Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve -2015
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.
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.
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.
cat photo captured repeatedly at Ritigala SNR, 2015.
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.
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.