ANNUAL REPORT 2017
The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust
130 Reid Avenue , Colombo 04, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 11 2589468/+94 773 544 382
In 2017 the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) continued with the ground-breaking research in the unprotected tea landscapes of the Central Highlands, expanded its Patch Forest Project to include two new locations in the vicinity of Sigiriya, made considerable headway with diet analysis in Wilpattu National Park, Horton Plains National Park and the Peak Wilderness area, put up the first ever remote cameras in Gal Oya National Park, and continued with education and awareness work which ranged from community presentations on tea estate lands to publishing five papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
In the shadow of Sri Pada, adjacent to the Peak Wilderness sanctuary, the focus of the Central Highlands project was two-pronged – a second dedicated remote camera survey, this time of the Bogawanthalawa Valley from Norwood town past Bogawanthalawa to the eastern end estates of Campion and Loinhorn, and the continuation of long-term monitoring of locations in and around the Dunkeld estate where WWCT bases itself. Both prongs have been fruitful with the Bogawanthalawa phase resulting in an enhanced understanding of the structure of leopard range use. In this section of the Highlands, which is essentially a single valley flanked by steadily rising terrain which eventually forms forest clad peaks, we detected relatively little use of the main valley by leopards which prefer to remain on the higher slopes adjacent to the upland forests. This differs from the first phase of study from 2016 which saw animals residing in a key upland ridge in the middle of the tea lands, which runs between the Castlereigh and Maskeliya reservoirs. The importance of this ridge, where female leopards reside and reproduce was made even more apparent due to the contrast with the Bogawanthalawa landscape where such a landscape feature is absent. As a result WWCT has put forth a proposal to move towards enhanced protection of this key ridge. The long-term monitoring work has complemented this by allowing us to temporally track animals allowing insights into inter-birth interval, dispersal ages, and residency times etc. We hope to keep this going for a much longer duration.
Starting patch forest biodiversity inventories at Back of Beyond’s Dehigahaela and Pidurangala properties has been exciting. In addition to detecting rusty-spotted cats, fishing cats and a leopard (at Dehigahaela), this has allowed us to start to compare sites both within the dry zone (i.e. Sigiriya properties compared to Gal Oya Lodge property) and between zones (i.e. the dry zone locations with Dunkeld in the sub-montane wet zone). Butterfly, and especially bird surveys have demonstrated an impressive diversity at all locations including endemics and threatened species. The most common butterfly species in the Dunkeld surveys is a locally endangered species, which speaks for the value of the area and the importance of the estate structure in maintaining rich patches of wilderness habitat.
Ongoing diet analysis from various landscapes have underlined that leopards are generalist predators with a relatively wide variety of prey species consumed and little indication of strong preferences so far. Primates and black-naped hare are consistently important components of leopard diet across habitat types in Sri Lanka, as of course are deer, the particular species dependent on habitat type. Also interesting is the disproportionately low use of wild boar in the diet given that this is a ubiquitous species in the country.
Although the Gal Oya National Park project remains in its infancy, the initial remote cameras that were placed (those not stolen by poachers) picked up regular leopard activity as well as images of elephants, bears, deer, and even a jungle cat. We hope that 2018 proves to be a watershed year for this project which will provide a much-needed insight into this important protected area.
As ever, WWCT’s goal is research for long-term conservation and the awareness and education components of our work remain key. Although fewer dedicated awareness programs were run in 2017 our “Living with Wild Cats” and “Wild Cats of Sri Lanka” pamphlets got wide distribution as did the Leopard Incident Protocol Manual which was distributed to Department of Wildlife Conservation offices around the island. As usual, WWCT relies on dedicated and inspiring students, volunteers, interns and staff and 2017 saw a strong group, both local and international, assist our mandate in a variety of valuable ways.