Established in 2004 the
WWCT is a Sri Lankan registered Trust and has worked under the Department of
Wildlife Conservation Sri Lanka (DWC) permit for the past 17years. The WWCT was preceded by The Leopard Project which was started in 2000 and now incorporated
within WWCT. We have also when necessary
worked under Forest Department permit.
Our founding trustees and primary researchers are husband and wife
zoologist and ecologist Dr. Andrew Kittle and Anjali Watson who apart from
researching the leopard have also worked on other species (primates, sloths,
martens, wolves, lions, hyenas) across habitats (Panama canal island forests,
Costa Rica, Canadian boreal forest, Serengeti Tanzania).
To date WWCT has conducted
ecological research on the leopard in multiple locations across the island-
Yala National Park (NP) (2000- 2002; 2009-11), Wilpattu NP (2014-2015), Horton
Plains NP (2012), Ritigala SNR (2014-2015), Peak Wilderness Sanctuary and adjoining areas (2016-ongoing) and patch forests in Kandy and
Agrapatana (2003 – 2011), as well as survey work in the Wanni jungles
(2010-2011). We maintain an island-wide distribution map, which together with
site-specific abundance estimates and habitat selection data we utilize to
determine the status of the Sri Lankan leopard for the IUCN’s Red List. This
data is what has identified the Sri Lankan leopard as globally Endangered. We have established leopard presence and
estimated density and abundance for the above-mentioned protected and
unprotected areas as well as determined an island-wide population estimate for
the whole of Sri Lanka. Leopard diet, habitat use and movement have been and
continue to be researched, as does prey abundance. Our leopard work in the Central
Hills of Sri Lanka, now a World Heritage Site, has firmly established the
important role leopards play in these ridge wilderness areas in and around tea
estate lands, and has highlighted the importance of small, seemingly isolated
forest patches to leopard movement and range use.
WWCT also maintains a data
base of leopard mortality and human-leopard incidents throughout the country
and have identified hotspots for future conflict that need to be
addressed. Our work also catalogues the
presence and distribution of Sri Lanka’s other wildcats (fishing cat, jungle
cat, rusty spotted cat) and we contribute to the IUCN’s Red List assessments
for them. Other biodiversity, especially
mammal diversity is also something that we are able to document throughout our
study sites across the country.
From a direct conservation
perspective WWCT is working together with DWC to reduce and prevent
human-leopard incidents and leopard mortality especially in the Central
Hills. We conduct numerous community and
school awareness programmes annually, in conjunction with DWC and other
relevant organisations, often at the specific request of the community. We train many interested parties to ensure
leopard conservation occurs in areas throughout the country.
We serve as external
scientific Supervisors and provide facility for University students to conduct
their research projects under the purview of WWCT’s on-going work; to date we
have had students from several local Universities including Sabaragamuwa, Colombo, Peradeniya, Sri Jayewardenepura and Jaffna University (Vavuniya campus). We have
also had/have students from international universities (Edinburgh in UK, Deakin
in Australia and Wageningen in Netherlands) working with us. Many volunteers also form part of the WWCT
team adding a dynamic make up to it.
A Research and Conservation station, which will help this work and add greatly to the overall profile of research and conservation in Sri Lanka has been set up by WWCT and interested partners.
WWCT’s continued long term
research on the leopard and its habitat will provide vital information which,
if used correctly, will enable Sri Lanka to continue to be a high biodiversity