With the start of a new programme to conserve Sri Lanka’s wildlife and manage its protected areas, a much need boost will be given to wildlife conservation in this country. At the request of the government of Sri Lanka, the Asian Development Bank has agreed to fund the Protected Area Management & Wildlife Conservation Project, which covers a wide spectrum of wildlife conservation activities.
The project, which started off in September 2001, will support efforts to conserve the country’s valuable natural resources and preserve wildlife biodiversity for the well being of current and future generations. Sri Lanka is considered a global biodiversity hot spot because of the large variety of biological species in this small island. Half of these species are endemic. Many migrant species also find a temporary home here where the habitat is critical for these internationally mobile species. If their unique habitats are lost, a number of species will be lost forever.
It is envisaged that the new project will identify the problems, especially in conservation terms, in seven protected areas (PAs) that have been selected under the project. The selected protected areas are Wasgamuwa, Minneriya, Uda Walawe and Horton Plains National Parks, together with the Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve and the Peak Wilderness area.
Preparations of habitat maps for these areas are one of the major activities carried out under component C of the project. Habitats are an integrated reflection of abiotic and biotic factors that shape the environment of a given land area. For this reason habitat mapping plays a vital role in providing relevant information for conservation management purposes.
From a biodiversity point of view the lack of consistent and up-to-date information on type, location, size and quality of natural habitats in PAs in Sri Lanka has been identified as a major constraint for the implementation of the management plans. Therefore the use of habitat maps based on vegetation, soils, geology and slope might be critical when developing management strategies.
Habitat maps play a vital role of providing relevant information for conservation management purposes. They are widely used as a proxy for the biodiversity that exists in different habitat types. They are tools for the development of effective PA management plans and to define various management zones and identification of important conservation goals. Also habitat mapping provides valuable ecological information and to comply with operational tasks such as accurate delineation of protection zones and implementation of statutory measures for conservation.