The Threat to Sri Lanka’s Leopards

The battle to save Sri Lanka’s leopards is a tale of two species. The Sri Lankan leopard is unique in its high density of females, making the population potentially an important link for all species in the wild in the absence of human persecution in a country with limited or no habitat. But in the past few decades, the Sri Lankan leopard has also suffered two distinct threats to its survival.

The first was a period when the leopard’s numbers plummeted, with nearly a third of the 1,000 known animal species in the world becoming extinct during the 20th century. A second threat is occurring today in the wild, as poaching for body parts, particularly of domestic animals, is destroying leopard populations.

Wildlife conservation is in the crosshairs of a new conflict between those who wish to preserve the wild nature of the world’s biodiversity and those who are looking to profit from the destruction and killing of those animals.

The threat to Sri Lanka’s leopards is the greatest of any wild cat species on the planet, and the country has a special responsibility to protect its leopards, as it is one of the last places on Earth where the Sri Lankan leopard still occurs at large and the species is now in danger of being wiped out.

A few decades ago, the Sri Lankan leopard was thought to be extinct. Now the species is on the rise, and with it, the threat to its survival in the wild.

In the 1980s, the leopard population was thought to be around 200-300 individuals. By the early 2000s, the number had dwindled to just six individuals in three separate locations. The species recovered after an attack by an elephant calf in the Sri Lankan lowlands, in which the mother leopard was killed. The population recovered thereafter, but the recovery was incomplete, and by 2017 there were currently five confirmed males and nine females in four separate locations.

The leopards have since become less active and have remained in close proximity to villagers and livestock. In 2017, the three locations were visited by a leopard tracker from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), who found that all leopard dens were occupied by female leopards. When female leopards have young and reproduce, those mother leopards leave their dens and become solitary. In the past, a male leopard has been the father of

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