ANNUAL REPORT 2016
The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust
130 Reid Avenue , Colombo 04, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 11 2589468/+94 773 544 382
The past 12 months have again been very busy and extremely interesting for the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT). The main project has been in the tea estate lands that border the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary in the vicinity of the Maskeliya and Castlereigh reservoirs. This is part of the broader Human-Leopard Co-existence Initiative aimed at mitigating conflict between people and wildlife in the central highlands and encouraging peaceful co-existence. On the island-wide population genetics project progress has been slow, but some critical progress was made in 2016. This year we also initiated a new collaboration with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation and Research Unit (WildCRU) and have initiated a new project in the vicinity of Gal Oya National Park, where almost no information is currently available about leopards and other wildlife. We continued with our education and awareness programs with 8 awareness presentations to > 500 tea estates community members, 5 lectures given by WWCT PIs at various forums and 2 in-depth training programs. The distribution of our educational material, including the new “Living with Wild Cats” pamphlet, has also continued, with more re-prints soon required. Two large educational posters were designed and printed this past year and are prominently displayed at the entrance to Wilpattu National Park and in the new Dunkeld Conservation Station, the opening of which was another important event in 2016.
The first round of the Peak Wilderness remote camera project, which was conducted across 20 tea estates from August to December, was ground breaking. No work had previously been conducted in non-Protected areas in the country and this survey has provided some very illuminating and useful data so far regarding the number of leopards living in this heavily fragmented habitat as well as their movement and activity patterns. The clear reliance on ridge forests by breeding females indicates the need to provide protection to these key landscape features. This leopard population appears to have adapted behavior to reduce potential interactions with people and while human injuries are very few, leopard deaths, typically via snares, are more common. To address this a Human-Leopard Interaction Protocol Manual was designed, produced and printed by WWCT. As land use changes and development intensifies in this landscape, the emerging data will be very useful to ensure plans are in place to maintain much of the present balance, but also reduce the number of leopard deaths that occur. The next phase of the work is already underway.
The WildCRU connection has already resulted in one broad scale analysis of leopard distribution across Sri Lanka with follow up projects in the planning stage. The Gal Oya project is also in its infancy but it is exciting to be planning work which will provide a detailed understanding of leopard ecology in this important, data deficient section of the country.
The population genetics study threw up a number of obstacles in 2016, chief among them that our large store of scat from across the island could not provide useful DNA for analysis. In 2017 a plan will be formulated to efficiently collect new, fresh samples from which useable DNA can be extracted. This new collection is underway.
In addition to the tea estate awareness program, WWCT’s PIs gave talks to the Rotary Club of Colombo, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, senior tea estate managers, the UN Redd International Symposium on Valuation of Natural Forests and the Rufford Small Grant Sri Lanka Symposium. An online story on Monga Bay about WWCT’s work garnered extensive international coverage. Finally, people always form the core of WWCT’s work and this year we had a young and energetic group of students, interns, volunteers and staff that helped to make 2016 both productive and enjoyable.