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ANNUAL REPORT 2021

 February 2021

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The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust

www.wwct.org

130 Reid Avenue , Colombo  04, Sri Lanka

Tel: +94 11 2589468/+94 773 544 382

Email:  info@wwct.org

Executive Summary:

For a second year running 2021 was dominated by the global coronavirus pandemic which saw yet more lockdowns and travel restrictions in Sri Lanka. As was the case in 2020, this impacted the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (WWCT) activities, especially the education and awareness component since in person meetings were largely restricted, but also some of the research, as entering new areas to set up monitoring projects requires initial in-person meetings with landowners and stakeholders. Despite these hurdles, WWCT managed to keep the flow of data ongoing by predominantly using remote cameras again in 2021, and also by using the windows of no lockdown to get to new locations and maintain old monitoring arrays.


Although the Memorandum of Understanding for the hard-won Peak Ridge Forest Corridor (PRFC), a collaborative agreement to protect a vital movement corridor and biodiversity refuge in the Central Highlands, was signed in 2020, it was in early 2021 that the launch of this exciting project occurred. This year saw some important movement by joint stakeholders, including the tea estate companies whose lands back onto this key ridgeline. A new forest plant nursery was implemented on one of the estates (Mahanilu) to complement the existing Dunkeld estate nursery, and the owner of the privately owned Kelanya-Breama estate agreed to give over ~20 hectares of the estates upper division lands for re-forestation. Although school programs were not allowed due to the pandemic, the groundwork was laid in 2021 to run awareness and education programs in the 15 schools that are within the PRFC buffer area.


We saw a reduction in the number of leopards killed in Sri Lanka in 2021, dropping from 14 to 9, although snaring remains a major problem, particularly in the Central Highlands. We lost 2 leopards that had been long-term residents of the PRFC in 2021, “Whitley”, an adult male who had been on the ridge since 2019, was found dead in the Canyon reservoir in August, from unknown causes, and “Nina”, an adult female who had produced 2 litters in the PRFC since 2019, was found dead in a snare in October. WWCT’s anti-snare pamphlets and broadsheet signs, were widely distributed again in 2021, in collaboration with the governmental Department of Wildlife Conservation officers, throughout the southern Central Highlands in an effort to increase awareness of this issue and reduce its impact.
In the 2nd half of 2021, WWCT finally managed to get a proper camera array set up on two new ridgelines immediately north of the PRFC – the Western Ridge and Elbedda Ridge. We got very positive results from the cameras with significant leopard evidence on the Western Ridge including at least 2 animals that are clearly using both PRFC and the Western Ridge. This is important information as it provides ongoing evidence of how these animals use this unprotected landscape and improves our ability to pinpoint key connections and travel routes that need to be maintained and/or improved. The Elbedda Ridge seems similarly important and will be a central focus of WWCT’s highland efforts in 2022.


Several more months of monitoring was also undertaken in the Yala Block I buffer zone with some interesting patterns starting to emerge. There are some apparent similarities between leopard activity and movement in this lowland arid zone landscape and the sub-montane, wet zone landscape of the tea estate leopards. Both populations are extremely nocturnal – more so than those living within PA boundaries – and both show similar sex-based differences in movement, with adult females keeping to refuge-type areas (forest sanctuaries and the forested hotel zone in Yala buffer and the upland ridges in the highlands) with adult males moving more widely and thereby utilizing even the human-dominated parts of the landscape (chena lands in Yala buffer and tea cultivation in the hills).


On-going monitoring of patch forests at the Sigiriya Back-of-Beyond properties, returned disappointingly few leopard images with “Daria”, the Dehigahaela resident female, missing-in-action. We did however get images of another female from Pidurangala who we had not seen for over 3 years.


A large part of the latter part of 2021 was spent creating and designing new awareness material for buffer zone communities and school children in the Influence zone of Wilpattu National Park. Finally, 3 scientific papers were published in 2021 from WWCT research work, two in international journals and one in a national journal. Numerous media interviews and releases also occurred.