Photos and Text – Ishanda Senevirathna, Naturalist – Jetwing St. Andrew’s

The Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is subspecies native to Sri Lanka and is the only large mammalian predator in the country. The Sri Lankan leopard is classified as Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) with populations threatened due to habitat depletion, poaching for trade and human-leopard conflicts.

While leopards are commonly sighted in the country’s dry zone National Parks such as Yala and Wilpattu, the leopards at Horton Plains are rarely seen and are known to be shy and avoid daytime appearances.  About 14 animals are said to inhabit the park (Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1997). They feed mainly on Sambar but also take wild boar and much smaller prey such as bear monkey, hare and even rodents.

On 05th March 2015 I came across leopard with a Sambar kill, in the grassland in front of the car around 11.00 am. I finished tracking for the day and had come back to my vehicle to go back to hotel when I noticed a herd of Sambar deer who looked to be on alert; suddenly I saw a movement in grass land. The leopard was camouflaged, it blend perfectly with the surrounding of dark yellowish grass. It was around 500m away from me and I had to use my binoculars to focus on it. Its coat was dark shiny orangish yellow colored with long fur, which is different from its dry zone counterparts. A few minutes after the first sighting, the leopard disappeared with its hunt into a dwarf bamboo patch.

Sri Lanka leopard at Horton Plains National ParkSri Lanka leopard at Horton Plains National ParkSri Lanka leopard at Horton Plains National ParkSri Lanka leopard at Horton Plains National Park