Sri Lanka, part of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, hosts an incredible diversity of wildlife with over one in five species found nowhere else on the planet. As the world’s second largest exporter of tea with a population of 21 million, space is at a premium. Whilst competition for land grows, conservation increasingly depends on humanwildlife coexistence, but this is not straightforward when carnivores such as the Sri Lankan leopard are involved.
People and leopards extensively overlap, with the potential to result in losses to both parties as catchment forests disappear. Anjali, Co-Founder of the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust, aims to enable coexistence and reduce encounters by helping stakeholders to establish a protected corridor for leopards in the Central Highlands. Doing so will connect two reserves and deliver landscape-level solutions in this UNESCO World Heritage site.
The proposed corridor will also help maintain water catchment services and reduce human-wildlife incidents. Using models from Africa, Anjali will train locals as ‘leopard watchers’ to respond to village incursions and reduce incidental snaring of big cats. Participation in conservation will help tea estates meet the criteria for environmental certification schemes, with the price premium channelled to local people. The corridor will also increase tourism opportunities and potential for payments for ecosystem services, such as downstream water provision.
ANJALI’s project will:
- Secure protection of a 40km2 wildlife corridor and buffer zones adjacent to existing protected areas.
- Determine leopard abundance, population density and land use in this ridge area using GPS collars and remote cameras.
- Foster coexistence by conducting 50 outreach events in tea estate communities.
- Increase the network of community ‘leopard watchers’ to reduce leopard mortality from snares by 50%, and respond to incidents.
Why it matters:
- Sri Lanka is home to over 700 leopards.
- The area is the watershed for the Kelani River, providing drinking water for over 4m people.
- Leopards are a conservation umbrella: their protection benefits other species.
“Enabling human wildlife coexistence is key to long term conservation in shared landscapes.”
2021 Continuation Funding
£70,000 over two years
Expanding Leopard Forest Corridors through Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered a ‘super biodiversity hotspot’ due to their high level of biodiversity and endemic species, including the Sri Lankan leopard. However, this landscape is already highly fragmented due to extensive agricultural activity and rapid development. With a high human population and dwindling forests, species are becoming increasingly threatened as humans come in close contact with wildlife. Snaring of leopards in this area is on the rise, a trend which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Furthermore, a new government legislation seeks to open up over 700,000 ha of state forest for development, a move which will further fragment this important landscape.
Anjali and her team will build on their previous success in establishing the 18 km Peak Ridge Forest Corridor (PRFC) conservation area and apply the model to two new ridges to boost landscape connectivity and state protection. Using the Sri Lankan leopard as an umbrella species, Anjali will conduct research to determine the number of leopards using the ridges, tracking their movements to refine corridor boundaries in consultation with landowners. She will expand her existing habitat restoration work along the PRFC, reforesting up to 100 hectares with trees grown in forest plant nurseries. Lastly, she will use a combination of community awareness raising and snare removal patrols to eliminate snaring of leopards in the area.
Anjali’s project will considerably improve the protection and connectivity of remaining land available for wildlife in this ecologically important yet threatened highland habitat. Crucially, her work also conserves vital watershed forests which protect the landscape – and the many human communities within – from landslides, floods and drought.