Ending the Human-Leopard conflict | Daily News

Ending the Human-Leopard conflict

Sri Lanka is a wildlife and biodiversity hotspot well known for its unique flora and fauna. Hundreds of animal and plant species are endemic to Sri Lanka and we must ensure that these species survive and thrive. Otherwise, they will join the thousands of species that have gone extinct over the last few hundred years due to destructive activities of Man. It will be a sad day indeed if we have to visit a zoo to see an animal like the leopard and if we don’t tread carefully, even that chance may be lost.

Sri Lanka has earned a worldwide reputation for its unique leopard species Panthera pardus kotiya which can primarily be seen at Yala National Park (it is called Diviya in Sinhalese and Siruththai in Tamil). However, they live in several other areas as well. But they are rapidly losing their habitat as human settlements increase and jungle territory is being reclaimed for agriculture and livestock purposes. This decreases the area available for these apex predators to hunt and survive. As their food supply dwindles, they sometimes target livestock and may tend to attack any humans who stand in the way. Much the same story can be applied to elephants losing their habitat, apart from the fact that they do not seek livestock.

There have been several disturbing killings of leopards in several areas in recent months. The most recent incident is reported from Kilinochchi, where a group of villagers had captured and killed a leopard after it had reportedly attacked and injured nearly10 people in the village of Ambakulam.

Although the villagers had not apparently tried to inform Wildlife officials in the previous instances, the Kilinochchi villagers had done so, according to our reporters in the area. The leopard had attacked and injured a man looking after cattle, after which the villagers had again informed the Wildlife Officers. According to the accounts of the reporters, there had been no response from Wildlife officials and the villagers had rather unfortunately taken matters into their own hands, resulting in the tragic killing of the leopard.

A heartbreaking video of men killing the leopard has gone viral on social media (it is too gruesome to be shown on mainstream TV) which has prompted condemnation by animal welfare activists with a question mark on the role played by the Wildlife officers, whom according to our reporters were lethargic and late on acting on the complaints of the villagers. The helpless leopard was the unfortunate victim of the villagers’ anger as well as the wildlife officials’ inefficiency.

Whatever the circumstances, the unnatural death of a leopard is a huge loss. We cannot however pass judgment in this instance without a thorough investigation being conducted into the whole episode, but to be fair by the villagers one must not overlook the fact they had sought the intervention of the Wildlife Department possibly with a view to relocating the animal. The lead in this regard must be taken by Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and his Deputy Minister Palitha Thevarapperuma. The latter was recently seen climbing a jak tree to pluck a fruit to feed an injured elephant calf who could not walk properly. This shows a hands-on approach and we hope the duo will do the needful in this particular case.

It is also quite necessary to conduct a survey to identify the number of leopards living in habitats other than the Yala National Park. This will give wildlife officials an idea about the next steps that should be taken to protect the members of this vulnerable species. We can also look towards India, which has a similar Tiger-Human conflict, to learn some lessons on co-existing with predatory animals. The Indian authorities and conservationists have devised many programmes and conducted awareness campaigns on co-existing with the 4,000 Tigers living in the wild. The Bera village in Rajasthan, where millionaire landowner Devi Singh devised a unique programme to stop the Tiger-Human conflict, has now become a prime example for human-animal cohabitation. Another example is the Soliga tribes people who live in harmony with Bengal Tigers in the Biligiri Rangana Hills in Karnataka, South India.

The Sri Lankan leopard is already on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with less than 1,000 individuals left in the wild. We must remember that it is not found in the wild anywhere else in the world – there are however several living in captivity in zoos overseas (two cubs “Yala” and “Nimala” were born to a couple of Sri Lankan leopards living at a Zoo in Norfolk, England in January this year). Every attempt must be made to protect and conserve them. Sri Lanka must join worldwide efforts to protect the big cats which include not only lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar -- the four largest wild cats that can roar - but also cheetah, snow leopard, puma and clouded leopard. These are the most magnificent animals on Earth and it would indeed be a disaster if they were to disappear.


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