Anjali and I started conducting leopard research here in Sri Lanka in 2000 in response to the dearth of such research on the island. Having been born and raised in Sri Lanka, Anjali has always had an affinity for the leopard, the only big cat to be found on the island. She felt that there was a glaring knowledge gap with regards to the basic ecology of the species. At the time, elephants dominated any and all wildlife headlines here and strangely, the leopard, charismatic and visually stunning though it may be, was not accorded the level of conservation or management importance that we felt was its due.
We had just returned to Sri Lanka after spending a couple of years working on a primate project in Panama in Central America and had both previously spent time working on the Smithsonian Polonaruwa Primate Project in the north central part of Sri Lanka, but now we felt it was time to start work on our own. Given the aforementioned lack of information about the species, and its potentially important role as top carnivore in the system, the leopard was the obvious candidate upon which to initiate a study.
We selected Block I of Yala National Park in the arid south-eastern coastal strip for a couple of reasons – it was relatively well protected and the leopards fairly well habituated allowing them to be studied by observation. We felt this population would provide a suitable baseline for further work in other parts of the country. Our two years spent studying the Yala leopards was incredible. We learned a great deal about this elusive cat’s ecology and behaviour as we were able to identify individuals and follow them closely for a prolonged period. This enabled us to understand something about their ranging, feeding and sociality and led to further questions about the importance of evolving without intra-guild competition.