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.
Ritigala field Works

by Dilum Wijeynayake on 9/13/2015 9:54:46 AM

Following my internship last year with WWCT I decided to continue working with them after my graduation.  I was lucky to be joining the project when they were starting work in Ritigala which is located 43 km away from the ancient city of Anuradhapura. At a height of 766 m above the sea-level, it is the highest mountain in the northern Sri Lanka. We reached Ritigala from the turn-off from Habarana- Anuradhapura road at a distance of 12km from Habarana and another 5 km along a narrow still drivable road leads to the foot of the mountain. It stands out as a prominent erosion remnant. Ritigala is also accessible from the west via Ganewelpola or east from Galapitagala.

Ritigala SNR is managed by Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka.  After an initial meeting and discussions, we conducted an initial ground mapping of trail systems covering all the boundaries in Ritigala SNR with the help of the Wildlife guards at Ritigala. We identified some of the possible animal trails and GPS marked for the future camera trapping survey. During this time, we have identified that the vegetation shows a clear pattern of altitudinal zonation with the characteristics of dry-mixed evergreen forests, vegetation associated with rock outcrops and scrubs. The cloud cover and mist at the upper part of the mountain has resulted flora that is much more commonly found at the central hills; some of which are rare. Most of the Dry Zone species are restricted to lower elevations. The Reserve takes its name from ‘riti’ (Antiaris toxicaria), a tree that is characteristic to the middle slopes of the forest. Ritigala forest is the watershed of the Malwatu Oya which feeds the Nachaduwa tank and Kalueba Ela which feeds Huruluwewa. There is a Buddhist Monastery in the eastern side of the mountain range of Ritigala. The caves are said to be extremely prehistoric with an archaeological importance.

After great effort, days of walking and hard work, we completed our initial task of mapping.  There are elephants in this area and so walking through these forest adds an added element of danger.  The next phase is planned for after the after the main rainy season; north-east monsoon (Maha) during October-January.  I am excited to be involved in such a rare opportunity to be a part of the team who will conduct this work.

Identifying the viable leopard population in all habitat types in SriLanka

by Dilum Wijeynayake on 9/13/2015 9:49:07 AM

I am an undergraduate of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya where I specialized in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Agricultural Biology. As a part of our academic program we needed to enroll in an internship program at a recognized organization to obtain practical exposure related to classroom learning. As I always loved biodiversity, I wanted to join an international organization which conducts biodiversity research in Sri Lanka. I did a web search and my attention was caught by The Leopard Project of The Wilderness and Wild Life Conservation Trust; I decided that I wanted to do my internship with them. Then I contacted Anjali Watson, Managing Trustee of the organization and informed her about my interests of working with them. After initial interviews and meetings, they decided to take me on as an intern.   

I started my work in August, 2014 as an intern in The Leopard Project which is mainly focused on identifying the viable leopard population in all habitat types in SriLanka. During my internship time, I did a background research on the possibility of conducting genetic research on identification of leopards using non-invasive scat samples. My target was to investigate whether we can do it under the prevailing technology and technical knowledge in SriLanka. I studied similar research conducted in other countries and finally my effort was successful as we concluded it can be done locally.  Happy to say that now we are working on it with the experts in University of Peradeniya. Also, I initiated a mapping project which aimed at quantifying the level of forest isolation of forest reserves in SriLanka using 1: 50 000 maps to assess the agricultural land use levels surrounding the selected forest reserves. It was a hard task due to the lack of updated data and I had to do all the things manually.

I accompanied and assisted as needed for awareness programs on the importance of conservation of SriLankan Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) in Pelmadulla and Ginigathhena areas where there were human-leopard incidents at that time. I had the opportunity to discuss with the affected people and being made aware meant so much to them. What was most exciting for me was that I got the opportunity to do field work inside the Ritigala strict natural reserve with the Principal Investigator Andrew Kittle for conducting ground mapping of trail systems inside the forest and identifying possible locations of leopard use. It was a wonderful experience I ever had related to wild life which increased my interest on continuing my future career on biodiversity conservation in SriLanka. 

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