Dinal Samarasinghe on leopards of Wilpattu National Park
The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) will host their monthly lecture, titled “The Leopards of Wilpattu National Park”, on Thursday, 19 November 2020 at 6 p.m. via Zoom and Facebook live. This time featuring Dinal Samarasinghe, the lecture will bring to you insights into an ongoing research project Dinal has been a part of, which is conducted to determine the population density of the island’s only big cat, starting off in the protected area of Wilpattu National Park.
Over the last 10 years, Dinal has conducted research on amphibians and on the taxonomy of the water monitor complex in South Asia. Currently, his research is focused on human-wildlife conflict (HWC) mitigation and carnivore/apex predator population ecology: Saltwater Crocodile and the Sri Lankan Leopard. He is a member of the amphibian, water monitor, and crocodile specialist groups of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC).
The Sri Lankan leopard is one of eight subspecies of leopards in the world and is endemic to the island. This large felid is the island’s only apex predator and is categorised as an endangered subspecies by the IUCN, primarily due to losing 37% of its native habitat.
Dinal shared that the lecture will provide key insights into the population of leopards in Wilpattu National Park based on a study conducted in 2018, and also discuss future conservation implications. In addition, it will also provide a synopsis about the leopard, its global status, biology, and importance in the ecosystem.
He shared that the primary objective of carrying out this particular research was to determine the population density and that they chose a protected area to begin – Wilpattu National Park in particular due to the number of threats faced by those species encapsulated within the park, which will also be raised during the lecture.
He added that in figuring out this data, while they are then able to analyse and propose management recommendations to the authorities, you are able to learn the status of the animal within the island. These are ongoing projects as they simply cannot be one-time surveys.
Moreover, Dinal said that especially when it comes to leopards, you must conduct these annually so that conservation efforts and interventions can move forward efficiently. He said that in studying the animal in a protected area, you get to create a clear picture about its status and nature here on the island.
Summarising a few such issues currently faced in and around the park, and has been the main concern of park wardens, he said that one main concern is the road that has been built right across the road marking Puttalam and Mannar, which is actually illegal, for which a court case is ongoing regarding its legitimacy. He also shared that there are two illegal settlements on the border of the national park and that there is encroachment happening along the park’s borders.
Dinal did, however, state that park wardens at Wilpattu National Park have gone to great lengths to curb the current issue of poaching, adding that people often attempt to poach deer in these demarcated areas and in doing, so they do not only endanger the deer, but all the other species that occupy the space, including the Sri Lankan leopard, with whom if the poachers are to cross paths they would most definitely kill the animal.
He said that this is a rising concern, one that many may not consider as an issue, adding that the demand for bushmeat is something that keeps this industry alive.
“To this day, whenever locals travel outside of Colombo and travel towards these protected areas, one thing that they request from restaurants and hotels is bushmeat, and this demand keeps the trade alive,” he said.
If there is a request that they can make from the people who are travelling within the island, it is an easy-enough thing to do to curb the demand, which is to simply stop asking for bushmeat.
Sign up for the monthly lecture online at https://forms.gle/NnFQEEod7hE14kvh9.