RUHUNA (YALA) NATIONAL PARK
Ruhuna (Yala) National Park, Block I is situated in the arid southeast zone of Sri Lanka and is presently the nations most popular wildlife park. At 140 km² it forms the southern extension of a much larger conglomeration of protected areas, the Yala Protected Area Complex extending to the north. This larger complex at 150,937 ha is divided into 5 Blocks including a Strict Natural Reserve and two sanctuaries – Nimalawa and Katagamuwa. The Block I landscape is dominated by thorny scrub jungle interspersed with open coastal plains and dotted with natural and artificial waterholes. This terrain allows for varied species composition and good visibility and thus it is easy to understand why the park is so popular. There are ~ 80 kms of unpaved jeep track which allow access to the entire Block and it is home to all of this island’s mega fauna – elephants, sambhar, buffalo, deer, bear and leopard - as well as a virtual paradise for bird life.
The extensive road network, sizable prey base, relative habituation and high visibility of the wildlife made this an attractive initial study site. The WWCT, preceded by The Leopard Project conducted an initial pilot project here from 200-2003. Some follow up work was done in 2009-2011 using data collated from regular visitors to the park in lieu of our absence there due to research commitments in other locations. This data confirmed that a similar pattern to our initial study, of range use and leopard demographics was being maintained within Block I.
UPDATE (2018-2020): WWCT has now launched basic monitoring within the buffer zone area of Block I to better understand how leopards are utilizing these areas which are now highly fragmented, with the hopes of providing a framework for better buffer zone protection. A secondary objective was to assess how cattle rearing in these areas are affecting leopards and how retaliatory killing of leopards may be affecting their population numbers. Understanding the actual issues here and if indeed this is an issue is of import when attempting any conservation actions. The following publications /reports give more insight into our ongoing findings.