ANNUAL REPORT 2020
The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust
130 Reid Avenue , Colombo 04, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 11 2589468/+94 773 544 382
It is no surprise that 2020 has been a strange year with activities around the globe seriously curtailed – to say the least – by the coronavirus pandemic. The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) has also been impacted by the current situation, mostly through travel restrictions which reduced the frequency of our field site visits, but also through an increased difficulty in procuring equipment which has to be shipped in from out of country. Thankfully a lot of our current work relies on the use of remote cameras, which is possibly the best type of equipment to be using when one is unable to regularly access field sites. As such, we were able, at the very least, to continue to monitor our varied research areas in 2020. Much of the following report focusses on the remote camera monitoring in the Central Highlands, Gal Oya NP, Yala Buffer zone and Sigiriya patch forest properties.
Due to the lockdowns and travel restrictions, an increasing emphasis was placed on digital communication, from schools to workplaces to international conferences. WWCT responded to this change by joining social media with the launch of our Instagram page. This allowed us to put out educational and awareness messages which we were unable to do in person due to the pandemic, and to respond to specific incidents rapidly. We are thankful for our younger generation of volunteers and supporters who keep the account ticking over!
This year was not just challenging for people in Sri Lanka, but also for leopards, as we had the highest number of leopard deaths recorded in 2020 than any year in the past 2 decades. In total, 14 leopards killed in 2020 were recorded, with most caught in wire snares set for other species. We provide an overview of this situation in this report. In response to the increase in leopard deaths – and particularly the death in May of a rare black leopard on a tea estate near Peak Wilderness – there was a surge in media interest in human-leopard interactions and ways to mitigate negative repercussions. As such, WWCT partook in many media interviews, briefings and opinions, as well as wrote our own newspaper articles. We were also involved in a news documentary on snaring in the Central Highlands which was collaboratively conceived and produced by one of Sri Lanka’s largest media companies. WWCT collaboratively designed and created an anti-snaring pamphlet that was rapidly and widely distributed in the Central Highlands, especially amongst the tea estate companies for whom this is a direct issue. A collaborative awareness message was also devised together with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and a public interest group - which was placed, free of charge, in Sri Lanka’s most widely circulating English, Sinhala and Tamil newspapers.
Despite all of the many challenges, for WWCT 2020 will be remembered with a great deal of pride as the Peak Ridge Corridor was finally brought into being with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by 5 of the 6 main stakeholders. The sixth, although fully supportive on the ground, will only formalize its support in 2021. This is a very exciting initiative as it marks a ground-breaking, collaborative effort by a number of ostensibly competing tea companies, brought together by a leisure company, to join together for the greater good of leopard and wider biodiversity conservation in the Central Highlands. Now that the broad-brush agreement has been made, the finer details of the agreement will continue to be refined and implemented in 2021. Replicating this initiative is something that WWCT plans to pursue. Key to this is re-forestation of sections of the Ridge which WWCT has already started in 2020 on the Dunkeld estate.