Human & Leopard Conflict in Sri Lanka
As wild leopards stray into human settlements to prey on grazing livestock, desperate cattle farmers turn vengeful, lacing animal carcasses with poison, killing three wildcats in a village on the boundary of the Nilagala Forest reserve recently. The leopard - human conflict is a real issue, which is serious in rural communities living in the estate areas. A decrease in habitat and wild prey has increased the number of leopards’ intrusions in attacking domesticated animals. There have been quite a few leopard deaths being reported from the estate areas.
What estate areas in Sri Lanka are affected?
Mostly all tea estates that are placed close to the forest fringes. Leopards learn to live in small pockets of forests and they adopt living on small mammals. Some estates have abandoned forest patches inside in Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Hatton, Agarapathana, Lindula and Thalawa Kelle which has a spike of activity.
Do the people living in these areas feel threatened by leopards?
It’s their perception, most people living in Colombo will also be terrified if a leopard is roaming their back gardens. The cats are looking for small mammals and dogs as food, and fortunately to-date, no intentional human attacks have taken place where we can look at a leopard as a man eater. It’s happening in main cities in India, we have been very lucky to avoid that predicament.
What measures are being taken to avoid leopard deaths in estates?
The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) officials visits these areas and briefs the villagers, eliminating their fears, but it is inadequate and the negative trend seems to be growing.
What do Department of Wildlife Conservation propose as the solution for leopards and humans to co-exist?
This is a very complicated issue with massive land extends. There will have to be a comprehensive national plan adopted by provincial councils to create awareness at schools and share basic knowledge on how to share land with these cats.
Further, the DWC and the corporate sector can undertake a short term action plan to enhance awareness at village level through schools, temples and community centers by launching an effective poster campaign.
The estate managements can also play a key role in controlling this conflict growing further. The solutions which can be recommended to the hills may vary from the solutions best for the dry zone conditions. Hence regionally sensitive programs will need to be adopted.