MONTANE ZONE RIDGE FORESTS
Above the tea where the leopards still roam…
Update 2020: Our continuing work in this region is bringing to light the important and often vital role these remnant mixed landscapes play for the continued survival of the highland leopard. Our initial thought of focusing above the tea has now shifted to include the tea and plantation lands themselves, together with grasslands, mixed forest and remnant montane forests and our story of 'above the tea' is now one of 'amidst the tea' where the leopards still roam! These ridges if given protection will give refuge to the female leopards we have now established live within these ridges, and will give the males that roam via the tea and mixed landscapes to access these females, safe passage. Our work in the Peak Wilderness area, especially the creation of the Peak Ridge Forest Corridor (read below), we hope will be the first of such refuges to be protected across this landscape.
The breathtaking beauty of the verdant hills, carpeted green with tea, generally awes a casual visitor to the hill country of Sri Lanka. Not many will think to raise their eyes just a touch higher to that darker layer of remaining ridge forest that stands at the highest point of this Island.
It is these highland forests, usually occurring above 7,500 feet, that is the focus of our latest work. Before the onset of the tea and coffee plantation industry in the mid to late 1800’s, the areas below 7,500 feet were also forest-clad. But today it is only the remaining ridges, too high or steep for tea planting that holds the remnants of this unique forest ecosystem.
These vital forests are still linked to each other, albeit in a haphazard and disjointed manner, through tea estates, riverine valley systems and pinus and eucalyptus plantations.
A lot of work remains to be done in order to really understand the true extent and connectivity of this interesting and potentially vital remnant forest/plantation system. It appears possible that the abundant tea estate land in the hill country might be a very positive contributor to the present day conservation of leopards and other wildlife. Inclusive of estate land there appears to be the potential for leopards to move from the terminal forests of Dunumadalawa southwards via Hantane and Galaha to meet up with the Pedro forest reserve, which extends north from Nuwara Eliya. From there it is possible to continue, southwestwards to link up with the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary via Hakgala and Horton Plains. (See Connector Forest Map).
Due to the rather limited extent of protected areas in the hill country, researching these regions is work that needs urgent attention. The general lack of knowledge regarding the existence and importance of these Ridge forests and the wildlife they contain could also lead to their disappearance without due notice or concern. Thus the Trust’s work in these areas, as a long-term plan, is vital for the understanding of wildlife-related land use policy within this system and for the conservation of these high forests.