Habitat and Ecology
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
In 2001-02, adult resident leopard density was estimated at 17.9 per 100 km² in Block I of Ruhuna (Yala) National Park (RNP) in Sri Lanka’s southeastern coastal arid zone. This, strikingly, is the same density estimated by Santiapillai et al. (1982) for this area. This 140 km² Block contains what is probably the best leopard habitat in Sri Lanka. It is relatively well protected from poaching and contains sizeable coastal plains and permanent man-made and natural waterholes, which combined allow for a very high density of prey species. Spotted deer (Axis axis) are particularly abundant in this Block, as are water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and wild boar (Sus scrofa). Less common, but a seemingly important food source, is the larger sambhar (Cervus unicolor). Two years of prey surveys estimated a prey biomass available to leopards of 7,111 kg/km².
Due to this exceptional prey base and unusual level of management and protection it is likely that the leopard density here is substantially higher than in other parts of the island, protected and unprotected. Kittle and Watson (2007) estimate that the 7,222.8 km² of Protected Areas (National Parks, Strict Nature Reserves, Sanctuaries and Conservation Forests) where leopards are known to reside have a leopard density ½ that of Block 1 Yala. Therefore (8.95 leopards/100 km²) * (7,222.8 km²) = 646.4 leopards. The remainder of the area of occupancy (11,000 km² - (7,222.8 + 140)) = 3,637.2 km² is not protected. We estimate that the population density in these unprotected areas is ½ that of the protected areas = 4.48/100 km². This results in 162.9 leopards residing in non-protected areas.
In total the estimated leopard population in Sri Lanka is (25.1 in RNP, Block I) + (646.4 in Protected Areas) + (162.9 in unprotected areas) = 834.4.
It is apparent from the above method that this is a rough estimate as different habitat types are expected to have varying densities. Kittle and Watson (2007) plan future work in the central highlands (submontane/montane forest) of Sri Lanka which will allow estimation of population density in this region with much greater accuracy. Furthermore, the above estimate does not take into account the Wanni jungles of the far north, which due to the present conflict are inaccessible. It is expected that these jungles, some of the most dense and contiguous in the country, are home to leopards. However, the impact of the conflict is unknown. Due to these factors it is wise to be prudent and assume large confidence intervals, making the estimated range of leopard numbers in Sri Lanka 700 – 950.
No subpopulation is larger than 250, and the population is believed to be declining due to numerous threats including poaching for trade (primarily to India) and human-leopard conflict (Kittle and Watson 2005).
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
Sri Lankan leopard
The Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is a leopard subspecies native to Sri Lanka. Classified as Endangered by IUCN, the population is believed to be declining due to numerous threats including poaching for trade and human-leopard conflicts. No subpopulation is larger than 250 individuals.
The leopard is colloquially known as Kotiya (කොටියා) in Sinhala and Chiruththai (சிறுத்தை) in Tamil. The Sri Lankan subspecies was first described in 1956 by the Sri Lankan zoologist Deraniyagala.
The Sri Lankan leopard has a tawny or rusty yellow coat with dark spots and close-set rosettes, which are smaller than in Indian leopards. Seven females measured in the early 20th century averaged a weight of 64 lb (29 kg) and had a mean head-to-body-length of 3 ft 5 in (1.04 m) with a 2 ft 6.5 in (77.5 cm) long tail, the largest being 3 ft 9 in (1.14 m) with a 2 ft 9 in (84 cm) long tail; 11 males averaged 124 lb (56 kg), the largest being 170 lb (77 kg), and measured 4 ft 2 in (1.27 m) with a 2 ft 10 in (86 cm) long tail, the largest being 4 ft 8 in (1.42 m) with a 3 ft 2 in (97 cm) long tail.
Distribution and habitat
Sri Lankan leopards have historically been found in all habitats throughout the island. These habitat types can be broadly categorized into:
- arid zone with <1000 mm rainfall;
- dry zone with 1000–2000 mm rainfall;
- wet zone with >2000 mm rainfall.
In 2001 to 2002, adult resident leopard density was estimated at 17.9 individuals per 100 km2 (39 sq mi) in Block I of Yala National Park in Sri Lanka’s southeastern coastal arid zone. This block encompasses 140 km2 (54 sq mi), contains sizeable coastal plains and permanent man-made and natural waterholes, which combined allow for a very high density of prey species.
Ecology and behaviour
A study in Yala National Park indicates that Sri Lankan leopards are not any more social than other leopard subspecies. They are solitary hunters, with the exception of females with young. Both sexes live in overlapping territories with the ranges of males overlapping the smaller ranges of several females, as well as overlapping the ranges of neighbouring males. They prefer hunting at night, but are also active during dawn and dusk, and daytime hours. They rarely haul their kills into trees, which is likely due to the lack of competition and the relative abundance of prey. Since leopards are the apex predators they don't need to protect their prey.
The Sri Lankan leopard is the country's top predator. Like most cats, it is pragmatic in its choice of diet which can include small mammals, birds, reptiles as well as larger animals. Axis or spotted deer make up the majority of its diet in the dry zone. The animal also preys on sambar, barking deer, wild boar and monkeys. The cat is known to tackle almost fully grown buffalos.
The Sri Lankan leopard hunts like other leopards, silently stalking its prey until it is within striking distance where it unleashes a burst of speed to quickly pursue and pounce on its victim. The prey is usually dispatched with a single bite to the throat.
Further research into the Sri Lankan leopard is needed for any conservation measure to be effective. The Leopard Project under the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) is working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure this occurs. The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society will also undertake some studies. The WWCT is engaged in the central hills region where fragmentation of the leopard's habitat is rapidly occurring.
The EEP breeding program is managed by Zoo Cerza, France.
Panthera pardus kotiya is the kotiyā proper. Traditional Sinhala idioms, such as 'a change in the jungle (habitat) will not change the spots of a "kotiyā"', confirms the traditional use of "kotiyā" to refer to leopard, instead of tiger that has stripes.
But due to a nomenclature mishap that occurred in the late 1980s, "kotiyā" has now become the colloquial Sinhala term for tiger. Still "kotiya" is used to referred to leopard in the mainstream but at the same time "diviyā" (දිවියා) is used informally by many. The term "diviyā" refers to smaller wild cats such as "Handun Diviyā" or "Kola Diviyā". Both names are used interchangeably for the Fishing Cat and the Rusty-spotted cat.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the word 'kotiya' was being frequently incorrectly translated into English as "tiger" in Sri Lankan media due to incorrect information that was received from the then head of the Wildlife Department in Sri Lanka. He had allegedly said that "there are no kotiyas (tigers) in Sri Lanka but diviyās", misinterpreting Panthera pardus kotiya as "diviyā", the Sinhala term used for small wild cats. Although it is correct that there are no tigers in Sri Lanka, the formal Sinhala word for tiger is "viyagraya" and not "kotiyā".
As a symbol
A further complicating factor is that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) were colloquially known to the Sinhala-speaking community as 'Koti', the plural form of 'Kotiyā'. The Tamil Tigers have chosen the Sri Lankan Leopard as the national animal of the aspired state of Tamil Eelam. A soccer team which is called as Tamil Eelam national football team which plays on ConIFA has the Sri Lankan Leopard on their emblem.
- Kittle, A., Watson, A. (2008). "Panthera pardus ssp. kotiya". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature.
- Pocock, R.I. (1939) The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia. – Volume 1. Taylor and Francis, Ltd., London. Pp. 226–231.
- Deraniyagala, P.E.P. (1956). The Ceylon leopard, a distinct subspecies. Spolia Zeylanica 28: 115–116.
- Phillips, W. W. A. (1935). Manual of the mammals of Sri Lanka. Part III. Second revised edition, Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, Colombo 1984.
- Kittle, A., Watson, A. (2005) A short report on research of an arid zone leopard population (Panthera pardus kotiya), Ruhuna (Yala) National Park, Sri Lanka. The Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Sri Lanka.
- International Species Information System (2011). "ISIS Species Holdings: Panthera pardus kotiya, December 2011".
- "Panthera pardus kotiya". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
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