Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

No detailed scientific study of the Sri Lankan leopard has been undertaken to date (4). Observations have revealed however, that these leopards may be more social than subspecies elsewhere, and they have also been known to tackle bigger prey including almost full-grown buffaloes (4). These intriguing differences may reflect the Sri Lankan leopard's unique position at the top of the food chain; leopards in other areas are superseded by the larger lions and tigers (4). Leopards tend to stalk and ambush their prey and are opportunistic hunters, taking a wide range of prey and readily scavenging carcasses. In Yala National Park, spotted deer appear to make up the majority of the diet (4). Leopards are primarily arboreal and nocturnal, they are generally solitary creatures, with the exception of females and their young. Both sexes occupy territories although those of males tend to overlap those of several females (6). Litter size is usually around two cubs, and in Sri Lanka breeding is thought to take place during the dry season that runs from May to July (2).
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Description

The Sri Lankan leopard is one of currently eight recognised subspecies of leopard, the smallest of the 'big cats' (4). Leopards have lithe, elongated bodies supported on relatively stocky legs and broad paws (5). Sri Lankan leopards are generally larger in size than their relatives elsewhere (4). As with other leopards, the coat is a tawny or rusty yellow, marked with the dark spots and rosettes so characteristic of this species; individual markings are unique (5).
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Distribution

Range

This subspecies is found in Sri Lanka, just south of the Indian subcontinent (2).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Very little is known about Sri Lanka's leopards, but individuals within the Yala National Park in the southeast of the country are found in scrub jungle with scattered rocky outcrops (4).
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
C2a(i)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Kittle, A. & Watson, A.

Reviewer/s
Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Hoffmann, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Kittle and Watson (2007) carried out leopard presence-absence surveys around Sri Lanka intermittently for the past 5 years. The extent of occurrence (EOO) of the leopard in Sri Lanka is estimated at 37,650 km² which is > 50% of the country. However, the area of occupancy (AOO) where reproductive adult leopards have been verified as existing is 11,000 km².

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).

History
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
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Status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). The species (Panthera pardus) is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
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Population

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Leopards have been highly prized for their coats throughout their range, and there has recently been a worrying increase in the number of skins seized by authorities in Sri Lanka (4). Leopard bones have also started to replace tiger bones in traditional medicine, thus adding to the demand for poached individuals (4). Although renowned as adaptable creatures, the destruction of their native habitat is a further threat (2). Years of civil unrest in the country have also hampered conservation programmes (4).
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Management

Conservation

Trade in leopards, or products obtained from them, is banned by their listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3). Further research into the little-known Sri Lankan leopard is desperately needed before any effective conservation measures may be put into place, and the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society is currently undertaking research for this purpose (7).
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Wikipedia

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.[1]

The leopard is colloquially known as Kotiya (කොටියා) in Sinhala and Chiruththai (சிறுத்தை) in Tamil.[2] The Sri Lankan subspecies was first described in 1956 by the Sri Lankan zoologist Deraniyagala.[3]

Characteristics[edit]

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.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Sri Lankan leopard in wild

Sri Lankan leopards have historically been found in all habitats throughout the island. These habitat types can be broadly categorized into:[4]

  • arid zone with <1000 mm rainfall;
  • dry zone with 1000–2000 mm rainfall;
  • wet zone with >2000 mm rainfall.

Leopards have been observed in dry evergreen monsoon forest, arid scrub jungle, low and upper highland forest, rainforest, and wet zone intermediate forests.[citation needed]

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.[1]

The Wilpattu National Park is also known as a good place to watch leopards. Leopards tend to be more readily observed in parts of Sri Lanka than in other countries.[citation needed]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

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.[5]

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.[citation needed]

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.

There appears to be no birth season or peak, with births scattered across months.[5] A litter usually consists of 2 cubs.

Threats[edit]

Sri Lankan leopard

The survival of the Sri Lankan leopard is threatened due to poaching for trade (primarily to India) and human-leopard conflict.[1]

Conservation[edit]

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.[citation needed]

In captivity[edit]

As of December 2011, there are 75 captive Sri Lankan leopards in zoos worldwide. Within the European Endangered Species Programme 27 male, 29 female and 8 unsexed individuals are kept.[6]

The EEP breeding program is managed by Zoo Cerza, France.[citation needed]

Local names[edit]

Panthera pardus kotiya is the kotiyā proper.[7] But due to a nomenclature mishap that occurred in the late 1980s, "kotiyā" has now become the colloquial Sinhala term for tiger, and "diviyā" (දිවියා) is used for the leopard. In late 80s and early 90s, 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.[citation needed] 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".[citation needed]

Sri Lankans started to use "kotiyā" to mean "tiger", so "diviyā" was chosen for "leopard".

The term "diviyā" has been used for centuries in Sri Lanka to refer to smaller wild species of the cat family such as "Handun Diviyā" or "Kola Diviyā" (both names are used interchangeably for the Fishing Cat and the Rusty-spotted cat).

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'.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Kittle, A., Watson, A. (2008). "Panthera pardus ssp. kotiya". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  2. ^ a b Pocock, R.I. (1939) The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia. – Volume 1. Taylor and Francis, Ltd., London. Pp. 226–231.
  3. ^ Deraniyagala, P.E.P. (1956). The Ceylon leopard, a distinct subspecies. Spolia Zeylanica 28: 115–116.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ International Species Information System (2011). "ISIS Species Holdings: Panthera pardus kotiya, December 2011". 
  7. ^ "Panthera pardus kotiya". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. 
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