The Leopard Project meets the tea estates
The WWCT and its Leopard Project was introduced to me while I was searching for potential research topics for my MSc dissertation (University of Edinburgh). My interest lies in big cat conservation, so I jumped at the opportunity as soon as it presented itself, and made my way to Sri Lanka to work with the trust.
For the past several weeks I have been going through WWCT’s database to look into leopard incidents across the country. I have decided to focus my efforts on the Central province where most of the incidents seem to be occurring. Incidents mainly include leopard injury and death, human injury, and cattle or dog depredation in and around tea estates. Nimalka Sanjeewani (WWCT staff) and I have visited several of the tea estates that are reporting such incidents. We have interviewed/spoken to estate workers to understand their views on leopard activities. In addition to this, we have also collected data on other animal species that are spotted in and around the estates, as well as made observations on the land matrix within the estates. Many of the estates have expanses of scrub and tree lines that connect to the forest. It is usually along the estate-forest border where sightings are reported; and within tea plantations close to scrub/tree lines where workers have come across a leopard at a dog or deer kill.
A number of the respondents indicated that many estate workers that have sighted a leopard are now fearful of going to work even though human attacks are rare. This is where awareness programs can play a major role in reducing unfounded fears and discouraging retaliatory measures against the leopard. WWCT has been successfully conducting awareness programs in this regard, and further information regarding these can be found on this website and in the annual reports.