ANNUAL REPORT 2015
The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust
130 Reid Avenue , Colombo 04, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 11 2589468/+94 773 544 382
The year 2015 was another busy year for the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT). We conducted two large field research projects and initiated a third that is both longer-term and more directly conservation oriented. We continued with our education and awareness programs with multiple presentations and the wide distribution of our printed materials. We were also heavily involved both in organizing and participating in an important international symposium on South Asian wild cats held in Sri Lanka. We had two students link up with our projects during the year, one local and one international, and hosted several volunteers and an intern from an Australian institution. Finally we garnered some additional funding which should help to make 2016 an equally busy year.
The first field project was a leopard occupancy survey in Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve, an isolated rock outcrop in the north-central dry zone. We were disappointed that no photo captures of leopards were obtained during the 3-month Ritigala study, but were even more concerned by the lack of any sign of their presence within the Reserve. Although this is insufficient evidence to rule out leopard presence in Ritigala, it does suggest that use of the Reserve is low at best. The reasons for this are uncertain, as remote cameras did detect widespread, varied and abundant prey. Poaching and poisoning are possibilities that need to be investigated.
The second major project was a leopard abundance survey in the iconic Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka’s northwestern dry zone. Here we had very high photo capture success with 49 different individuals detected during the 3- month camera survey. Density was estimated to be 16.2 leopards/100 km². Prey and resource use analysis are ongoing. Although no fishing cats were photo-captured, numerous rusty-spotted cats were. This is a good sign for this little-known felid.
We launched the human-leopard co-existence initiative, a conservation oriented project aimed at reducing leopard conflict in the Central Highlands. This emerged as a response to the repeated incidents reported from this area. Initial investigations by WWCT and an MSc student from Edinburgh identified priority locations and the project proposal was delivered, receiving very positive initial responses from the estate sector stakeholders as well as Department of Wildlife Conservation officials.
Additional funding has now been secured for the population genetics study proposed in last year’s budget and this research will be a central component of 2016. The necessary analysis equipment is currently being purchased.
As usual, WWCT engaged in continuous education and awareness programs throughout the year including several presentations in the Central Highlands, a talk at St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and a training program in Yala. WWCT was also heavily involved in organizing, running and presenting at the 1st Wild Cats of South Asia Past and Present Symposium held in Mount Lavinia in November and will continue to be involved in the follow up wild cats of Sri Lanka working group that is to be established as a result of the symposium.
Finally, we were fortunate to once again have a number of interested individuals come and join us this past year as students, volunteers and interns. The continued interest in our work from both local and international quarters is heartening.