Conservation of dragonfly species near the Hunuwela Estate
Project title: Conservation of Two Globally and Nationally Endangered (EN) Dragonfly Species [Rivulet Tiger (Gomphidia pearsoni), and Wijaya's Scissortail (Microgomphus wijaya)] by Enhancing the Watershed of Hunuwela Estate, Kahawatta Plantation PLC, Dilmah Group
Location: Hunuwela Estate, Yatiyantota, Sri Lanka
Duration: 2015 to 2016
Project Background: The Hunuwela Estate is located between Opanayake and Pelmadulla, in the Sabaragamuwa Province, at the border between the wet zone mid country and the intermediate zone of Sri Lanka. The elevation ranges between 300 m and 900 m from mean sea level. Rubber and tea are the dominant plantation crops in the area, while cinnamon is also cultivated on a small scale. The estate, with an extent of about 990 ha, is located between the precipitous forested Hunuwela-Kabaragala mountain range on the east, and a low-lying village landscape at the bottom of the valley. The Hunuwela-Kabaragala mountain range is dominated by rainforests and acts as a catchment for the numerous stream arteries. Scattered semi-wild home gardens are located at the lower elevations of the area, just before the forest meets the plantation land. Forest dwellers carry out their traditional forest-based industries and livelihoods in these forests, especially kithul-tapping.
Initial surveys indicate that the natural and semi-natural areas of Hunuwela Estate function as an important repository of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity. A total of 282 floral species, including 21 endemic and 15 nationally or globally threatened species, and 214 faunal species, including 37 endemics and 13 species that are listed as nationally threatened, were recorded during the five-day survey. A further 24 species listed as nationally Near Threatened (NT) and one species considered to be Data Deficient (DD) were recorded within the Hunuwela estate (IUCN SL and MENR, 2007; IUCN Sri Lanka, 2012).
One of the most significant findings of the initial survey is that two globally, and nationally, Endangered (EN) dragonfly species, the Rivulet tiger (Gomphidia pearsoni), and Wijaya's scissortail (Microgomphus wijaya), were found in the stream habitats of Divisions 2 and 4. Given that both species are threatened with extinction, conservation actions are needed urgently to preserve these populations and their habitats. As these species are both associated with the stream habitats of these divisions, habitat restoration activities, the creation of awareness and the sustainable integrated management of the watershed are critical to their survival and conservation.
A number of other nationally threatened species are also associated with the stream habitats of these two divisions of Hunuwela Estate. Therefore, conservation actions that aim to ensure the survival of these two dragonfly species, and the maintenance of their habitat, will ultimately benefit many other species as well. While many species that are threatened and endemic to Sri Lanka have been recorded in these habitats, the records of several species at Hunuwela Estate represent the very first time that they have been recorded in this region. As such, the conservation of the natural and semi-natural habitats of Hunuwela Estate is important in the long-term conservation of the biodiversity of Sri Lanka, overall. Similarly, the sustainable management and maintenance of these habitats will enhance the watershed functions of the area, which is associated with the Kalu Ganga river system. IUCN developed a management plan for the natural areas that lie within the Hunuwela Estate, aiming to improve the overall ecological integrity and watershed ecosystem services of the property. Through the project activities it is possible to work towards conserving these Endangered (EN) dragonfly species and their habitat. The project also recommended further conservation action required to preserve the threatened biodiversity and watershed functions of the estate. This conservation initiative provides an ideal opportunity for the development of a model conservation programme that can be emulated and replicated by other like-minded plantations and estates.
Objectives of the project:
- Undertake further studies on ecological integrity - with a special focus on the habitats of the Rivulet tiger (Gomphidia pearsoni) and Wijaya's scissortail (Microgomphus wijaya) - and watershed functions of the natural and semi-natural areas of the Divisions 2 and 4 of Hunuwela Estate, with the identification of critical areas for watershed management
- Identification of measures for maintaining and improving the ecological integrity of the selected sensitive areas. This includes water and soil conservation measures, planting of trees as part of ecological restoration work, establishment of shade plants and measures for improving the habitat quality of stream-side vegetation and wetlands on the estate
- Development of habitat and watershed management programmes with the involvement of the staff of the estate, and the senior management of Kahawatta Plantations and Dilmah Conservation
- Preparation of outreach materials including a poster and brochure on the hydrological and ecological features (with a focus on endemic and threatened species) and values of the estate in the local languages, and implementation of awareness programmes targeted at estate staff, plantation workers, related water users and school children of the area
- Baselines for biodiversity and water quality were established for six riparian pilot sites within the Hunuwela estate
- A detailed proposal on habitat conservation and watershed management was developed which is to be undertaken by the resident staff of the estate
- With the participation of the resident staff of the estate, the proposed work was demonstrated at six pilot sites. The work involved establishing a plant nursery, collecting planting material, establishing shade planting to support saplings, replanting of riparian areas with suitable local species, establishing check dams and restoring streams to support runoff and erosion control, groundwater recharge, and aquatic habitat improvement
- Raising awareness of school children, community members, and local government officials on the ecological importance and watershed services of the natural areas of Hunuwela Estate and its conservation, through a number of awareness raising programmes
- A poster and a leaflet on the ecological importance and watershed services of the natural areas of Hunuwela Estate were developed, each in Sinhala, Tamil and English
- A manuscript was submitted and was published in the journal Herpetological Review on an interesting animal behaviour which was observed during the survey
Donor: Dilmah Conservation
Partner: Kahawatta Plantations PLC