How Sri Lanka saved the world’s last leopards

Written by By Staff Writer The nation of Sri Lanka is fighting to save some of its most treasured wildlife, especially animals with large eyes like leopards. The threat to these wild cats, which…

How Sri Lanka saved the world's last leopards

Written by By Staff Writer

The nation of Sri Lanka is fighting to save some of its most treasured wildlife, especially animals with large eyes like leopards.

The threat to these wild cats, which are capable of extensive kills and appear to be on the brink of extinction, is becoming more acute.

This comes as new research suggests Sri Lanka is not alone when it comes to losing their leopard population.

Elephant numbers are also in decline and new research suggests they may not be the only big cat vanishing in the country.

The findings in the journal Conservation Letters said there were fewer than 500 leopards left in Sri Lanka by the end of 2017, compared to 1,000 in 1999.

How leopards became extinct in Sri Lanka

When the population of leopards in Sri Lanka started to decline significantly, the government started to take action. Conservationists say Sri Lanka’s top-hatted efforts have helped to save endangered species from extinction in the country.

Sri Lanka’s Lampur National Park has created sanctuaries for the leopards, as well as refuges for the endemic common deer species.

The national park’s projects have also contributed to the healthy elephant population there.

One successful experiment in Sri Lanka has seen the reintroduction of elephants in the hunt for leopards, in an effort to improve both the leopard and elephant populations. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Corbis

“Sri Lanka did it [the reintroduction of elephants] and we are benefiting from the work that was done by the leopard project last year and so we have a lot of good reports about what was done by conservationists,” said Eshwarie Wellaratne, an elephant expert and senior leopard researcher at the Wildlife Division of Sri Lanka’s Central Agriculture Ministry, who also consults for the leopard project.

However, the professor added, “we do need a total funding and partnership approach to this.”

Why leopards are increasingly rare

Many factors have contributed to the deterioration of leopard populations in Sri Lanka, but the main reasons have been increased poachers and global warming, which has resulted in habitat fragmentation.

“They are using a vast amount of land with the old routes getting more complex with fragmentation and in many cases there are no nesting areas for the leopards themselves,” said Anuradha Kondaswami of World Wide Fund for Nature, which assisted with the study.

The study said the overall loss of prey, such as wildebeest, zebra and gazelle, was also to blame.

Poaching has also been a major problem with the report stating there had been a rise in the number of leopard carcasses found littered in the country’s north since 2011.

“As long as there is demand, then the trappers are going to go and continue,” said Kondaswami.

As a result, conservationists say they are hoping for a change in legislation to include new penalties for poaching leopards.

Further investigations

According to the Wildlife Division of Sri Lanka, the leopard project is expanding to increase protection for other cats in the areas bordering Lampur National Park, including spotted cats, Bengal tigers and Amur tigers.

“These projects have been successfully working for eight years and we still have a lot of good reports about the way leopards were able to regenerate back in 1998 and that projects are doing well,” said Kondaswami.

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