The Dunumadalawa forest reserve, located in the hill capital of Kandy, is also popularly known as Wakarawatte after its original estate name -Walker’s estate. Situated on the edge of the Hantane range just south of the main town this long abandoned tea, coffee and cocoa estate encompasses the watershed for Kandy’s main reservoir. Now a looming mixed forest replete with mature jak trees, wild tea trees and extensive swaths of ironwood, it is home to several troops of toque macaque monkeys, barking deer, wild boar sounders, porcupines, civet cats, golden palm cats, fishing cats and leopards. Since October 2003 we have been investigating this site in an effort to better understand its leopard population. Whether the leopards rumoured to exist in the forest indeed did so and whether they are resident or merely occasional visitors were two of the primary questions of interest.
At roughly 5 km2, the forest reserve is small and the leopards typically elusive. Using camera trap technology and long hours of tracking we have identified one resident female leopard with cub and one male. Discovering that the female was indeed a resident and not merely an infrequent visitor to the forest was significant as it underlines the importance of this reserve. That this is a resident population is further substantiated by the fact that over the past four years 3 leopards have been killed in the vicinity.
We are uncertain at this point about the status of the male but suspect based on typical leopard population structure that he will be including this reserve in a larger home range area extending beyond Dunumadalawa. This leads to some very interesting questions regarding the linkages between this small forest patch and others. There are no continuous bands of forest leading from Dunumadalawa and our investigations indicate that it is the expansive tea estate land and pinus strip forests to the south that are acting as a corridor for the leopards. Utilizing the tea-covered hillsides and pine-covered ridges the leopards appear able to effectively move from one secure forest patch to another. The elusive nature of the species allows this without causing undue distress within the tea estates themselves.