Wilpattu National Park (2014-2017)
Wilpattu was regarded as one of the premier
locations in the country to view leopards and before the civil conflict that
erupted on the island in 1983, this was considered the absolute top location.
The Smithsonian Institution conducted biodiversity surveys of Wilpattu,
including some preliminary work on leopard range size and activity times in the
late 1960s. As the largest protected area in the country, Wilpattu might be a
very important reserve for threatened wildlife so a population survey was
Exceptionally heavy rains in the dry zone
in 2014 and 2015 resulted in very high water levels within Wilpattu far into
the dry season (Fig.1). With park access critical, WWCT commenced remote
camera trapping in mid-July in order to avoid the worst of the flooding and
ensure that the project was finished by the onset of the north-east monsoon in
A total of 36 remote camera stations were
set up across the central portion of Wilpattu covering an area ¬ 500 km². This
design allowed the project to optimize the trade-off between photo re-captures
and area coverage. 3 prey transects (20 – 23 kms) which traversed the heart of
the study area were conducted monthly and will be continued into 2017.
Over the course of the 836 trap
days/nights a total of 49 individual leopards were photo-captured (Fig. 2).
Using spatially explicit capture-recapture analysis a healthy population
density within the study area was revealed with a density slightly lower
than in Yala National Park, Block I (in press, Tropical Ecology) and slightly
higher than in Horton Plains National Park (submitted).
Analysis of prey distribution and abundance
is ongoing with several thousand remote camera images initially being processed
by students and volunteers before being analysed by WWCT’s PI. The capture of
several Rusty spotted cats indicates, a healthy population inhabits the park. A
high presence of bears (with cubs) was also detected throughout the study area
indicating that this central core area of Wilpattu is still home to a healthy bear
population which reflects on the stable ecosystem within the park.
This prey data, together with other input
variables, will be utilized in the creation of resource selection function
models with the aim to increase understanding of ecological and anthropogenic
factors that influence leopard spatial dynamics within Wilpattu.
Fig1. Flood conditions in the park up until May
Fig.2. One of the resident adult male leopards
repeatedly photo-captured in Wilpattu National Park Young female leopard with langur kill in her
mouth photo captured at Wilpattu.
The WWCT Team
information check out WWCT Annual Report 2015 and await more details post
Annual Report 2015