Sri Lankan leopards are at the apex of the food chain in this island. They not only feed on large herbivores like sambhurs and buffaloes but do on dozens of others both large and small, including reptiles and amphibians.
They not only feed on little creatures such as mice and frogs to subsist when food is scarce but consistently will kill and eat small prey opportunistically.
Highly adaptable and versatile in diet and habitat preference, leopards live along marginal areas where other large cats have been long become extinct. The Leopards’ adaptive radiation throughout Asia and Africa is one of the great success stories of mammalian evolution.
With long association with humans from a time that the leopard was not quite a leopard and humans were not quite human, today it seems that the leopards have learnt more about us than we have learnt about them.
Primarily, the leopards have realized that humans are best avoided as they pose an ever-present danger.
However, leopards are able to live in close proximity to human settlements even urban areas, and live on livestock, pets and suitable refuse. We have always underestimated leopards and do not give this intelligent, adaptable cat the credit it deserves for living as our neighbours.
Human-leopard conflict however is a growing problem in some areas especially the hills.
It is possible to avoid this conflict altogether ensuring long-term survival of leopards, if a few behaviour changes are undertaken by humans.
The leopards’ natural instinct is to avoid humans. Its unparallelled camouflage and its secretive nature and its learning capacity will all help to minimise the conflict, which is mostly caused by humans.
Fear mongering and unnecessary persecution and disinformation will not help. It will only prevent easy coexistence which can be lucrative and beneficial to both.
Leopards are an important part of the food chain and ecological balance.
Their extinction will have unforeseen, adverse consequences, impacting directly on a myriad of other species.
The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society’s (WNPS) monthly lecture will be delivered by Rukshan Jayewardene on January 18 at 6 p.m. at the Cinema Hall of the Bandaranaike International Conference Hall (BMICH), Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7. The lecture is open to all and entrance is free.
About the speaker
Rukshan Jayawardene’s early education was at the Royal College Colombo.
In his final year in school Rukshan Jayawardene learnt about animal diversity and biological evolution in Zoology. More than any other school lessons, this revolutionary theory, first propounded by Charles Darwin and taught by an inspirational teacher at the Royal College, fascinated him and fired his imagination.
His first job was at the National Zoological Gardens Department or simply the Dehiwala Zoo. By observation and experience he learned much about animals at the zoo, especially leopards and other big cats: Leopards were to become a lifelong obsession.
He was fortunate to have the guiding hand of his first boss Lyn de Alwis.
He has an degree in Anthropology from the University of Maryland and a post graduate degree (MPhil.) in South Asian Archaeology from the University of Cambridge, UK.
He counts 14 years of field experience as an Archaeologist. He retains an abiding interest in Palaeontological Research, especially in recovering past environments from the fossil record. He has a special interest in understanding evolutionary relationships amongst proto-humans, other primates and adaptive radiation of all species.
He is a founding trustee of the Leopard Trust (Est. 2002) founder-member and Chairman of the Wilderness and Protected Areas Foundation (Est.2005), Director at The Environmental Foundation Limited (Est. 1981) and the President of the WNPS (Est. 1894)