The world’s largest leopard lives on the island of Sri Lanka. Though it is well known for its size, this yellow-furred, brown-spotted species is not as abundant as it once was. In fact, the Sri Lankan Leopard is currently classified as an endangered species by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Poaching and other, harmful kinds of human interaction have led to the leopard’s near-demise.
Today’s population of Sri Lankan Leopards is estimated to be between 700 and 950. This figure includes those kept in captivity worldwide. Around 646 of these leopards live in protected areas, while 163 live in the wild.
The Sri Lankan Leopard may be small in number, but it is large in size. On average, females measure six feet long. Male leopards, in contrast, average seven feet long. Adult males typically weigh 124 pounds: this is nearly double the common weight of an adult female leopard.
Sri Lankan Leopards reside in a variety of habitats like dry monsoon forests and wet zone intermediate forests. Here, male leopards hunt by themselves. They prey on birds, reptiles, and mammals including deer, monkey, boars, and even large buffalos. Because leopards in these locations have little to no competition, they find nutrition easily and rarely need to hide their prey after hunting.
In recent decades, Sri Lankan leopards have suffered from poaching and increased conflict with humans. Most poachers hunt leopards for their beautiful furs, mainly for trade in India. In the black market, these furs sell for thousands of dollars.
Though international law prohibits poaching, this practice has decreased the Sri Lankan Leopard population by an astounding 75 percent over the last century. This is not just a problem for the leopards: the removal of a top predator could ultimately and irrevocably disrupt the food chain within the Sri Lanka ecosystem.
Thankfully, some efforts have been made to keep Sri Lankan Leopards from extinction. Across the world, for example, 75 leopards are being held captive—some by the European Endangered Species Program. And through the Leopard Project, the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) aims to conserve Sri Lankan Leopards. They hope to study this species’ preservation and prevent further poaching.
Because the natural environment in which the Sri Lankan Leopard thrives is under siege, it is critical that major action is taken to ensure the beautiful animals’ survival.
[Sources: Wikipedia; Cat Specialist Group; PBS]