HORTON PLAINS NATIONAL PARK LEOPARD POPULATION SURVEY 2012
The Leopard Project of the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) launched its fulltime leopard study in Horton Plains National Park (HP) early this year.
Following on from initial reconnaissance survey work in the outer periphery and also within the park (2010/2011) and following on from one of our student projects on the presence/absence of all cat species in the area (2011) the leopard study proper was begun in end January 2012.
This is to be a closed population survey which hopes to assess the population demographics of the Horton plains area leopards. In addition, diet, prey availability and preferential habitat selection is also to be analyzed so as to obtain a more complete ecological picture of these highland leopards.
Camera trapping is the method of choice for this habitat as the leopards in the highlands of Sri Lanka tend to be more elusive and the terrain such that logistics are extremely difficult. Our first round of camera traps were launched on the 12th of January 2012 and already successful captures have/are occurring.
The mist, the cold, the steep terrain and the dense forest type all make for many hours of hard labour of walking and driving; perhaps explaining why this park and its surrounding highlands has never before had such a study conducted. The WWCT staff, under permit from the Department of Wildlife Conservation are hard at work, day and night and we hope that our results will be complete enough to answer the questions put forth by this study.
This ~ 32 sq km park was declared a national park in 1988. Since then the boundaries of the park have been redrawn and now enclose a larger section of the area. Outside of the national park boundary there is other forested and grasslands as well as patches of tea that form the larger complex.
The habitat here is mixed with the typical dwarf montane cloud forest this area is so famous for interspersed in with open grassland and taller forest patches.
We hope that this study will give a better, more accurate and scientific understanding of the leopards that inhabit this montane area; adding vital information to our larger ongoing study of the unique Sri Lankan leopard (panthera padus kotiya).