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.
Bees, Bees and Bees!!

by Jonathan Gnanapragasam on 2/21/2017 1:15:12 AM


Jonathan Gnanapragasam

January 2017

Our second field visit however was quite eventful. We left as usual early in the morning and checked a few camera traps. One of the camera traps in the Norwood, Blairathol division had been stolen which was a worry as we had lost all the data on that trap. On our way to check the camera traps in the Norwood, Upper division both Andrew and I were ambushed by a swarm of bees which chased us all the way downhill to the jeep. The bees were relentless. We jumped into our jeep and I was in no capacity to drive so Andrew and I switched seats inside without opening the jeep doors and Andrew rushed me to the Dickoya hospital where we were both treated for bee stings. While in the jeep we were both killing bees still inside which made the drive to the hospital even more unpleasant. Though both of us had been stung I had experienced the brunt of the attack. I was in very bad shape with stings all over my face, head and body. It took 10 people in total to remove all the stings. Luckily I had long hair so the bees had got stuck in it, but my hair had to be cut rather crudely to get all the bees and the stings out. A night at the hospital was all that was required and now I’m back to normal apart from a swollen face and the loss of most of my hair. According to Andrew I look like a prized fighter who has been defeated in his last fight. The doctors at the hospital told me that I am lucky to be alive.   I am thankful to God for a speedy recovery, for a quick response from the hospital staff and for an awesome boss who acted quickly and saved my life.

As a conservationist this is part of working in the field. I am in a way glad this happened because this was a life experience and it taught me that bees are far deadlier than leopards. It also shows that this is a regular occurrence in the hill country with tea pluckers in constant danger of bee and wasp attacks. Andrew says ‘’ the bees are starting their campaign to world domination’’. Andrew has collected a jar of the dead bees from our jeep as a memory of our attack. We were also very lucky the estate manager was able to retrieve our stolen camera so all’s well that ends well. 

Beginnings…

by Jonathan Gnanapragasam on 2/21/2017 1:13:41 AM


Jonathan Gnanapragasam

January 2017

After the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science (Wildlife and Conservation Biology) from Deakin University, Melbourne I was offered the job of Research Assistant at WWCT with whom I had interned in 2016. This was my first full time job and it suited me very well because it allowed me to apply everything I had learnt during my degree and since the job exposed me to working in the field I was very happy to take on this role.

My first week at work involved mapping sites for camera traps in estates in Dickoya and familiarising myself with the locations where I would be working. I also compiled a list of estates in the Bogawantalawa area where WWCT were hoping to extend their study area to compare the difference in leopard abundance between the two regions, while also hoping to learn which estates in the Bogawantalawa area were utilised the most by Sri Lanka’s apex predator. While working at the office I also went through the WWCT website in order to update the details on it and also checked to see if all the links were functioning properly.  

Maya Situnayake, a Masters student studying in the Netherland’s had finished her field work analysing leopard scat to find out what prey species the leopards in the hill country preferred. I catalogued all her samples plus the samples which were yet to be analysed from Horton Plains, Wilpattu and Peak Wilderness area.

Both Dr. Andrew Kittle and I went up to the field on three occasions. The first and the third involved us checking and setting up camera traps, scouting locations for the camera traps, meeting with estate managers and me getting to know the place. It was wonderful to sit out on the porch of the Dunkeld Conservation Station Bungalow at night and see the hills illuminated by lights from lamps in houses, star gazing and the vehicle lights which would penetrate the landscape as they travelled on the winding roads. 

Vavunikulum Field Survey

by Jonathan Gnanapragasam on 2/21/2017 1:11:33 AM


Johnny Gnanapragasam -  10th – 12 th January 2016

The main aim of our visit to the Vavunikulam region was to obtain evidence of the presence of mainly leopards and also the presence of the Jungle Cat, Rusty Spotted Cat and the Fishing Cat.

Samith and I walked around 25km looking for signs such as scat, pugmarks and scrapings and of course sightings of leopards and the other three cats. Three of our trails which were off the main track were muddy and inundated with water. However we still managed to obtain pugmarks and scat in these trails. We were also very lucky to see two cattle which had fallen prey to a leopard a few days before we arrived. We also heard the villagers shouting and warning each other that a leopard was in the area in the middle of the night.

From what we observed leopards are indeed present as we obtained scat and pugmarks to prove it. Villagers keep their goats, cattle and buffalo in very flimsy pens which only prevent the livestock from escaping; this makes it very easy for leopards to kill and drag the animals far into the forest away from humans as the forest is only a few metres away from the pens.

We were also able to obtain pugmarks of mouse deer, wild boar, mongoose, dogs or jackals and civets.  We spotted monkeys and mongoose which seem to be very common in the region. We were able to photograph the scat of deer and of leopards too which we collected for further analysis.

Forests in the region are being cut illegally. There has been mass deforestation in the area due to resettlement and timber for the use of firewood. This is now creating a conflict between leopards and humans and immediate intervention and awareness programs need to be carried out before this escalates any further.

From conversing with the villages, my take was that they have no issues living with leopards and are quite happy to have the cats around as long as they do not harm the livestock as this is their main source of income. 

Interning with WWCT

by Jonathan Gnanapragasam on 2/21/2017 1:10:58 AM


Johnny Gnanapragasam -  Dec, Jan 2015-2016

I chose to do my practical training component University internship from Deakin University, Australia at WWCT.  Wanting to learn hands on what research and conservation entails I felt that some time spent with WWCT would give me an insight into this.  I was thankful to be accepted and given the opportunity.

Many hours were spent cataloguing camera images from a closed population survey conducted in Wilpattu National Park prior to my arrival.  I got to see many interesting species up close and learn about identifying them and also many fabulous images of leopards.  I was also given a short training in scat analysis for diet composition analysis. Prior to going into the field I was trained on identification of leopard signs and prey signs as well as on the use of GPS.

I was also happy to contribute towards translation work for an on-going awareness pamphlet on Living with Wildcats.   I was lucky to be sponsored by WWCT to attend the Wildcats of Asia Symposium that was held in Colombo and gladly kept notes on the proceedings for the final report.

It has been a great learning experience for me and I am thankful to WWCT for the guidance and interest shown throughout.

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