Till Next Time...
by Maya Situnayake
on 4/20/2017 1:25:11 AM
January was very busy, with a rush to collect the last data
before leaving in a couple of short weeks back to the Netherlands. I know now
that time management and proper scheduling is vital for a researcher! It all
turned out alright in the end but it was an important lesson to learn. I also finally
saw my first leopard after months of field and lab work – this was when I
joined WWCT on a short monitoring trip to Wilpattu National Park. One was a wonderful
sighting of a female walking down a jeep trail – she was so undeterred by our
presence, it seemed that the leopards of the park were getting quite used to
visitors! I also had a quick introduction of how prey transects are performed.
It was a wonderful way to end five months with WWCT. Back in wintery Amsterdam
as I write this - I miss it all so much. Thank you WWCT for the wonderful
experience, and I hope to work together with you in the near future.
by Maya Situnayake
on 4/20/2017 1:23:25 AM
Another part of my thesis research was to study the diet of
the leopards in the central highlands, to determine whether or not this may have
an influence on the recent leopard incidents in the area. To do this, I performed
an analysis of leopard scats that were collected opportunistically during the
field work done in the area. I received a training by Saminda Fernando
(University of Colombo) and together with Jonathan Gnanapragasam (Research
Assistant, WWCT) and Chiharu Higuchi (intern, University of Melbourne), we
determined a part of the leopard diet of this area. It was the first time I had
done scat analysis and it was fascinating to identify the prey species from all
the hair, bones, teeth and claws that were left undigested. A part of this was
carried out in school labs, and the interest that the school children had in
our work was so encouraging. They wanted to carry out similar diet studies with
their own science projects. It was wonderful to see young children show such an
interest in wildlife research.
by Maya Situnayake
on 4/20/2017 1:22:34 AM
My interests lie in carnivore research for the purpose of
conservation, which is what the Leopard Project is essentially about. This is
why I wasted no time in asking WWCT if I could join the project for my MSc
thesis (Wageningen University). As a large proportion of human-leopard
incidents had recently occurred in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, WWCT decided
to focus on this area to better understand the reasons behind these recent
incidents. My research focus in this study was to try and ascertain what
landscape patterns exist amongst the locations where leopards were killed. Being
such a challenging terrain, the WWCT pickup was no stranger to taking a beating
on the tea roads, but occasionally needed to see the mechanics. This is where I
learned a lot more about the structure of a vehicle in the first month than I
had ever known before! Navigating was tricky, but together with Emad Sangani
and Riahn Peiris this was another skill that improved the more I worked. I
thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the field work, and coming back to Dunkeld
Research Station after a long day of tea roads and camera trapping always felt
like coming home.
Becoming a Panther
by Nimalka Sanjeewani
on 3/31/2017 12:46:34 AM
My journey to becoming a Panther
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.
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
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.
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.
by Jonathan Gnanapragasam
on 2/21/2017 1:13:41 AM
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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