People Behind the Project


Anya Ratnayaka

Founder / Primary Investigator

Anya is a graduate in Wildlife and Conservation Management from the University of Queensland, Australia, and is currently reading for a Master of Philosophy at the same university. A Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) Scholar, Global Wildlife Conservation Associate Scientist and a member of the Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance, she has a strong interest in Sri Lankan wildlife and in particular the ecology and conservation of urban mesocarnivores. In 2017, she co-founded the non-profit Small Cat Advocacy and Research and she’s currently conducting research on the world’s only known hyper-urban population of fishing cats, found in Colombo.

A chance encounter with an orphaned fishing cat in 2012, made her pivot from studying the Sri Lankan leopard, and focus solely on this elusive, amphibious feline. She founded the Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project in 2013, and her research focuses on studying how the species is adapting to the rapid urbanisation, while raising the species profile amongst stakeholders and the public. This project was the first in the world to use GPS collars to track this species and is the first in Sri Lanka to collar and track female fishing cats.

Anya is a strong believer in the fact that, communities must be involved in conservation efforts in order to protect a species. Therefore, she works on spreading awareness and interest about the species amongst the general public. She also she works closely with government agencies like the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation, Urban Development Authority and the Road Development Authority, to uncover the secret life of this endangered species, and understand how we can better protect it, along with its urban habitats.

In charge of:
  • Overall running of the project.
  • Managing field work.
    • GPS tagging and tracking.
    • Camera trapping.
  • Coordinating public awareness and outreach.
  • Raising funds for the project.

Ashani Hangawatta

Research Assistant

Ashani, born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, grew up spending most of her time in nature instead of books, and her passion for nature and wildlife has lead her to pursue her studies in Biology. In 2019 she graduated with a Bachelors (hons) in Zoology from The Open University of Sri Lanka and is currently working there as a demonstrator. Her undergraduate research focused on the ecological and genetic diversity of freshwater fish in the Kala Oya River basin, Sri Lanka.

Ashani works as a volunteer veterinary assistant at the National Zoological Gardens, Dehiwala, Sri Lanka and has treated and hand-reared many wild and captive bred species of wildlife. She has also worked on a number of projects related to marine mammals, captive sloth bears, and volunteers her time for various awareness programs and workshops conducted by Small Cat Advocacy and Research.

Her current interests lie in the fields of urban wildlife and ecology, marine biology, spatial ecology and population dynamics in the context of urbanisation, genetic diversity and pathological diseases of wild cats.

In charge of:
  • Pathological diseases of wild cats in Sri Lanka.
    • Feline panleukopenia virus strains in domestic and wild cats.
    • Immunity development.
  • Field work.
    • Trapping and tracking of fishing cats.

Maduranga Ranaweera

Field Assistant

A tuk tuk driver by trade, Maduranga fell in love with the work when he helped transport camera traps across a waterway via rickety a boat one fine morning in 2014. He ended up staying and setting up cameras and has been with the project ever since. Bringing in the practical field skills he gained during his time with the Sri Lanka Special Task Force, he is an invaluable field assistant, and has saved Anya from many a field accident.

He has even successfully turned his six year old daughter into an avid fishing cat lover, as she is often heard educating her friends and family about the species!

Assists in:
  • Camera trapping.
  • Fishing cat trapping.
  • GPS tracking.
  • Scat collection and cleaning.


Laurel Klein Serieys, Ph.D.


“Dr. Laurel Serieys is driven by a lifelong aspiration to study wild cats and through research promote their conservation. She conceived the Urban Caracal Project in collaboration with Cape Leopard Trust and University of Cape Town in 2013 and traveled far to coordinate the effort. Laurel grew up in Dallas, Texas, USA and graduated with a degree in zoology from the University of Texas, Austin in 2003. Her introduction to the world of wild cat research was a National Park Service internship in Los Angeles, California, USA in 2006. There she worked on an urban bobcat and mountain lion study. She carried the work into her PhD research at the University of California, Los Angeles graduate program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Her Ph.D. research focused on how urbanization and pesticides drives genetic change and disease susceptibility in urban bobcats. Amongst the achievements she is most proud of– data from her bobcat work was used to enact new legislation across California to reduce consumer availability of rat poisons. The Environmental Protection Agency has requested the data as they review national policy on the use of those pesticides. Her collaborative work on the genetics of urban mountain lions has led to a movement to build a wildlife corridor across one of the busiest freeways in the U.S”. – Excerpt taken from the Urban Caracal Project.

In 2018, she visited Colombo to train our team in the art of trapping and tracking fishing cats. Ever since then, she has been an invaluable member of the team, pushing us to new limits and teaching us new skills that have propelled us forward like never before.

  • Expert knowledge in,
    • Trapping fishing cats.
    • Tracking fishing cats in urban spaces.
    • Data analysis.

Luke Leung, Ph.D.

Mphil Supervisor

Dr Leung is an Associate Professor of the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, at the University of Queensland, Australia. He has a strong interest in the management of wildlife populations, and his area of research “lies in the development and implementation of humane, ecologically based solutions to the challenges in conserving endangered native wildlife, and the impacts of invasive species”. – Excerpt taken from UQ Researcher Profile.

He is also Anya’s graduate school supervisor.

  • Expert knowledge in,
    • Research and conservation actions related to the project.

Jim Sanderson, Ph.D.


“Dr. Jim Sanderson received a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico in 1976. He is the founder and director of the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation, a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group, a review board member of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Programs Manager of Wild Cat Conservation at Global Wildlife Conservation, and a Conservation Partner of Wildlife Conservation Network.

Jim’s mission is to ensure the survival of small wild cats and their natural habitats worldwide. This mission is achieved by working with local partners around the world to identify and mitigate threats to the world’s small wild cats. In 1996 Jim used radio-telemetry to better understand habitat fragmentation and landscape connectivity, and conservation issues of Guignas (Leopardus guigna) in Chile. Bolivian and Chilean colleagues and Jim captured and radio-collared the first Andean cat in May, 2004. He has also used camera phototraps to survey wildlife populations and monitor biodiversity in South America, Africa, China and Southeast Asia. Jim’s photograph of the Andean cat appeared in the February 2000 issue of National Geographic. With Chinese colleagues, Jim got the first pictures of the Chinese mountain cat in the wild. He has written four books and published more than 120 peer-reviewed journal articles”. – Excerpt taken from Global Wildlife Conservation.

  • Expert knowledge in,
    • Conservation actions related to the project.