Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve -2015
Ritigala SNRs location in the dry zone, as well as its potential importance as a terminal forest bordering the vast agricultural lands south of Anuradhapura, made it a priority location for a leopard occupancy survey.
Following from initial site visits in September, October and November 2014 and due to the heavy rainfall that arrives in Ritigala SNR during the North-east monsoon, we commenced camera trapping operations in February 2015. Eight stations were identified for use in order to fully cover the SNR and cameras were set up in the first week of February 2015. Cameras were then checked on a regular basis by WWCT personnel, accompanied by armed DWC officers as elephants roam these forests and no jeep tracks are present, so walk-in checks were necessary. Most cameras were operational for ~9weeks which is suitable for closed population surveys for an area this size.
A total of 19 mammal species were detected including numerous potential leopard prey species. Photo-captured carnivore species included fishing cat, golden jackal and golden palm civet. The most abundant species as documented by remote camera traps was the toque macaque. All members of Order Artiodactyla were photo-captured with red muntjak more frequent during diurnal periods and white-spotted chevrotain more often observed nocturnally.
For information check out WWCT Annual Report 2015 and await more details post analysis.
The absence of leopard photo-captures during the survey though disappointing, does not necessarily mean that leopards are absent from Ritigala SNR as the lack of detected presence is not the same as absence. However the lack of photo evidence combined with an absence of any sign during this survey as well as during earlier baseline biodiversity surveys (DWC 2008) is not encouraging. Two factors indicate that leopard presence in Ritigala is still likely. First, it is clear that there is an adequate prey base in Ritigala SNR and secondly, leopards are remarkably adaptable and able to survive in habitats much more compromised than that found in Ritigala SNR. Ritigala SNR is home to 4 species of deer including spotted deer, which are within the range of preferred prey sizes for leopards and sambhur which leopards predominantly consume in other parts of the country and our previous work suggests that they prefer in Yala. Furthermore, in the Hantane area near Kandy, leopards reside in much smaller, more fragmented forests where prey is less available. Here they have been detected feeding on porcupine predominantly, another species widely available in Ritigala SNR. We hope that a repeated survey may pick up leopard presence in Ritigala SNR.
Perhaps most notable from the current survey is the relatively common and widespread documentation of the endemic golden palm civet, a species that has not previously been reported in Ritigala SNR.
For more information on this survey check out WWCT Annual Report 2015.