BASELINE WILDLIFE SURVEY OF NOTHERN SRI LANKA
Introduction and Background:
Field visits to the northern Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu Districts were made in January, May, July, August, October and December 2011 to conduct presence/absence surveys (Fig 1). During these trips the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Leopard Project personnel, often accompanied by Department of Wildlife Conservation officials, traveled extensively throughout the region, checking for signs of leopards as well as interviewing border villagers about the wilderness areas and wildlife in the area.
Fig. 1 : Approximate locations of Northern field surveys conducted in 2011. From L to R: Mannar area including Giant’s Tank and Madhu Road Sanctuaries; Vavuniya/Mallavi area including Vavunikulam Sanctuary; and Padaviya area including Padaviya Sanctuary.
The goal of these surveys is to establish a baseline about species’ presence/absence and the degree to which various species are common or uncommon in this area. Furthermore, the aim is to determine a general concept regarding the state of existing forest areas and where possible, how these areas have changed during the past decade (Fig. 2). The questionnaire also probes human-wildlife interaction to see if there are any problem areas of this sort either ongoing or on the horizon. An impetus for the research was the death of four leopards, all caught in snares, in the region between April 2010 and July 2010 (Fig. 3). A fifth leopard was also killed in a similar manner in August 2011 in Paraiyanagankulam.
Fig. 2: House belonging to a typical interviewee in Padaviya area (left) and cattle pen on the coast at Silawathurai, Mannar (right).
Fig 3. Dead leopards that were trapped in snares in July 2010 in Northern Sri Lanka. a) adult male killed at Kalmadu; b) young adult female killed at Mallavi. Photos were taken on a mobile phone.
Interviewees were selected randomly but physically spaced throughout the landscape in order to achieve wide coverage. Of the 67 individuals interviewed, 57 (85%) were male and 10 (15%) female. The average age of respondents was 45.5 years. The occupational breakdown of interviewees was dominated by farmers, which is not surprising given the intensely rural nature of the region (Table 1). That both Civil Defense and Armed Forces personnel together comprise >10% of the respondents is indicative of the fact that these regions are situated in what were high conflict areas during the war years.
Table 1: Occupational breakdown of interviewees during North and East questionnaires.
Fourteen wildlife species were asked about specifically, and an additional 9 were mentioned by respondents on their own. The list of species is detailed in Table 2.
Overall 60.9% of respondents (N=64) indicated that there has been a noticeable change to the area in the past 10 years with 61.9% (N=63) stating there was a loss of big trees. Analyzed by area one can see the impact of the conflict on the forest as the areas within the war zone (Mannar and Vavuniya/Mallavi) showed a higher impact than the area largely outside the war zone (Padaviya). In Mannar 76.2% (N=21) of respondents cited a change in habitat with big tree loss being cited by 70% (N=20). In the Vavuniya/Mallavi area of the Wanni the numbers were 68.8% (N=16) for both. In Padaviya however, only 44.4% (N=27) of respondents thought the habitat had changed in the past 10 years and 53.8% (N=26) stated that big trees had been lost during that time. The use of large trees by both the army and the LTTE for bunker construction during the war might have been responsible for this difference. Also, the illegal cutting of valuable timber might have been ongoing during the conflict as law enforcement mechanisms were known to have been largely ineffective during this time.
Table 2: List of species present mentioned by interviewees (N=67) in Mannar, Vavuniya/Mallavi and Padaviya areas 2010-11.
‡ = Bubalus arnee is the wild buffalo and its status is vulnerable whereas Bubalus bubalis is the domestic water buffalo and its status is common. In this area we have not yet determined which species is present.
Overall, the status of wildlife in the regions was positive with almost all respondents citing the presence of elephants, spotted deer, langurs and macaques (Table 3). In addition, the majority indicated the presence of leopards and sloth bears. That sloth bears appear to be not uncommon and widely distributed in the area is a positive sign as this species is one of the first to disappear when disturbed. The continued monitoring of this species in these resettling areas might provide a useful indicator of forest health and levels of human-induced disruption.
Table 3: List of common/charismatic mammal species (by Order and Family) inquired about specifically in the questionnaires and the percentage of interviewees (N=67) who responded positively to their being present in the Mannar, Vavuniya/Mallavi and Padaviya areas in 2010-11. Status includes whether species is endemic (E) and its Red List status (2007 Sri Lanka Red List) where EN = endangered, VU = vulnerable.
† = Panthera pardus kotiya is listed as vulnerable in 2007 Sri Lanka Red List and as endangered in the 2009 Global IUCN Red List. It is the sub-species that is endemic.
These baseline surveys have produced current information on the presence and distribution of prominent mammalian wildlife including the leopard in Sri Lanka. In addition they have highlighted areas that require further field based survey and data collection in order to confirm leopard (and other species) population presence and numbers.
Once the Sri Lanka army has given clearance for ground based surveys (currently large tracts of land in these areas are being de-mined) WWCT’s Leopard Project hopes to begin field work in selected sites within the regions to more effectively quantify the biodiversity that defines these ecosystems.
Through these ground surveys it will also be possible to monitor how the post-war resettlement process is affecting human wildlife interaction and coexistence. This is something that is necessary to document in such re-settlement processes, especially in areas with high wildlife populations and wilderness areas.
We would like to thank the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) for their continued permissions and especially the DWC officers of the Northern sector for accompanying WWCT staff in the relevant areas. This work was fully funded by the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT), Sri Lanka utilizing funds provided by CERZA conservation and Le Parc des Félins, France.