Following my internship last year with WWCT I decided to continue working with them after my graduation. I was lucky to be joining the project when they were starting work in Ritigala which is located 43 km away from the ancient city of Anuradhapura. At a height of 766 m above the sea-level, it is the highest mountain in the northern Sri Lanka. We reached Ritigala from the turn-off from Habarana- Anuradhapura road at a distance of 12km from Habarana and another 5 km along a narrow still drivable road leads to the foot of the mountain. It stands out as a prominent erosion remnant. Ritigala is also accessible from the west via Ganewelpola or east from Galapitagala.
Ritigala SNR is managed by Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka. After an initial meeting and discussions, we conducted an initial ground mapping of trail systems covering all the boundaries in Ritigala SNR with the help of the Wildlife guards at Ritigala. We identified some of the possible animal trails and GPS marked for the future camera trapping survey. During this time, we have identified that the vegetation shows a clear pattern of altitudinal zonation with the characteristics of dry-mixed evergreen forests, vegetation associated with rock outcrops and scrubs. The cloud cover and mist at the upper part of the mountain has resulted flora that is much more commonly found at the central hills; some of which are rare. Most of the Dry Zone species are restricted to lower elevations. The Reserve takes its name from ‘riti’ (Antiaris toxicaria), a tree that is characteristic to the middle slopes of the forest. Ritigala forest is the watershed of the Malwatu Oya which feeds the Nachaduwa tank and Kalueba Ela which feeds Huruluwewa. There is a Buddhist Monastery in the eastern side of the mountain range of Ritigala. The caves are said to be extremely prehistoric with an archaeological importance.
After great effort, days of walking and hard work, we completed our initial task of mapping. There are elephants in this area and so walking through these forest adds an added element of danger. The next phase is planned for after the after the main rainy season; north-east monsoon (Maha) during October-January. I am excited to be involved in such a rare opportunity to be a part of the team who will conduct this work.