Gal Oya/Nilgala Complex - Leopard Research




The ‘Senanayake Samudraya’ reservoir built in 1956, is a large-scale irrigation construction created post British colonial times and is the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka. The reservoir has a catchment area of 384 square miles and has an earthen dam. Preceding this the Gal Oya National Park (NP) in Sri Lanka was established in 1954 and serves the main catchment area for the reservoir that was built under the Gal Oya development project by damming the Gal Oya (river) at Inginiyagla in 1950. This national park was once famous for its extensive forest cover and wildlife but, due to the islands protracted civil war (1983-2009) this area was left unvisited for many years. Due to recent highway infrastructure connecting through to the east coast this area is now accessible once again.


The Senanayake samudraya, which translates to Senanayake sea, named after Sri Lankas’ first prime minister, is one of the central features of this park, and swathes of evergreen forest form a vital watershed around the reservoir. This national park is also the only place in Sri Lanka that has habitats that resemble true Savannah. A large mixture of wilderness/plantation/chena landscapes surrounds the protected area, forming the larger Nilgal/Gal Oya complex. Water from this reservoir is used primarily for irrigation in the Uva and Eastern provinces, in addition to powering a small hydroelectric power station.


From a conservation perspective the most important aspect of this project was the establishment of 3 wildlife sanctuaries including the NP to protect wildlife and the catchment forest. The national parks evergreen monsoonal forest and savanna habitat are rich in flora and fauna and have a variety of species, including primates such as the toque macaques and grey langur, wild boar, water buffalo, deer, elephants, sloth bear and all of Sri Lankas wildcats-the leopard, the fishing cat, the jungle cat and the rusty spotted cat. The islands original forest dwelling Vaddah community still inhabits this area and vast tracks of monsoonal evergreen jungle still remain.

View of the Gal Oya/Nilgala wilderness complex

WWCTs ongoing work


The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) has begun a dedicated survey within the larger Gal Oya/Nilgala complex, formed by the Gal Oya NP, the Nilgala Sanctuary and other mixed wilderness areas that surround the park.  Primarily aimed at documenting the leopard population within this area, its diet and land use patterns this project was launched in late 2017.  Difficult and limited access to the NP has meant the WWCT team has had to move slowly with phases of reconnaissance conducted to establish the best possible route of action for this project.  While studying the leopard, Sri Lankas’ apex predator, WWCT also aims to document the presence and availability of other mammal species, as they are the leopards prey base.  The presence of the islands other 3 wildcats is also being documented.


Remote camera survey work was begun in late 2017 and escalated in early 2018; WWCT hopes to upscale the overall survey in the latter half of 2018 into a standardized capture-recapture based survey so as to enable density estimation for comparison with our other standardized NP surveys (i.e. Yala NP Block 1. Wilpattu NP, Horton Plains NP).

WWCT team members and DWC staff setting remote cameras in Gal Oya NP.


Remote camera image of a male leopard repeatedly documented using 3 different remote camera station locations within Gal Oya NP.

This project is conducted under the authorization of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Forest Department

of Sri Lanka and is supported by Rockland Conservation/Olu and in kind by the Gal Oya Lodge.​

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