As my specialized subject was conservation biology, I selected the WWCT as the place where my career should start. Even though I wasn’t a stranger to wildlife work having conducted other small field projects, I learned a whole new way of working in the field as well as in the lab.
A study of the food habits of the Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) in selected habitats in the upcountry wet zone of Sri Lanka was the research topic decided upon from some option given to me by WWCT. The objective was to study the feeding ecology of leopards in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and determine whether differences occur as a result of varied habitat types.
While achieving the above objective I also had to learn and document other details such as identification of leopard presence in the study areas, identifying prey species available to the leopard in each study area, identifying leopard scat and analyzing collected samples, identifying the prey species that are consumed by leopards and comparing the prey consumed to the prey available.
The rainy season in the central hills had started and I began my field work at WWCT’s study site in Dunumadalawa forest Kandy and Agarapathana field sites. Working within such completely different locations with different animal species and the leopard was a new experience for me and was a dream I had had from childhood.
One and half kilometers up above Kandy city, Dunumadalawa is connected to the Hantana range by a very narrow corridor. Dunumadalawa is a highly fragmented small forest patch and old tea estate. It was awesome to see and hear of leopard living in this area neighboring the city and to think that I would now be a part of the team studying them. It is here that I came to be food for the thousands of leeches that live here in the rainy season!
Agarapatana is different with a more intense species composition and climate conditions. One can see clearly here the tea lands and vegetable cultivation encroaching into the wilderness area. Also the Agarapatana site (elevation >1700m) is situated beside a large extent of forest ridge contiguous to Horton Plains and here I experienced true montane eco system conditions.
As I was studying the leopard and its prey in both areas, I was thought to use several methodologies that I had never before encountered as an undergraduate in any research project. As an example, camera trapping, a technique I new I was lucky to be learning and one which non of my colleagues would have a chance to experience. My most awesome moment was when we discovered we had camera trapped a new young male leopard in the Dunumadalawa forest. We used GPS in tracking the trails of leopard in the field. These technological tools aided me in achieving my objectives and I knew I was lucky to be learning them and be given access to them by WWCT.
By analyzing the collected leopard scat in the lab, we identified the prey base for leopards in both field sites and this became a major element in the research. Study of this illusive animal was pretty interesting when I looked at its signs - scrapes, pug marks, sprays, scratches and left carcasses- because it plays a magical role in the wild.
When I started my field work I came face to face with the human disturbances that wildlife and wilderness face at both sites. Yet, I was lucky enough to easily witness many species such as the toque macaque and purple-faced monkey, fishing cat, ruddy mongoose, sambur, barking deer, mouse-deer, wild boar, porcupine, black-naped hare, flying squirrel and pangolin and since all of my work was conducted by foot I was able to see these animals at close quarters.
I feel that I am very fortunate to work with WWCT in all these new areas and that I was actively involved in practicing conservation rather than doing conservation by reading books. I’m most thankful to Mr. Andrew and Mrs. Anjali for offering this opportunity to me and to Mr. Sandun Perera from University of Sabaragamuwa for encouraging me to take on this research project for my B.Sc thesis- it has lead me to new paths I only dreamed of!
by Chanaka Kumara
– Student, now Research Assistant @ WWCT