To protect our Wildlife we must conserve our Wilderness and for our Wilderness to be meaningful our Wildlife must be able to roam free within it.
Surveys in post war areas – some thoughts

by Chanaka Kumara on 10/17/2011 3:45:26 AM

The Wanni is one of the areas which was most affected by the 30 years of civil war in Sri Lanka.As it was under LTTE control for almost all of the war era, access was not possible and so there is a deficit on information from here, both wildlife and other.

In august 2010 we received a message from the wildlife department officer in the area about some possible conflict situation with leopards and villages living in areas around Vavuniya; 2 reports of leopard killings by snares were reported. WWCT decided to follow this up and I went on the first recce to locate the actual places where the leopards had been trapped.

These Incidents had happened in July of 2010 in Kalmadu, Vavuniya and Mallavi. 2 Male leopards and 1 female leopard had been snared. Following this WWCT decided to launch a survey in selected areas where access was possible and de-mining had already occurred, to try and better understand the distribution of wildlife with a focus on leopards in and around these jungle/homestead areas of the Wanni jungles. And so the WWCT post war baseline survey work in the North Sri Lanka was begun.

I started work in these areas in the middle of the year (2010); the whole area was very dry because only the north- east monsoon brings the rain to the region. The bushes, trees and brownish under grasses of the jungle areas were all eagerly awaiting the first drops of rain which come in the first half of October. The area seemed barren and dry; inhospitable to a stranger like me coming into the area for the first time.

It was hard to get used to these barren conditions which also clearly highlighted the passing of war with many bombed out and cleared areas, abandoned. The villagers however who had spent most of their lives here amidst the years of fighting and who had co- existed with the difficult environment seemed still much at home. During on of our excursions we went to Mallavi through a by- road, diverted from Omanthai. It was thick jungle but time to time we came across small villages nestled within.

I have continued surveys and have been able to cover more areas of the wanni during the course of the last two years (2010- 2011). We have done some social surveys in Madhu road sanctuary, Madhu road, Palamottai, Palampitty, Vavunikulam, Giant’s tank, Mankulam, Mallavi and now Padawiya. All of these areas are in the dry zone eco system and have been ravaged by war in varying degrees. It is still amazing however to see how resilient the villagers are, moving back into their lands from which they were both forcefully and circumstantially evicted/displaced. Life goes on for them and I feel lucky to be able to get a glimpse into these areas and lives that seem to live in harmony at most times within these jungle environs.

The forest present, the vegetation and irrigation systems are considerable and the wildlife richness seems better than some southern parts of the country. I think the reason for this is that the jungles were un- touched for the most part during the past 25 years of war and as such the great Wanni jungles of which we were only able to hear of and not visit till these recent two years are still so vibrant and present.

Unfortunately however I am now witnessing much clearing of forested lands via felling of large trees in several places like in the Madhu road sanctuary, Pandivirichchan village areas and by the forest side of the Giants tank area. We wonder why no one cares about this huge destruction and why no officials are taking action against this. All of these lands are under the Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation protection.

Are we to see these great northern jungles of our country disappear before we even know what they hold; are we the generation that are to loose out by having these forests cut down before we can even visit them.

In the mean time we are happy to see that people’s livelihoods are being restored with things slowly coming back to normal in the post war situation. But with the big development projects occurring with no regard for the natural environment, it is difficult to predict the future of these areas and of the continued harmonious human- wildlife co- existence of the Wanni.

Duckwari (Dec 2011)

by Chanaka Kumara on 1/1/2011 12:00:00 AM

The WWCT has now begun new research work in another forest patch named Duckwari. It’s within a tea estate at the top of a misty mountain; the forest patch reminds one of a lady wearing a hat. With the calls of serpent eagles and yellow eared bull bulls it reminds us that this is a typical montane forest reserve. Even though the forest reserve is surrounded by tea plantation there is a connection to the larger Knuckles range. The area has large tea plantations- Duckwari, Rangala and Lunugala plantations are the main plantation groups in the area. Fortunately there are some small forest patches left in the plantations.

As WWCT needed to better understand the extent of the forest we first started mapping of the forest boundaries within Duckwari. This was my job. On the first day we got to the forest we found a leopard scat just before a pond in between tea ad forest. It was a quite exciting to find this. When we looked inside the forest there was a cardamom plantation as the understory layer. A watcher says they have planted almost 80 hectares of cardamom under the natural forest. The forest area has steep rocky surfaces and wild shrubs with leaches! Having climbed nearly 60 degrees steep big rocks we were able to reach the summit of the Duckwari forest. Inside the forest there is a good trail system that can be walked easily. A tarred road goes through the forest and at the Rangala Side there are some old tea trees and old tea trails inside the forest. We assumed that the area had regenerated with time. When we reached to the Northern edge of the forest we could see a panoramic view of the Thangappuwa forest area which borders the Knuckles range. Observing the terrain one can easily see how a leopard could use this corridor and walk through and roam. There is sound evidence of the prey species for the leopard such as the signs of Barking deer, Black-napped hare, Giant squirrel, Giant flying squirrel and wild boar.

Even though the area remains isolated from the city there still have natural and manmade threats to the forest. Such as, Landslides (near Elabarada, Eluwagala, Poddalgoda village area), encroachment for human habitations and tree cutting. In the Duckwari area almost all persons are estate labourers and many of them are living in line houses with basic facilities. The two schools near Duckwari give free education for the children from the Duckwari and Rangala plantations. I feel these are the most suitable community groups that we must make aware on the dynamic ecosystems in their vicinity. Then at least we may still be able to conserve the rest of the montane patch forests closest to the Knuckles Reserve.

Food habits of the Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) in selected habitats in the upcountry wet zone of Sri Lanka

by Chanaka Kumara on 10/21/2010 5:32:46 PM

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

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