In 2012 the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (WWCT) Leopard Project continued with a research focus in the Central Hills. This highly fragmented area, which encompasses few sizeable protected areas is little understood with regards to wildlife population parameters. This is the part of the country where human-leopard conflict is the most widespread due to a high population density combined with the aforementioned scarcity of well defined, protected wilderness habitat. The Leopard Project has been working hard to increase our ecological understanding of this fairly restricted, unique region, particularly with regards to the distribution, abundance and feeding ecology of the island’s top predator.
Furthering this aim, the Leopard Project conducted a 2 month closed population mark-recapture study in the Central Hill country’s main protected area, Horton Plains National Park (HPNP). Effective reconnaissance early on, combined with hard work and dedication by team members made this study successful. The results of the study indicate an estimated density of 13 leopards/100km², a relatively high density which is nevertheless in congruence with prey availability and long term anecdotal evidence.
Continuing with our determination to understand and quantify the importance of the numerous small forest patches that characterize the region, we conducted comparative studies on the relative use by leopards and fishing cats of HPNP and Duckwari Estate near Knuckles. Duckwari is an active tea estate which also incorporates some cardamom under-planting of its small forest patches within the plantation. We were interested to see if, like the Dunumadallawa forest reserve and the Agrapatana research station, this relatively small forest was being actively used by leopards. While we found no evidence of leopard presence during our study, we were able to estimate prey availability in the two sites which provides a potentially compelling reason for this observation. Fishing cat were using both sites.
Not restricting our work to felids, we also conducted a comparative biodiversity study between Duckwari Estate and the Dunumadallawa Forest Reserve near Kandy. Some very interesting results have arisen from this work, not least the fact that these two fairly close highland forest patches are comprised of a quite different suite of floral and faunal species.
The Yala “Spotting the spots” initiative is ongoing and continues to generate positive interest from park visitors. We are starting to accumulate a fairly sizeable database which we hope will prove a useful tool for long term monitoring of this important, and visible, National Park.
We are proud to work closely with Sri Lankan Universities and this association continued in 2012. Both Sabaragamuwa students successfully completing their final year theses and another student, from Sri Jayawardenepura, embarked on a very interesting and worthwhile project attempting to assign economic value to the leopard and its conservation. We expect to report on this work in 2013.
From a public awareness perspective the Leopard Project designed and printed two informative posters which were gifted to the Department of Wildlife Conservation and put out one publication internationally, with another accepted and awaiting publication locally.
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