ANNUAL REPORT 2019
The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust
130 Reid Avenue , Colombo 04, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 11 2589468/+94 773 544 382
The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) had another full and interesting year in 2019. Our direct conservation intervention was the initiation of the re-planting phase of the Peak Ridge Forest Corridor project. Continued monitoring of the leopards and other wildlife in this Central Highlands landscape has led to new and important findings. Our shift to new areas of the Gal Oya National Park in our efforts to better understand leopard ecology and behaviour in that stunningly beautiful Protected Area is revealing how leopards are using this landscape and is enabling cross study site comparatives which will greatly inform our overall conservation plan for the leopard. By improving our wild cat detection methods in the Sigiriya Patch Forest properties we were able to get long term use patterns by leopards of these patch forests. Towards the end of 2019 WWCTs new project on the investigation of human-leopard interaction in Yala’s buffer zone saw the initiation of the targeted leopard monitoring camera array in the area.
Although the Peak Ridge Forest Corridor is yet to be officially declared (plans are for first quarter of 2020), its conservation status is becoming increasingly improved with the active participation of the region’s Estate Management companies. The long-term residency of individual leopards in this landscape highlights that this is not a sub-optimal, transitional habitat but part of the leopard’s established range in Sri Lanka. Relative abundance indices suggest that the population here is greater than in some of the established dry zone National Parks, a remarkable fact given the high human footprint in the region. In order to improve the available habitat for leopard movement and other resident species, WWCT has started a forest tree nursery at the Dunkeld Conservation Station on Dunkeld Estate. Currently propagation is at the early stages with the first trees to be planted on identified land buttressing the upper ridge, with the onset of rains in 2020. This re-planting phase was preceded by a thorough investigation of current fuelwood trends amongst the existing estate communities.
We enacted a shift of our remote cameras in mid-2019 from the northern forests of Gal Oya NP to the western section of the PA at Nilgala. Activity is slightly higher here than even our active interior Mullegama site, although the number of different individuals detected was slightly lower. The first definitive images of rusty-spotted cats have been obtained by WWCT in this area, with Gal Oya NP being home to all of Sri Lanka’s 4 wild cat species.
The Sigiriya Patch Forest sites showed diverging patterns in 2019. We also got the first evidence of a leopard utilizing both sites in 2019, continued monitoring is needed before we can draw conclusions regarding space use here. Small cat sightings increased dramatically in 2019, due to the dedicated monitoring of a key ridgeline, indicating once again how important ridgelines are as landscape features for leopards and wildlife in general.
In the Yala buffer zone, WWCT’s collaborative project has identified some key aspects influencing the attitude of pastoralists to the presence and potential threat of leopards to their livestock. Emerging data is that the awareness of the value of the leopard to the region’s bustling tourism sector is causing some level of resentment amongst those (including pastoralists) that gain little from this sector. Despite leopard predation being less of a quantitative problem for livestock owners than theft, lost cattle and disease, it appears to be disproportionately perceived as an important issue. This perception, more than the quantitative reality, is what initiates anti-leopard actions. These findings will need to be seriously considered if human-leopard interactions are to be improved here. The factors driving livestock predation appear to be the quality (or lack thereof) of protection methods (i.e. enclosures) and the size of herds, with larger herds more susceptible to predation. In 2020 we hope to initiate some of the recommendations from this initial study and have already set up remote cameras in the region to further quantify actual leopard presence.
WWCT continued with its education and awareness role with various community, school and public lectures, meetings and presentations. International exposure was also gained via a CNN feature on the Peak Ridge Forest Corridor project. A highlight for us was the mural wall painting of the Dunkeld Estate School in August with the eager and skilled participation of the students. A set of 10 specially designed leopard stickers showcasing individual leopards from 5 different sites island-wide – was more popular than anticipated and are due for wide circulation in 2020!