There are an estimated 5,000 leopards in Sri Lanka, but today they are the vulnerable species with little hope of survival. “There are about 400 newborn tigers in Sri Lanka this year alone. There are more and more wild animals migrating from one region to another because habitat destruction is only one part of the problem,” said Sarath Silva, of the Child Welfare Centre, a Tamil-language TV channel in Sri Lanka. “Each group of animals has its own peculiar geography. Some call this epic migration where animals move from one place to another.”
The deep canopy trees that once covered this semi-arid region are disappearing. In its place are palm oil plantations and farms, killing the leopards that depend on the trees and bush they for food. “Crowds in Sri Lanka are so large that leopards can be easily scared and may sometimes escape if a villager shouts,” said Varsha Upadhanna, an environmentalist with the World Wildlife Fund in Sri Lanka. “Yet if the situation continues as it is, they will simply become extinct from the island.”
At times, the conflict between elephant farmers and tigers and leopards has been intense. In September, tens of thousands of people were evacuated in the north of the country when their traditional way of life was threatened when a tiger entered villages. “Tigers and leopards have chased away man for thousands of years, because they thought that man’s large, powerful predator can kill easily,” said Silva.
Leopards are currently listed as a vulnerable species in Sri Lanka. “The damage from plantation agriculture has destroyed most of their habitat,” said Warala Wickramage, a wildlife conservationist. “The same thing is happening to elephants, which are migrating hundreds of miles to find greener pastures.”