The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the five “big cats” in the genus Panthera, widely scattered in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. With short legs, large skull, and a long body, the leopard is quite similar in appearance to a Jaguar. Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic are known as black panthers. The subspecies of leopards are African, Indian, Arabian, Persian. North Chinese, Amur, Indochinese, Javan and even Sri Lankan. The Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is native to the island and was first reported in 1956 by a zoologist in Deraniyagala.
What separates them from the rest?
The Sri Lankan leopard is comparatively larger in size than their relatives elsewhere. They are not any more social than the other leopard sub species and are often distinguished as solitary hunters. In a survey done in 2015, the wild population was estimated to be somewhere between 750-950.
Sri Lankan leopards are not shy but they often hunt in the night. They prey on samba, barking deer, wild boar, and monkeys. Eating patterns may also include frogs, birds, reptiles, and insects.
Where can you find them?
Apart from Yala and Wilpattu, Sri Lankan leopards can be spotted in the hill country. Every now and then you could spot these creatures at Adam’s Peak, Horton Plains, the Great Western and the likes. However, Yala National Park has the highest population density of leopards in the world. There is no better place than Yala to spot this majestic beast.
Are they in danger of extinction?
Unfortunately, yes. Recent disturbances have put the island’s small-scale leopard population at great risk. A full grown leopard was found dead, possibly killed at the Lulkadura Estate in Deltota earlier this week. While the police and the wildlife department attempts to identify the individual at fault, the sight of the dead cat induces a tear, every time you come across the circulated image.
What can you do to help save them from extinction?
The Sri Lankan leopard is fast disappearing and it’s about time we put an end to the operations that disturb their existence. Sri Lanka has to wage war against deforestation with immediate effect. Equivalently, it’s essential to find ways to bring poachers to justice by implementing a rigorous sentence.
With legal immunity, Rangers at Kaziranga National Park (Kaziranga) in Assam, India shot poachers to protect the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. A comparable initiative may help our leopards in the longer run as poached leopards are easily dispatched and hidden. Moreover, it is your duty to report anything in close proximity to poaching or hunting.
Educate your children on the importance of preserving our forests and show them the art of shielding animals, regardless of the species. Whereas education is not just book work but a way to differentiate the good from the bad.