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.
Becoming a Panther

by Nimalka Sanjeewani on 3/31/2017 12:46:34 AM

My journey to becoming a Panther Diploma holder………
March 2017.
It was a great surprise to hear I was selected as one of the panthers (what they call the newcomers of the WildCru Diploma program) for the WildCRU 2017 International Wildlife conservation practices Diploma program. I was socked with that news and I’m so happy to engage in this programme because it is a great opportunity for me as a young researcher.
I was selected as a WWCT team member and put forward by Dr. Andrew and Ms Anjali for this programme to be a part of the WildCRU diploma programme.  In total nine people were selected from different countries and different cultures.
I am very happy to say that it is due to the support given by Ms. Anjali and Dr. Andrew (who are the co-principle researches of the WWCT) and their encouragement to me to engage in this diploma as a part of WWCT that allowed me this opportunity and they continue to give me a big support up to date.
Wildlife Conservation Research Unit is a part of the Oxford University Zoology department. WWCT is now collaborating with WildCRU and this is why I got this opportunity.
They already direct us through a few different modules under research methodology and data analysis. Different software and methodologies, workshops and field works are mixed in with different personal experiences to teach us about biodiversity Conservation of the planet.
Each diploma member is named after an animal and I was given the snow leopard as my animal. I just began my diploma and I know this is a great experience for me to enhance my knowledge on the conservation path and conserve biodiversity.
Our Recce trip to Thangappuwa/Knuckles forest reserve - Aug 2012

by Nimalka Sanjeewani on 2/21/2017 1:00:30 AM

In Friday, August 3rd 2012 evening we started our recce into the ThangappuwaForest reserve. Our mission was to do a preliminary visit prior to launching surveys of this connector forest. It connects the Duckwari forest patches with the adjacent Knuckles reserve.  WWCT is interested in doing a comparative between the patch forests of Duckwari and the larger intact forest of Thankgappuwa/Knuckles to assess variations in biodiversity.

Our route was through Bandarawela,  Nuwara eliya, Kandy and Teldeniya. We left around 6 pm from Bandarawela and reached Hunnasgiriya around 3.30am the next day. We rested for 3 hours in the area and re started our journey.

Around 6am we arrived at the house where we have previously staying on the Duckwari estate. At 7am we started up towards Loolwatta where there is a short cut road to Corbert’s Gap.  This is a 1km trail through the forest,  used by surrounding  villagers  for their day to day activities. We met some villagers in the area and they were very helpful and seemed to have a good knowledge base about the surrounding forest.

We reached the Thangappuwa Knuckles road around 9 am, and we rested for 15 minutes before walking down the once well used jeep track to Thangappuwa.  It was now disused and much eroded.

As we walked along it was clear that there was much habitat changes in this area; at first it was forest with Cardamom plantation undergrowth. There were some privet lands as well.   Following this there is a small grass patch and then dense forest. We were lucky to see early on special moth species, (at first we misidentified it as a butterfly from the Lycinidae).  On reaching the Gap itself we saw a clear canopy variation with a multi colour canopy.  Beyond this was a huge bamboo forest where we saw a Ceylon Forester butterfly – a very rare endemic butterfly in Sri Lanka.

We rested near a bridge where a “Gambara Deviyan” worshiping place was. Many villagers in this area have gods that they worship and many shrines can be found in the forest.  Heavy rain curtailed our recce at this point and so we had to return to Duckwari via the main road- a 4-5 km hike

The following morning we determinedly set out to complete our initial task.  We walked quickly along the earlier route we had taken and on passing the bridge at which we had stopped the previous day we came across a grassland which stretches for around 1km continuing into thangappuwa. We saw a very colourful Calotes liolepis lizard, an endemic to Sri Lanka. It was one of the more beautiful male lizard specimens that I have seen. We finally entered Thangappuwa forest itself.

It was a wonderful forest recce but we were alarmed to see that this once pristine area was now disturbed by anthropogenic activities not from the villagers themselves but instead from the rise of tourists coming to the area. There was the dreaded polythene and direct damage to fauna and flora of the area.

It will be interesting to see what effects this is causing on biodiversity of this area when we launch our surveys.  I for one would like to request all visitors to “please protect nature, and it will protect us”.  This Thangappuwa/ Knuckles forest is a fragile ecosystem that still protects our endemism- it is a special place

Duckwari and Horton Plains field diary – Nimalka December 2011

by Nimalka Sanjeewani on 2/21/2017 12:59:45 AM

We started two projects with students from the Sabaragamuwa University, my old alma mater, in October of  2011.  The research sites were our Dunumadalawa forest in Kandy, Duckwari Estate Forest Patches in Rangala near Knuckles and Horton Plains National park. One was on Biodiversity comparison between forests while the other was presence /absence surveys of the cat species in Duckwari Estate Forest Patch and Horton Plains National park. Both projects were really interesting and the and field experience was great.

Duckwari,  is a forest with cardamom understory and we were able to see the pluckers at work both plucking of tea leaves and cardamom. Most of them are Hindu of Indian origin and as such there are many Hindu temples and statutes/shrines scattered through the area, including at the forest entrances which they worship at before they start the day works.

Evening rains are the norm for this area and after the rain leaches appear very fast. In the day time surveys, it was not a big problem for us because we wear boots, but for the night time surveys (like the amphibian survey), boots were not sufficient to protect us from them and we had one, two or more leaches hanging on our legs.

One day at Duckwari, while setting a line transect for mammals and marking our GPS positions we met some cardamom pluckers who said “Don’t go that way as there is a forest”, so we replied that it was the forest we wanted and it was not a problem. We again started our work and moved on ahead. We finished the 1km transect at which point we were faced with a big rock and had nowhere to go. We became disoriented as we tried to find a way back out; there were some ant species that attack fast and as we stood near some trees we were attacked heavily.  For  45 minutes we walked through grassland and then Eucalyptus, it seemed endless.  After another another 30 minutes or so we thankfully found a road and finally reached the Lunugala- elagolla main road. It is amazing how when ‘lost’ in the forest one can imagine that just over an hour feels like a year.  This was an unforgettable day in my life I must.  However funnily enough when we had to repeat the whole walk when actually conducting the transect, it did not seem so bad as we knew where we were going!

In Horton Plains, We stayed and did 7 transects and 3 main index trails in Ohiya, Pattipola and Diagama. Dwarf Bamboo, Grasslands and forest are the main habitat type here with sponge soils; this did not make our job easy.  Some areas have marshlands and ground holes and Ulex bushes were harsh to walk through.

In the morning there was a mist and a cool environment, we couldn’t see anything more than 10m. But on a clear day we were able to be see more than 300m across the grasslands. The sudden change of climate within minutes is quite unbelievable.

We found leopard scats early on in our work which was very exciting. Mainly we saw sambur and black naped hares in the grass lands and purple faced leaf monkeys in the forest patches. The visible diversity of birds and butterflies were amazing. In the forest patches, there are no proper trails except some animal paths and their resting places can be seen. One of our transects ended in a crystal clear stream with a very steep slope with lots of roses, bamboos, and some beautiful orchids in flower – a spectacular site.

Inside the forests and grasslands it is very quiet and still with no humans to be seen, this is in stark contrast to the busy main trails of Horton plains (pattipola and ohiya). During the busy weekends we unfortunately saw huge road kills like lizards and Aspidura trachyprocta (madilla) and sometime some amphibians can be seen as a road kill even within the Horton plains national park. In December (December 2011) we saw a Black lip Lizard and three madilla species as road kill near the Far inn which is within the park. They were pregnant and close to laying eggs. It was disturbing to see this within what is supposed to be a protected area for wildlife. Some drivers and visitors are only concerned with large animals and they don’t consider the smaller ones.  We hope that we can increase the awareness about the whole biodiversity of species living in this special highland space, so that Horton Plains National Park can continue to be one of our valuable places.

The abundance of prey available for the leopard in Dunumadalawa forest reserve using a methods comparison

by Nimalka Sanjeewani on 2/21/2017 12:58:24 AM

I am now a science graduate from the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka. I needed to do a research project in my final semester. During this time period I heard of the The Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust through a senior student and heard of their leopard project research work being conducted within the Dunnumadalawa forest in Kandy. As a natural sciences student I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to join this research project if possible. I was at a presentation given by this senior student who had also done his final year project with WWCT and was now working for them as a junior research assistant. I approached him to help me get involved in WWCT’s Leopard Project

I met with the main Trustees of WWCT, Mr. Andrew and Mrs. Anjali, and discussed with them possible research topics for my final year project and what I could do for leopards. At that time the idea of doing a study on leopard prey abundance was suggested. I agreed gladly and we decided that I would do my project on the abundance of prey available for the leopard in Dunumadalawa forest reserve using a methods comparison.

I started my field work in August 2009 and continued until December 2009. I was very excited to be involved in this research and to have a first hand experience of working in a forest with leopard and other wildlife. 5 different methods to determine the abundance of prey (wildlife eaten by leopards) was used in different habitats. It was a strenuous task and involved a lot of walking in the forest, pinus area and grassland patches within the reserve. It was the rainy season in Kandy and heavy rains and some landslides occurred making the field work very demanding. But we continued with our data collection and it was a rewarding experience.

I recorded some bird and butterfly species as well but my main species of interest were mammals such as the toque macaque monkey, barking deer, mouse-deer, wild boar and porcupine. All were sighted; as well indirect signs like scat, carcass/kills etc were noted. Since all of my work was conducted by foot I was lucky to be able to see these animals at close quarters.

I feel that I was very lucky to work with WWCT and its Leopard Project. It was a very easy atmosphere in which to work as I always had the support and advice of the Trust. My final project was very well reviewed and refined by Mr. Andrew giving a lot of his ideas and valuable time. Via this research I was actively involved in practicing conservation rather than doing conservation by reading books. The support I received from the Trust both in academics and field support funds and logistics allowed for this. Thanks to Mr. Andrew and Ms. Anjali for giving me this opportunity. I would like to also thank Mr. Sandun Perera from the University of Sabaragamuwa who encouraged me to follow wildlife conservation. Thanks to Miss. Deepchandi Lekamge from University of Sabaragamuwa for encouraging me to take on this research project for my B.Sc thesis and also Mr.Chanaka Kumara, Junior research assistant for the WWCT Leopard Project- he was really supportive and a trusty person in the field. Finally I would like to thank God for showing my path in nature. 

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