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 February 2019

The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust

130 Reid Avenue , Colombo  04, Sri Lanka

Tel: +94 11 2589468/+94 773 544 382


Executive Summary:

In 2018 the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) continued its focus on the unprotected tea estate landscapes near Peak Wilderness Sanctuary; the Gal Oya National Park project and felid and wider bio-diversity monitoring within our Patch Forest sites. We continue with our on-going education and awareness, including a much wider multi-media presence. A new initiative was also launched investigating the dairy industry’s potential impact on leopard populations.

In the Peak Wilderness area WWCT is now pushing to utilize the research results of past and current years to implement an improved conservation strategy in the region. A key component of this strategy is to establish increased protection for a profoundly important ridgeline and this year saw WWCT make good progress towards this end, securing vital funding and making promising headway with local and regional stakeholders. Mapping the area, was a priority in 2018 and WWCT researchers spent long hours hiking the landscape to verify digital images and using GPS to demarcate potential areas for future restoration. The long-term monitoring of the ridge’s leopard population is allowing improved insights into leopard ecology in this area. Key in this is the knowledge that leopards in this compromised system are long term residents (<2.5 years so far).

The past year also saw WWCT expand the Gal Oya National Park project with new sets of remote cameras allowing for additional sites to be monitored. We have monitored a high level of variation between sectors of the National Park with those interior, forested areas harbouring more leopards than the more exposed edges. Again, the protection status of the landscape appears to play a crucial role, with the National Park having a substantially higher relative abundance of leopards than the neighbouring Sanctuary. More monitoring sites are established with the aim to obtain in depth results of this leopard population for 2019.

WWCT’s Patch Forest project continued in 2018 with ongoing remote camera work at all 4 sites. Highlights include leopard presence being firmly documented in both Sigiriya locations; with the detection of the fourth and final Sri Lankan wild cat, the jungle cat, which confirms that patch forests can be home to all of the island’s felid diversity. Herpetofaunal surveys were conducted in all four sites with preliminary results already hinting at some exciting new, range data. The Dunkeld ridge near Peak Wilderness appears to have some rare frog species which have previously only been documented in very localized sub- or montane forests. We hope to confirm these identifications in 2019. Additional bird surveys were also conducted at all sites with new species being documented in 3 of the 4 locations.

Fostering human-leopard co-existence is an increasingly important component of WWCT’s mandate, given that Sri Lanka has a mostly rural human population density (~325/km²). This makes it imperative that age-old traditions of sharing space with other species are maintained and if possible, strengthened. One of WWCT’s role here is through sharing our information with and raising awareness amongst the communities that live with leopards and as such, awareness programs were again held in the tea estate communities near Peak Wilderness. Wider educational dissemination is also important, and in 2018, spurred on by the media publicity elicited by the reception of the prestigious Whitley Award, WWCT was able to utilize various media including digital, newsprint, magazine and television, to keep the topic of human-leopard co-existence in the forefront of the public’s collective mind. Inexorably tied to human-wildlife co-existence WWCT also started investigating how the burgeoning dairy industry in Sri Lanka might impact leopard populations across habitat types.

In summary, 2018 was another busy, challenging, but ultimately fruitful year for WWCT and we are cautiously optimistic about the road ahead. Specifically we are hoping that the next year will bring commitments regarding the protection status of the Peak ridge area, ultimately providing additional security for the long-term persistence of the leopard in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. We foresee the Gal Oya National Park story continuing with positive information about the status of the leopard population in that unique habitat system. As always, WWCT relies on its dedicated staff, eager students, motivated volunteers and the support of a variety of institutions and individuals, whom we thank enormously.

Annual Report 2018


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