- Dilum Wijeynayake
Identifying the viable leopard population in all habitat types in Sri Lanka
I am an undergraduate of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya where I specialized in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Agricultural Biology. As a part of our academic program we needed to enroll in an internship program at a recognized organization to obtain practical exposure related to classroom learning. As I always loved biodiversity, I wanted to join an international organization which conducts biodiversity research in Sri Lanka. I did a web search and my attention was caught by The Leopard Project of The Wilderness and Wild Life Conservation Trust; I decided that I wanted to do my internship with them. Then I contacted Anjali Watson, Managing Trustee of the organization and informed her about my interests of working with them. After initial interviews and meetings, they decided to take me on as an intern.
I started my work in August, 2014 as an intern in The Leopard Project which is mainly focused on identifying the viable leopard population in all habitat types in SriLanka. During my internship time, I did a background research on the possibility of conducting genetic research on identification of leopards using non-invasive scat samples. My target was to investigate whether we can do it under the prevailing technology and technical knowledge in SriLanka. I studied similar research conducted in other countries and finally my effort was successful as we concluded it can be done locally. Happy to say that now we are working on it with the experts in University of Peradeniya. Also, I initiated a mapping project which aimed at quantifying the level of forest isolation of forest reserves in SriLanka using 1: 50 000 maps to assess the agricultural land use levels surrounding the selected forest reserves. It was a hard task due to the lack of updated data and I had to do all the things manually.
I accompanied and assisted as needed for awareness programs on the importance of conservation of SriLankan Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) in Pelmadulla and Ginigathhena areas where there were human-leopard incidents at that time. I had the opportunity to discuss with the affected people and being made aware meant so much to them. What was most exciting for me was that I got the opportunity to do field work inside the Ritigala strict natural reserve with the Principal Investigator Andrew Kittle for conducting ground mapping of trail systems inside the forest and identifying possible locations of leopard use. It was a wonderful experience I ever had related to wild life which increased my interest on continuing my future career on biodiversity conservation in SriLanka.