The leopards of Yala and Wilpattu website is a project and a vision that began over 10 years ago! Leopard Trails Founder/Managing Director Radheesh Sellamuttu first observed this technique to identify individual leopards during one of his initial visits to the Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa. It was at a leopard sighting with safari guide Mike Sutherland and Tracker "Life" that Mike pulled out a booklet and described the technique, while the leopards continued to mate in close proximity and at regular intervals. What immediately struck Radheesh’s attention was the ease of this method; previous methodologies he was exposed to seemed cumbersome and far from ‘guest-friendly. Here was a quick and easy method that could be used in the field and explained to guests on a safari within minutes. The method focuses on the spot pattern ratio. This pattern, such as 4:3, identifies the leopard through the number of spots on the left and right sides of its snout. The remainder of the name comes from its territory or a location where it may have been observed. Other unique features and patterns were also used to supplement this technique. Radheesh soon envisioned a plan to utilize this technique in Yala and Wilpattu National Park. It helped that the team at Londolozi and many other lodges in the Sabi Sands were ever ready to share their knowledge and pass on their learnings. In the years that followed, Londolozi and Leopard Trails would take this relationship further through a safari guide exchange program. We already knew that Sri Lanka’s dry zone jungles were teeming with a high density of leopards. Back in 2010, we were acquainted with a few regularly sighted individuals with clear distinctive markings.
But were we observing the same leopards time and time again? Where did male cubs disperse after leaving their mothers at maturity? Do older female mothers have a fixed territory? Do dominant male leopards get pushed into small pockets of wilderness at the end of their reign? Could it be possible to observe the same leopard at the extreme ends of the reserve? There were many unanswered questions!
On Radheesh’s return to Sri Lanka, he began searching through thousands of leopard images in our internal records and sorting them into individuals, with the vision of sharing the data in the public domain. The team of guides at Leopard Trails were trained to identify individuals and soon they all started contributing images to a meticulously managed database. The initial iteration resulted in 40 individuals of Yala block 1 being identified and named and that number continues to grow. As time went on, it was possible to make family trees or lineages, but never showing paternity. Today the team at Leopard Trails thrives on a culture of storytelling around the Leopards of Yala and Wilpattu. No evening safari ends without the guiding team sharing their sightings with each other in the guides' quarters and information is entered into a centralized system. Individual leopards are now instantly recognized at sightings and guests are taught how to identify Individuals. Around the campfire, guides recite stories involving individual character traits, lineages, and unique sightings. The saga is constantly unfolding and evolving.