Sri Lanka’s renowned leopard and tiger populations are in crisis. The country has already lost thousands of the big cats to the pressure of human encroachment and habitat loss. Now conservationists are working to protect them from even more.
In 2015, humans killed 1,040 leopards, according to the WWF. That figure is now double that for the same year. In 2009, only 89 leopards died in attacks by humans.
There are an estimated 1,000 leopards and six tiger subspecies left in Sri Lanka. While leopards tend to be found in the lower than mountainous areas of the island – but that’s largely due to the advancing human population, which now numbers over 20 million – tigers are scarce in their natural habitat.
More than 35,000 people were killed by leopards in the country between 2000 and 2014, according to the WWF.
Since October last year, the forest conservation agency BWF has been expanding a network of fences in mountains where leopards are known to roam.
While the fencing scheme is well underway and in some parts almost complete, forest conservation is a long-term battle.
The government also has bigger plans. In 2015 it introduced leopard census, which aims to estimate how many leopards live in Sri Lanka and help develop a strategy for conservation.
With that in mind, the BWF is lobbying parliamentarians to increase the plantation sector’s forest conservation obligations. The sector, which consumes around 40% of the country’s fresh water, currently gets a subsidy which is being phased out over the next few years. It is estimated that the forestry sector is responsible for about 18% of leopard habitat loss.