Sinhagala all start at this access point. At the opening to Morningsite, which is in a unique submontane forest, there is a place to stay for 10 people. Pitadeniya is being built south of Sinharaja as part of the Southwest Rainforest Conservation Project. This project is funded by the UNDP’s Global Environmental Facility Programme. Building a dorm, a bridge over the Gin Ganga, four nature walks and an information centre are all part of this plan. There should be eight guides ready to help people.


Baker (1936) said that the Sinharaja jungle was “the only large area of untouched tropical rain forest on the island” (Baker, 1937, 1938). Other early studies were done by de Rosayro (1954, 1959), Andrews (1961), and Merritt & Ranatunga (1959). They used aerial and ground surveys to look at the area’s possibility for selective logging. In 1980, 1981, and 1985, Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke looked at the woody vegetation’s floristic makeup and phyto-sociology to figure out how valuable it was as a conservation area. Research on the native animals has been done by the WWF/IUCN Project 1733 and March for Conservation (Karunaratne et al., 1981). McDermott (1985), McDermott & Gunatilleke (1990), and de Silva (1985) are the writers who have written about conflicts that happen when people use forest resources in different ways. At a scale of 1:40,000, the Forest Department has made a vegetation-land use map of the area with notes.

A field study station with only the basics is set up in the northern part of Sinharaja. The Sri Lankan Natural Resources, Energy, and Science Authority is in charge of running it. Scientists and tourists both use the Forest Department building at Kudawa, which is outside the reserve. Scientists from the Universities of Peradeniya, Harvard, and Yale, as well as independent and foreign scientists, the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, and the Universities of Peradeniya, Colombo, and Sri Jayawardanepura, have all looked into the possible uses of plants. Most of the studies are about plants, animals, and ecology, with less attention paid to the eastern and southern areas that were recently attacked. There are well-funded national UNEP/GEF projects that list food species’ wild relatives and work to protect and use medicinal plants in a way that doesn’t harm the environment.


The principal source for the above information was the original nomination for World Heritage status.

Andrews, J. (1961). Forest Inventory of Ceylon (A Canadian-Ceylon Colombo-Plan Project). Ceylon Government Press, Colombo.

Baker, J. (1937). The Sinharaja rain forest, Ceylon. Geographical Journal 89: 539-551.

———- (1938). Rain forest in Ceylon. Kew Bulletin 1: 9-16.

Barathie, K. & Idanapathirana, W. (1993). Management plan for the conservation of Sinharaja Forest (Phase II). IUCN, Sri Lanka.

Collins, N. & Morris, M. (1985). Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. pp. 258-260.

Cooray, P. (1978). Geology of Sri Lanka. In: Nutalya, P. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third Regional Conference on Geology and Mineral Resources of Southeast Asia, Bangkok. pp. 701-710.

Evans, D. (1981). Threatened Freshwater fish of Sri Lanka. IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK. Unpublished report. 58 pp.

Forest Department (2003). Sri Lanka Forest Reserve. Summary of the Periodic Report on the State of Conservation of the World Heritage Properties in the Asia-Pacific Region to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Paris.

———- (1986).Conservation Plan for the Sinharaja Forest. Forest Department, Colombo. 87 pp.

Gunatilleke, C. (1978). Sinharaja today. Sri Lanka Forester 13: 57-61.

Gunatilleke, C .& Gunatilleke, I. (1981). The floristic composition of Sinharaja – a rain forest in Sri Lanka with special reference to endemics. Malaysian Forester 44: 386-396.

———- (1985). Phytosociology of Sinharaja – a contribution to rain forest conservation in Sri Lanka. Biological Conservation 31: 21-40.

———- (1995). Rain forest research and conservation: The Sinharaja experience in Sri Lanka Vol.22 (1 &2): 49-60.

Gunatilleke, N. & Gunatilleke, S. (1991). Threatened woody endemics of the wet lowlands of Sri Lanka. Journal of Sustainable Forestry 1(4): 95-114.

Gunatilleke, C. Dodanwela, S. & Welagedara, D. (1987). Guide to the Secondary Vegetation of Sinharaja. Workshop on Ecology and Conservation of Tropical Humid Forests of the Indomalayan Realm, 1-5 May 1987. 63 pp.

Gunatilleke, C.,Silva W. & Senarath, R. (1987). Guide to the Moulawella Trail in Sinharaja Forest. Workshop on Ecology and Conservation of Tropical Humid Forests of the Indomalayan Realm, 1-5 May 1987. 58 pp.

Gunatilleke, I.,Gunatilleke, C. & Abeygunawardena, P. (1994). An interdisciplinary research initiative towards sustainable management of forest resources in lowland rain forests of Sri Lanka and their conservation. Biological Conservation, (55) 17-36.

Hails, C. (1989). Conservation of the ‘Lion King’ forest. WWF Reports April/May 1989: 9-11.

Hapuarachchi, D, Herath, J. & Ranasinghe, V. (1964). The geological and geophysical investigations of the Sinharaja Forest area. Proceedings of the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science 20 (1D).

Hathurusinghe, D. (1985). Constraints to the Protection of the Sinharaja Forest. Unpublished workshop

Hoffmann, T. (1972). The Sinharaja Forest. Wildlife & Nature Protection Society of Ceylon, Colombo. 21 pp.

———- (1977). Epitaph for a forest. Sinharaja – 1976. Loris 14: 31-32.

———- (1979). The forest of the lion king. Animal Kingdom 82(5): 24-30.

———- (1984). National Red Data Lst of Endangered and Rare Birds of Sri Lanka. Ceyon Bird Club and Wild Life & Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, Colombo. 12 pp.

Ishwaran, N. & Erdelen, W. (1990). Conserving Sinharaja – an experiment in sustainable development in Sri Lanka. Ambio 19: 237-244.

IUCN (2005). The Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Cambridge, U.K.

———- (2000). The 1999 List of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka. IUCN, Sri Lanka. 113 pp.

———- (1993). Management Plan for Sinharaja. IUCN, Sri Lanka.

Karunaratne, P.,Pieris,T.& Raheem, R. (1981). A research project in the Sinharaja Forest. Loris 15:326-7.

Katz, M. (1972). On the origin of the Ratnapura gem deposits of Ceylon. Economic Geology 67: 113-115.

Kotagama, S. & Karunaratne, P. (1983). Checklist of the Mammalia of the Sinharaja MAB Reserve, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Forester 16(1-2): 29-36.

Lubowski, R., (1996). The Effects of Economic Development on the Use of Forest Products in the Sinharaja World Natural Heritage Reserve of Sri Lanka, unpublished.

Liyanaga, S. (2001). America’s pound of tropical flesh. Sunday Observer, 19-8-2001, Colombo.

March for Conservation (1985). Fauna of Sinharaja. Unpublished workshop paper. Forest Department, Colombo.

McDermott, M. (1985). Socio-economics of the Protection of the Sinharaja Forest: the Village Factor. Unpublished workshop paper. Forest Department, Colombo.

McDermott, M. & S. & Gunatilleke, N. (1990). The Sinharaja rain forest: conserving both biological diversity and a way of life. Sri Lanka Forester (19) 3-14.

Manikrama, A. (1993). Assessing Folk Knowledge About Forest Use in the Sinharaja Peripheral Villages. Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Peradeniya (unpublished).

Merritt, V. & Ranatunga, M. (1959). Aerial photographic survey of Sinharaja Forest. Ceylon Forester 4: 103-156.

Munasinghe, T. & Dissanayake, C. (1980). The origins of gemstones of Sri Lanka. Economic Geology 70: 216-1225.

Peeris, C. (1975). The Ecology of Endemic tree Species in Sri Lanka in Relation to their Conservation. Ph.D. thesis, University of Aberdeen, U.K.

Rosayro, R. de (1942). The soils and ecology of the wet evergreen forests of Ceylon. Tropical Agriculture (Ceylon) 98: 70-80, 153-175.

———- (1954). A reconnaissance of Sinharaja rain forest. Ceylon Forester N.S. 1(3): 68-74.

———- (1959).The application of aerial photography to stock-mapping and inventories on an ecological basis in rain forests in Ceylon. Empire Forestry Review 38: 141-174.

Silva, W. de (1985). Socio-economics of the protection of the Sinharaja Forest: the village factor. Unpublished workshop paper. Forest Department, Colombo.

WWF/IUCN Project 1733. Effects of Deforestation on Endemic Species, Sinharaja Forest, Sri Lanka.

———— Project 3307. Consolidation of the Protection of the Sinharaja Forest of Sri Lanka.

Zoysa, N. & Raheem, R. (1987 & 1990). Sinharaja – a Rain Forest in Sri Lanka. March for Conservation, Colombo. 92 pp and 61 pp. (Comprehensive reviews of knowledge about Sinharaja.)

Zoysa, N. & Simon, L. (1999). Sustenance of Biodiversity in the Sinharaja World Heritage Site, Sri Lanka, Through Ecodevelopment of the Buffer Zone. Brandeis University, Mass.,U.S.A.

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