A Standardized Population Survey of the Sri Lankan Leopard in Wilpattu National Park
Dinal J. S. Samarasinghe; Dr. Eric Wikramanayake; Dr. Alexander Braczkowski
Wilpattu National Park
Environmental Foundation Ltd; For the Leopard Trust; Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC)
LOLC; The Rufford Foundation; Siemetakowski Foundation; International Animal Rescue; and Beyond; Kulu Safari
Significance of the project
The Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is one of eight unique sub-species and the second remaining island leopard in the world. The conservation of leopards is significant given that the country currently holds a unique leopard subspecies that is increasingly limited to a relatively small area of occurrence. It is also the largest land carnivore and apex-predator on the island. Due to the spatial confinement of living on an island, leopards may be under threat from isolation, habitat fragmentation and conflict events with livestock farmers that present threats to the survival of the leopard in Sri Lanka. Increasingly, leopards are being killed as they get into conflict situations or become victims of snares set for wild boar. Thus, the protected areas represent critically important refugia to support and safeguard core populations to ensure Sri Lanka’s apex carnivores survival. Sri Lanka’s parks have now also become internationally renowned as one of the best places in the world to observe leopards. Thus, the leopard is an important wildlife species in developing Sri Lanka’s wildlife and nature-based tourism strategy. If this species becomes extirpated, there will be significant economic consequences to the tourism industry. The population in Wilpattu is especially important since this iconic park itself represents one of the best opportunities to protect a core population of one of Sri Lanka’s iconic flagship species.
The project employed camera traps and robust scientific methods to assess leopard density, and population structure in the Wilpattu National Park (WNP). The project covered an extent of about 750 km2 deploying 40 + paired camera stations over the project area.
- Estimate the population density and abundance of the Sri Lankan leopard in WNP.
- Assess population structure, movements and distribution in WNP.
- Measure faunal diversity across the range of habitat in WNP
- Develop a standardized long-term population monitoring protocol for the Sri Lankan Leopard in Sri Lanka.
The whole exercise summed up to a total of 120 days, from May to September 2018.
The field effort covered a large area, and many individual leopards, including cubs were detected. On a negative front, a total of eight camera traps were lost due to activities carried out by poachers and honey collectors and the lost camera traps were not recovered. A public awareness campaign was carried out regarding the project following the loss of cameras with the hope of recovering the lost cameras and protecting the remaining cameras in the park. This was done by distributing pamphlets, putting up public notices in towns and public areas, and using a public mobile announcing unit (loudspeaker fixed on a tuk-tuk). Four villages: Eluvankulam, Ralmaduwa, Serakkuliya and Karativu, were covered during the awareness campaign to make people aware of the project and its purpose and the use of cameras within the park. Requests were made to hand over any of the stolen cameras to the nearest religious establishment. This effort helped stop further theft of cameras in the park.