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.
Biodiversity of forest fragments in the central highlands: A comparison between an isolated forest fragment (Dunumadallawa) and one in close proximity to a large protected area (Duckwari)

by Thushani Seneviratne on 2/21/2017 9:24:19 PM


As a science graduate from the Faculty of Applied Sciences, Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka I majored in biodiversity conservation. I had an undying love for wildlife since I was little and it was revived with the subjects like biodiversity conservation, Protected Area management, etc which I studied in the university. Availability of accurate scientific data on wildlife of Sri Lanka can be considered as a luxury. So I always wanted to do my final year research in relation to biodiversity and its conservation. And through our senior students who have been previously worked as research students and now involved as full time research assistants I came to know about the WWCT. And after meeting the main trustees of WWCT, Mr. Andrew Kittle and Mrs. Anjali Watson, with their helpful guidance my final year research began in October 2011. It was basically about comparing biodiversity between Duckwari forest fragment which is in close proximity to Kunckles ‘Conservation Forest and Dunumadallawa reserve. I have surveyed floral and faunal biodiversity within Duckwari forest fragment and compared it with the already taken data from the Dunumadallawa reserve which borders highly populated Kandy city. Plants, birds, butterflies, amphibians and mammals were surveyed during the study. Apart from learning how to survive in the field with limited resources and still getting the needed data accurately, I have learned how to overcome the difficulties arising while doing actual field work. I’ve seen endemic and rare species closely which made all the problems we faced during the study disappear into the thin air. I still remember the last day of the field work. I was overwhelmed by not only by joy but also by sorrow since I had to leave the field and return back to the urban locality. Data gained from the research has put a new light on the importance of remaining forest patches which harbors important native and endemic fauna and flora of the country and these forest patches are typically surrounded by non forest matrix. Apart from that these kinds of researches are also significant because of the conversion of the remnant forest patches into privately managed reserves is in vogue within the island at present. So at the end of the day I felt relived since I did something for the conservation of biodiversity of Sri Lanka and I feel proud that data taken by myself is also included to paint the complete picture of biodiversity conservation of the island. And want to take this opportunity to thank WWCT for giving me this remarkable chance and to its trustees, researches and volunteers for their loving support and guidance. And I would like to specially thank Darshika and family for their love and support given me during the research period. 

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.

The Leopard Project meets the tea estates

by Gyanada Acharya on 2/21/2017 1:07:55 AM


 Gyanada Acharya, October 5, 2015

 The WWCT and its Leopard Project was introduced to me while I was searching for potential research topics for my MSc dissertation (University of Edinburgh).  My interest lies in big cat conservation, so I jumped at the opportunity as soon as it presented itself, and made my way to Sri Lanka to work with the trust.

For the past several weeks I have been going through WWCT’s database to look into leopard incidents across the country.  I have decided to focus my efforts on the Central province where most of the incidents seem to be occurring.  Incidents mainly include leopard injury and death, human injury, and cattle or dog depredation in and around tea estates.  Nimalka Sanjeewani (WWCT staff) and I have visited several of the tea estates that are reporting such incidents.  We have interviewed/spoken to estate workers to understand their views on leopard activities.  In addition to this, we have also collected data on other animal species that are spotted in and around the estates, as well as made observations on the land matrix within the estates.  Many of the estates have expanses of scrub and tree lines that connect to the forest.  It is usually along the estate-forest border where sightings are reported; and within tea plantations close to scrub/tree lines where workers have come across a leopard at a dog or deer kill.

A number of the respondents indicated that many estate workers that have sighted a leopard are now fearful of going to work even though human attacks are rare.  This is where awareness programs can play a major role in reducing unfounded fears and discouraging retaliatory measures against the leopard.  WWCT has been successfully conducting awareness programs in this regard, and further information regarding these can be found on this website and in the annual reports.

Field Diary – Joining WWCT and The Leopard Project

by Emad Sangani on 2/21/2017 1:03:07 AM


Emad Sangani –  July 2015

I heard about WWCT and The Leopard Project through a friend, who had already enrolled himself with them and was all set to start work on the Wilpattu study site from August. I immediately googled about the WWCT and their Leopard Project and managed to find Ms. Anjali Watson ‘s  contact details. To be honest it was quite a task to get in touch with her at the time, as she was in the field, but finally she had the time to read up on my resume and call me up for an interview. 

 On meeting Ms. Anjali she explained to me what and how exactly they work, and how we would contribute as volunteers and what our role would be. All fine and dusted and we were to begin work coming August, which was the 2nd round of Camera Trapping in Wilpattu.

 So I started off in August when I joined Ms. Anjali and Dr. Andrew Kittle for my first time in the field when they were just beginning the second round of camera trapping. We were inside the park for 3 days, first taking off the cameras from the previous round, then setting them up again for the second.

 At first I thought setting up camera traps would be an easy task and wouldn't really require much effort. When you actually do start setting up one though, is when you realize it's a completely different process. Setting a camera involves first finding the best location to set it up, so as to get the best chance of ‘catching’ a leopard, while also making sure it's not too visible to the public. Then there's a process of mimicking the leopard walk and checking if everything is alright.

That aside over the course of the three months that I was part of the WWCT team and the project, I learnt and experienced an immense amount of things, things I might  have never experienced if not for this project.

Setting up camera traps being one skill, also other things like measuring and analyzing pug marks, collecting scat, analyzing scrapes and scent marks ( I actually touched a part of the soil to smell the urine, and that is one strong scent I'll never forget !)

 I was also able to gather a lot of information about how things work in the field, as well as what happens post data collection. I was able to learn from Dr. Andrew how data is analyzed, presented and published and even the difficulties and hardships when it comes to this kind of work.

Long story short, being part of The Leopard Project and the WWCT has been an amazing experience so far, and I hope to continue working with them on future projects.

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. 

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. 

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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