Written by Staff Writer
Sri Lanka’s wildlife department is facing an uphill battle to save its last remaining wild leopards, as populations of the animals dip from a high of around 500 in the 1980s to just 60 today.
The decline is explained by urbanization, deforestation and a hunting industry which has taken over cat-whet habitats and displaced small-scale animal traders.
To “soften the blow” for now, the government has given leopards a pardon, which allows them to be killed if their behavior poses a threat to human life.
Responding to a challenge from conservationists, the government recently issued revised leopard protection orders with additional minimum penalties and an appeal to smallholders to protect animal habitats from exploitation by wildlife traders.
According to the forestry ministry, 49 leopards were shot in 2018. The government granted leopard protection orders in the war-torn region of Ampara and in the country’s central highlands.
“There will be a continued crackdown against poachers,” said Minister of Environment and Water Resources Dr. Palitha Range Bandara.
“Elephant numbers and those of other animals have gone down due to poaching and our job is to do more to save animals. More part-time local rangers are being recruited.”
Meanwhile, the provincial government has advised smallholders to take steps to safeguard their forests from being lost to “loutish” small-scale animal traders.
It announced, however, that to collect leopard meat, consumers would be required to provide a letter of invitation from the law enforcement authorities.
According to the Forestry Ministry, revenue from the trade in leopard meat has dropped sharply in recent years. It reported in June 2018 that only 1.63 kilograms (3.52 pounds) of leopard meat were bought over a nine-month period, compared to 114,084 kg (274,615 pounds) of domestic elephant meat.