The overarching goal of The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) is to help ensure the long-term integrity of Sri Lanka’s natural ecosystems. Ecosystems are more robust and resilient to perturbation, and therefore function more effectively, when biological diversity is high and trophic systems are intact.
WWCT’s key objectives are twofold and heavily inter-twined: to ensure the long-term viability of Sri Lanka’s leopard population and by doing so, to utilize the leopard as an ecological umbrella ensuring the concurrent preservation of wider biodiversity.
The leopard in Sri Lanka is an attractive umbrella species because A) it is an apex predator which relies on a substantial prey base, and B) it is wide-ranging and occurs across all of Sri Lanka’s climatic/habitat zones. Maintaining a viable leopard population essentially means the continued survival of a minimum of 500 mature individual leopards within a single, connected population. Currently, Sri Lanka’s leopard population is estimated at 750 – 1250 mature individuals and the degree of connectivity is not well understood.
Previous research conducted by WWCT shows that leopard habitat suitability is improved by increasing the level of protection of the landscape and ensuring sizeable tracts of natural forest with a dense network of connected forest patches to buffer core habitat. Sri Lanka has a reasonable protected area network with 26.5% of the island under some form of protection and > 9% of the island under the highest level of protection (National Parks/Strict Natural Reserves), however this network is unbalanced with the majority found in the lowland dry zone and very little in either the lowland wet-zone or Central Highlands. Furthermore, this network is lacking in adequate connections with areas of unprotected mixed wilderness often falling between protected areas.
The key outcome of this project is the identification of important forest and mixed-use connections and their on the ground protection – and potentially restoration – to ensure that they remain viable corridors for leopard and wildlife movement.