It was another rainy morning for Kandy City in this monsoon season. But there was something special about today because it was the first day of our annual youth camp program, which was organized through GWC partner Small Cat Advocacy & Research. These programs were first started in 2014 for university students interested in wildlife ecology. Our goal with the camp is to get the students out in nature with teachers who have life-long experience in rural landscapes so that the students can gain the much-needed skills to study and conserve wildlife.
For this year’s program we selected second-year zoological students from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka to attend. During the early morning of August 26, we started our journey by mini bus to the campsite in Kumaragala Forest Reserve, which is 66 kilometers away from Kandy, and reached the campsite at 9 a.m. First we built the camp sites and divided the 22 students to three groups.
After lunch we went on a nature walk through different forest patches. While walking through the forest the students learned about flora and fauna diversity and wildlife detection methods. We placed small mammal traps and camera traps on the walk to monitor the mammalian diversity in these forest patches. It was a three-hour walk through different terrains surrounded by elephants and many poisonous reptiles. We saw many butterflies, insects, and native plants, paw prints of different animals, and fresh dung of wild elephants that had crossed the path hours ago Some of the students were terrified by seeing such fresh dung closer to our campsite. At the end of the day we had a nice camp fire, sang songs and chatted about our many experiences.
The next day we all woke early in the morning for bird watching. We saw more than 28 bird species during a two-hour walk and collected traps on our way back. After breakfast, I gave the students an introduction to mammals in Sri Lanka, focusing on wild cats and how to do a proper wild cat pugmark census. After that we led the students to do insect and reptile sampling using different methods. In the evening we all gathered for the last time and discussed the problems and things we learned before heading back to the university again.
Our youth camps aim to give students an opportunity to practice wildlife monitoring, field techniques, veterinary care and safety. By organizing these programs, we are expecting to familiarize students with wildlife and encouraging them to do their own studies in the future. Many of our past students are currently working on ornithology, herpetology, and parasitology projects, and they even participate in our annual programs to educate new groups. In Sri Lanka it is crucial to have such programs because very few people go into these fields and we need more people to continue these efforts. Youth camps are a new concept for university students and I’ll continue this work because of the unique experience it provides.
(All photos courtesy of Ashan Thudugala)