My MSc project is centred around the endangered Sri Lankan leopard and understanding the different elements driving the increased conflict occurring between these leopards, farmers and the cattle they are coming to contact with. In order to effectively understand this multi-faceted issue, we need to understand both the ecological circumstances providing conditions for conflict to occur, as well as the complex social factors involved in guiding people's attitudes and behaviours.
This is novel, interdisciplinary research that will contribute knowledge to the local context in Sri Lanka as well as to global human-wildlife conflicts. I will conduct ecological surveys measuring leopard prey abundance, forest cover, cattle density and cattle husbandry techniques. Household surveys will be conducted to understand deeper social elements (attitudes, risk perceptions, behaviours, trade-offs) that may be leading to increased leopard deaths as either retaliatory or preventative action. Please consider donating to help with: purchasing trail cameras (for non-invasive leopard prey studies), vehicle costs and the hiring of local field assistants and translators for the household surveys and interviews!
Want to know more about the project?
Large carnivores are vital for ecosystem health, function and resilience. However, large carnivores are facing global declines due to habitat degradation/loss, prey depletion, poaching and human-wildlife conflict. Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of expanding dairy farms in an effort to improve livelihood and broaden development. Human livelihood and economic growth are vital, but we must ensure they allow for coexistence with species (such as leopards) that share the same landscapes as humans. As dairy farms expand through the country, the change in landscape and the introduction of new prey species (dairy cattle) will increase leopard-livestock conflict, with a likely increase in leopard killings.
Successful leopard conservation depends on evidence-based research at local scales. This project measures quantitative ecological variables as well as human attitudes, tolerance and behaviours. Evaluating these fundamental qualitative components of individuals with livestock-dependent livelihoods will determine the feasibility of promoting any behavioural changes. Increased knowledge on the drivers of leopard-livestock conflict in combination with a comprehensive understanding of local attitudes and behaviours provides a robust foundation for leopard conservation.
My objectives are to (1) Measure and model drivers of leopard-livestock conflict in two ecological zones of Sri Lanka, where dairy farms are expanding into areas of high leopard density, and (2) Assess community attitudes and behaviours towards leopards and determine mitigating husbandry techniques to alleviate leopard-livestock conflict. Using non-invasive survey methods to measure four key drivers of leopard-livestock conflict (cattle density, natural prey abundance, distance to forest cover, husbandry method), results will be modeled to identify explanatory drivers. Household surveys will be analysed, identifying influencing factors explaining levels of conflict and acceptable mitigation options.
This work will measure ecological and anthropogenic drivers of leopard-livestock conflict, guiding proactive conservation actions in a biodiversity hotspot. Feasible mitigations will be co-developed with the local dairy farming communities and recommended to dairy industry stakeholders in the context of local ecology, community attitudes and stakeholder resources. In collaboration with the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust , a local non-profit organization, this project will establish the foundations for long-term conservation of this endangered leopard subspecies.
- Naomie Sandt
- Ramona Desilva
- Cole Burton
- Lucy Mckenna
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