Gal Oya Lodge was opened with the intent of operating as an eco-tourism lodge highly involved in animal conservation. The owners, John Balmond, Sangjay Choegyal and Tim Edwards, had talked about building something wonderful in Gal Oya National Park, based on Tim’s late father Jim Edward’s love of nature and this particular pocket of Sri Lanka’s beautiful, untouched jungle. Gal Oya, in all its glory, has fortunately remained untouched after all these years, and is still considered one of the most remote areas of the island.
Jim Edwards managed a similar lodge in Nepal called Tiger Tops, and both Tim and Sangjay having grown up there wanted to base Gal Oya Lodge on its success. In the 1970s Jim had a vision of starting up a lodge in Gal Oya National Park when he visited it, as he was interested in its potential and the viewing of diverse species. When John, Tim and Sangjay eventually journeyed to Gal Oya they saw Jim’s vision and decided to complete the dream, and build the lodge.
Throughout his life Jim dedicated much of his time to animal conservation. When he passed away in 2008, a memorial trust was set up in his name by the International Trust for Nature Conservation (ITNC) and it was through this that the research centre was built. Planning for the research centre began a year after the lodge was established, in November 2016, with the official opening in March 2017. Since then donations from Gal Oya Lodge and Ampersand Travel have assisted in the day to day running of the centre.
The centre is located on the Gal Oya Lodge property, available for guests to visit and keep up to date with data collections, results and discoveries. They also have the opportunity to visit the various camera trap sites and see how our biologists, students and naturalists collect the data, prepare it and analyse it.
At the centre head biologist, Phil Rekret, and head naturalist, Damien Mario, observe the various species inhabiting Gal Oya National Park and its surrounds via motion-sensor camera traps recording each species’ presence. So far the results have been incredibly exciting, and the centre has images of porcupine, mongoose, mouse deer, wild boar, jackal, civet, and pangolin, which are considered the most trafficked animal and are critically endangered. The centre has also captured images of three out of the four cat species in Sri Lanka: the fishing cat, rusty spotted cat and jungle cat. The fourth cat, the Sri Lankan leopard, is yet to be seen on the cameras, however the biologists and naturalists of the research centre know that they inhabit the area based on findings of their droppings and pugmarks. Discovering that the fishing cat is living so far inland is remarkable, as they mainly inhabit coastal areas and weren’t originally thought to inhabit Gal Oya and the surrounds.
Making these discoveries is one of the reasons Gal Oya Lodge established the Jim Edwards Wildlife Research Centre, and only confirms the importance of continuing to document more species’ presence in the park, and working further in conservation projects. The research centre aims to identify all species inhabiting this remote area of Sri Lanka and to ensure their abundant survival, particularly as many of the species are endemic to Sri Lanka, and to ultimately promote the importance of animal conservation.