Camera Traps Disclose High Density of Leopard in Wilpattu National Park

Over the last decade, camera traps and the candid images and videos that they produce have been featured in countless documentaries, are widely shared on social media and have been the focus of conservation efforts in establishing populations of animals in the wild. A long term project in camera trapping in Sri Lanka began in Wilpattu National Park (WNP) in 2018, with the aim of estimating population density, structure and threats of carnivores within the boundaries of the park, namely Leopard.

The fascinating project was carried out by For the Leopard Trust (FLT) in collaboration with Environmental Foundation LTD and the Department of Wildlife Conservation, with logistics and sponsorship support from Kulu Safaris. Picking up from our last update, we catch up with Lead Researcher Dinal Samarasinghe for the latest findings of the survey on Sri Lankan Leopard (panthera pardus kotiya).

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Key Findings

The findings have been both positive, and worrying. The data now carries evidence to prove what conservationists have long suspected about a number of areas pertaining to Wilpattu National Park, including the following:

  • Wilpattu National Park is home to a very healthy Leopard population, having one of the highest densities in the world.
  • Considering the numbers, along with the vast expanse of the park, and its large protected area network, the population of leopards in WNP is an important source population, which requires protection.
  • Rarely seen mammals including fishing cat, jungle cat, rusty spotted cat, golden palm civet, barking deer and Pangolin have also been caught on camera.
  • Given the fact that two villages have established settlements alongside the boundaries of the park, along with the construction of a new church, Wilpattu National Park is seeing traffic in the way of local villagers cutting across sections of the Park, as part of their daily routine in getting about.
  • The study highlights the importance of protecting the park boundary from external threats and ensuring the protection of adjoining protected area (PA).
  • Data gathered from the camera traps present a good representation of all the wildlife found inside the park
  • Most animals have been observed to be more active at night.

Despite the healthy population of leopard found within the park, without adequate support from the Government in cracking down on the encroachment of the park by civilian structures as well as ensuring leopards (which are classified as Endangered by the IUCN) are protected against poaching, these numbers will soon start to drop.

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The road ahead

The next stage of the project will commence in 2021 at Yala National Park and Maduro Oya. Currently no camera traps are in place, save for a few placed in around the Kulu Safari’s campsite that is still collecting data. He says, “The wildlife department are doing the best they can with the limited resources available to them to protect wildlife in the park. It is important that all stakeholders engaged in the tourism industry: jeep drivers, local and international tourists, tour operators etc., adhere to the rules and act responsibly while carrying out their operations in the periphery of WNP and when viewing wildlife in the park.”

About For the Leopard Trust

For the Leopard Trust is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to conserve the Sri Lankan leopard and other small cats in Sri Lanka. The study utilizing camera traps, was conducted by key local and international experts, including Dr. Eric Wikramanayake, Jehan Kumara, Rukshan Jayewardene, Alexander Braczkowski and Dinal Samarasinghe.

 

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