The Sri Lankan leopard is without doubt a star attraction for wildlife enthusiasts, both local and international. Panthera Pardus Kotiya is a subspecies of leopard that is native to Sri Lanka and is unfortunately classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The reasons for the decline in numbers include hunting for trade, fragmentation and of course habitat loss.
What is the leopard-appeal?
Why do people travel from all over to catch a glimpse of these solitary animals that mostly hunt alone and enjoy their solitude? It is mainly because they are difficult to spot in the wild and remain elusive, even though Sri Lanka does have small areas across the island, where there are high numbers dwelling. Being able see a leopard or even a swish of its tail, in its natural habitat leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and respect for this nimble beast.
Easily recognisable by its rusty yellow coat with dark spots, the leopard has a tail that is longer than half of its body length, when taken from head to tail. The males are about 30% larger than the females and weigh approximately 170 lb. The Sri Lankan leopard is considered as one of the largest of the subspecies of leopard in the world.
Where can they be found in Sri Lanka?
The best known locations, to find leopards in their natural habitat, in Sri Lanka are of course the Yala National Park and the Wilpattu National Park. While leopards can usually be found in all types of habitat throughout the country, today they are more concentrated in the areas where conservation is most predominant. They tend to be nocturnal creatures but can be spotted in the early morning or late evening hours as well. As mentioned before, they are usually solitary, gliding through the bush area, but during mating season they do hunt in pairs and if a mother has cubs then she can be seen wandering around with the cubs in tow.
Conservation and how can you help?
Despite being solitary and elusive, male leopards are actually very confident animals and can be seen walking tracks and roads even during the day, though it is not a regular occurrence. In the national parks of Yala and Wilpattu the leopards have confidence in their surroundings and safety, thanks to the endless efforts of conservationists. For your part, going on guided safaris with reputed providers who care about the wellbeing of all the wild animals within the parks and give back to the parks, will make all the difference. Wildlife conservation centres not only on increasing the population but also on mitigating the human- leopard conflicts for beneficial co-existence.
Yala National Park
Consisting of grassy plains, scrublands, light forests and brackish lagoons, Yala is in the deep south of Sri Lanka. According to research, the Yala National Park contains the highest density of leopard, which is a positive. The park was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, which means the animals can roam around freely without fear. Owing to its varied habitats, the Yala National Park is home to a rich diversity of wildlife that besides the Sri Lankan leopard includes mammals such as elephants, spotted dear, sloth bear, reptiles, amphibians and birds.
Wilpattu National Park
The Wilpattu National Park is one of the oldest wildlife parks in Sri Lanka, located on the North Western coast of Sri Lanka. It is also the largest wildlife park in the country. Like Yala, it too has a varying natural habitat with open grasslands, scrublands, cliffs and dense forests. Its defining features are the natural lakes or sand-rimmed water basins referred to as ‘villus’, found all over the park, from which Wilpattu derives its name. The park has a less commercial vibe when compared to the more popular Yala and besides the elusive leopard is home to a large number of wildlife including mammals, reptiles and birds.
By choosing a reputed provider such as Leopard Trails, for your wildlife adventures you can rest assured that you are aiding with conservation and helping towards saving the Sri Lankan leopard population. Leopard spotting is a favourite activity for wildlife enthusiasts travelling in Sri Lanka as there is pure magic in catching a glimpse of the rusty spotted lithe cat, sauntering through the undergrowth. Enjoy your wildlife holiday with a clear conscious and undiluted experiences that will last you a life time.
Important safari pointers
Remember both Yala and Wilpattu have hot and dry weather as they are located in the arid regions of Sri Lanka. Temperatures can reach an average of 270 C. Wear light cotton clothing that covers the body from the bright sun and dust but allows your skin to breath. A cap or hat is essential, and a scarf will come in handy as well. Sun block, bug repellent and a water bottle should be in your bag always. Early mornings and late afternoons are the best time for a safari so be prepared for very early starts to make the most of every minute of your wildlife adventure. And most importantly, take back with you, all the wonderful memories you make and leave behind only your footprints.
Get in touch with us at Leopard Trails to discover the Sri Lankan leopard in a responsible and ethical way, that provides you with unforgettable experiences and ensures no undue stress for this agile creature, who if you are lucky may just be taking a break, out on the path sunning itself and waiting for you to capture that perfect picture.