Sri Lankan leopards are under threat, but this woman is determined to save them

Sri Lankan conservationist Anjali Watson says that as leopard-dwelling forests are cut down to plant crops and build houses, large cats are being pushed into pockets of unconnected wilderness.

“We lost a lot of leopards,” says Watson. No one knows how many leopards roamed the land before the war, but she says that about 70% of the animal habitat has been destroyed, leaving only 750-1,000 adult leopards.

In addition, leopards are at risk of getting caught in the snare. Wire traps are usually set on bushmeat species such as wild boars and deer, but what they catch is indiscriminate.

Leopard, Sri Lanka’s apex predator and its only big cat, “plays an important role” in Sri Lanka’s ecosystem, Watson says. “We call it an umbrella species,” she says. Because by taking steps to save the leopard, we will protect all other species that share the forest house.

Passion for wildlife

Watson grew up in the city of Colombo, but “I loved going out into the wild space … I have a strong affinity for animals,” she says.

(Video courtesy of Chitral Jayatilake)

In 1994 she moved to Ontario, Canada, where she studied at McMaster University and met her future husband, Andrew Kittle.

A few years later, a couple sharing a passion for wildlife settled in Sri Lanka. In 2000, they started a pilot project to study leopards in Yarra National Park, southeast of the island. Little was known about elusive animals at the time, Watson says. Understanding and counting their lives was essential to protecting them.

Watson and Kittle Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) In 2004, he is currently active in four locations around Sri Lanka. They are investigating the size of leopard populations using remote cameras that take pictures when motion is detected. Leopards captured by the camera can be identified by their unique pattern of spots. Famously, the spots never change.

According to Watson, installing a camera is often a daunting task. You may drive long on rocky roads with rattling spines, climb hillsides, run through the jungle with bushwhackers, and occasionally encounter elephants, bears, snakes, leeches and mites. ..

Anjali Watson mounts a motion detection camera on a tree.

In the open, the team collects leopard scat to find the animals that are hunting. Leopards are people who like and dislike, and feed on deer, monkeys, wild boars, porcupines, and hares.

Watson hopes that WWCT data will help shape development plans that make room for leopards. Both humans and animals can thrive if the corridor between the forest and buffer zones around the protected area is protected. Watson is dedicated to ensuring that these “beautiful and wonderful creatures” survive.

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