Tragic Story of Sri Lankan Leopards

The gussets clench their eyes and their lungs absorb a gust of air. The jeep stops, guests onboard exhale as they witness a regal face of a leopard just 10 meters away from the jeep. The leopard reclines on a branch of a Palu tree (Manilkara hexandra), the legs of this magnificent animal and the tail draped languorously.

The people onboard are extremely silent and every synapse of their body ignited with delight. Torrential flashes start to shines from the jeeps in the vicinity. Momentarily I thought that leopard would retreat into the nearby jungle but he rearranged his limbs into a crook of the tree, the leopard seems to relax and eased.

Dozens of jeeps are approaching us with haste from the distance and making a cloud of dust behind them. The journey on the jeep is bumpy; the road is uneven, muddy and narrow. The jeeps are noisy; however, it seems to be the leopard is familiar with it, it just concentrating on its nap.

Spotting leopards in Yala

The national park of Yala is one of the most popular places in Sri Lanka as well as in Asia for leopard sightings and is considered as the best wildlife reserve to see leopards in the region. The population of leopards at Yala considered being highest compared to any other national park of its size in the world, making it one of the popular activities for travellers on the island. In fact, the Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is a unique cat species, endemic to the island and there are several differences of Sri Lankan leopard compared to the common leopard seen in other parts of the world.

Sri Lanka wildlife tours

Watching a leopard is the utmost propriety of all travellers who venture on Sri Lanka wildlife tours if possible, especially among the travellers, who take the wildlife tour at Yala national park, which lasts 3 hours or the dawn to dusk full day safari. Spotting leopard is the most daunting task on a Sri Lanka jungle tours, most leopards are shy and keep a distance from other creatures; therefore they do not show up like other animals such as Elephant and wild buffaloes.

The decline of the leopard population in Sri Lanka

There had been a large number of leopards in the jungle of Sri Lanka until the early 18s, with the arrival British colonial rulers the primaeval rainforest cover of the island started to diminishes in order to make the space for cinchona, tea, coffee and rubber, in other words, the living habitat of the wild animals such as leopards were encroached by the wealthy British planters. Today the leopard’s population is estimated to be around 800.

To make it worse, hunting became a popular pastime activity among the wealthy British planters, alas the outcome was much worse than expected and the number of wild animal considerable reduced within a short period of time. By the latter part of 19s, most wild animals are enlisted as endangered animals on the island.

The killing sphere was slowdown as hunting abolished and wildlife reserves declared in the early 19s, however, the animal killing is still reported in several places on the island, the latest of such event was recorded in northern Sri Lanka with the killing of a leopard by the residents of Kilinochchi, in the village of Ambalkulam, in June 2019. This kind of mob attacks on animals are not common on the island, however, the leopards and other animals are still under threat due to the hunting.

A person was arrested on March 2012  in Vavuniya he was possessing teeth and skin of a leopard at the time he was taken into custody. Later on, it was revealed that the leopard had been killed by using a trap to get the skin. Leopard in Sri Lanka is endemic to the island they are being categorized as the biggest leopards in the world. Leopard is the top predator on the island and they are seen rarely in the national parks such as Wilpattu, Yala, Horton plains etc.

Leopards were once known to have a wider distribution throughout the world, but today they merely restricted some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and they reported in few numbers in the countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, and China. Poaching and habitat loss have been identified as the main reasons for the reducing number of Leopards population. According to the fauna flora act, leopard is declared as an endangered animal species in Sri Lanka and it is a protected animal.

Even though killing a leopard is a huge offence, which causes heavy fine and imprisonment, still, there is an isolated incident in Sri Lanka in which the animals being killed for the skin. Most of the times they are found while they trapped in snares and traps, gunshot injuries are also a major reason for deaths among the leopards. Recently a black leopard, which is a very rare animal in Sri Lanka, had been trapped in a snare and later died due to the injuries.

Sri Lanka is a country with a wide range of fauna and flora and elephant is the largest animal in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka jungles are inhabited by a large number of elephants and the country has recorded the highest wild elephant population in Asia. The people in the areas, where wild elephants to be found, facing many hardships due to the wild elephants, this resulted through the reducing wildlifejungle cover.

There are many steps that were taken in the past to minimize the human-elephant conflict and such incidents get the prompt attention of media and public. But the incident in which the leopards are being killed is ignored while they are heard by the people.

One unfortunate incident reported in 2009 from Sinharaja, where First-ever Black leopard was found on the island, at the time of discovery it was dead and had been a victim of a trap. The number of poaching incidents seems to be on an upswing for the last few years. Below is the incident related to deaths of big cats in Sri Lanka.

June 2011, Minneriya, Leopard killed poaching

January 2011, Nuwara Eliya, Leopard killed poaching

July 2011, Tabbowa, Leopard killed poaching

March 2009, Sinharaja, Black Leopard

These are few incidents being observed in the past and there are probably many such incidents, which not popularized in the country. These incidents show the immediate attention of the government and naturalists in order to protect the giant cats before they leave us forever.