GAL OYA NATIONAL PARK
Gal Oya/Nilgala Complex - Leopard Research
The Gal Oya National Park (NP), established in 1954, is a vast area of protected land (25 900ha) that resides within the Gal Oya/Nilgala Complex. It serves as the main catchment area for one of its central features, the Senanayake Samudraya Reservoir – the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka. Comprising of extensive evergreen monsoon forest which forms a vital watershed around the reservoir, the NP is also the only place in Sri Lanka in which habitats that resemble true savannah can be found. The larger Gal Oya/Nilgala Complex is formed from the large mixture of wilderness, plantations, and chena landscapes that surround the protected area.
From a conservation perspective, the most important aspect of this project was the establishment of 3 wildlife sanctuaries (including the NP) to protect the wildlife and the catchment forest. The NP’s evergreen monsoon forest and savannah habitat are rich in fauna and flora, and contain a variety of species. These include primates, wild boar, water buffalo, deer, elephants, sloth bears, and all of Sri Lanka’s wildcats. The island’s original, forest-dwelling Vedda community inhabits this area even now, and vast tracks of monsoon evergreen jungle remain.
View of the Gal Oya/Nilgala wilderness complex
The WWCT's Ongoing Work
The WWCT launched a dedicated survey within the Gal Oya/Nilgala Complex in 2017, primarily to document the leopard population within this area (including its diet and land-use patterns), and to document the presence and availability of the other mammal species within the region.
With the help of remote cameras set up in 10 monitoring stations across the Gal Oya NP Complex, the WWCT has documented a dynamic leopard population in the area since 2017. As of June 2019, 8 females and 6 males have been spotted, raising the total observed population within this complex from 11 to 14 individuals; six of which are current. Unfortunately, two of the original resident females have not been seen, and it is unknown if they have died or moved to a different area. Of course, continued monitoring will be carried out to determine any change in their status; like that of one female leopard who, surprisingly, was observed in the area after an 11-month hiatus.
The WWCT hopes to expand the area of monitoring to 2-3 new locations of the NP, southeast of the current area of study. Expanding the area currently being monitored will provide a more robust understanding of the leopard population within the NP, hopefully including areas of the NP that have thus far been uncharted.
This long-term monitoring will provide the WWCT with a glimpse of how the leopard population occupies a monsoon forest within a protected area and its buffer zone, and would also allow for a comparative study to be done with the unprotected highland areas in which the WWCT also conducts research. Understanding similarities and differences would allow the WWCT to plan overall conservation measures on an island-wide scale for the Sri Lankan Leopard and the other wildlife that cohabit the same areas.
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.
For more details on the status of the Leopard Project in the Gal Oya/Nilgala Complex, please see the attached report.