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 So another leopard has died, this one black. By our count that is the 47th leopard to be caught in a wire snare in the past 10 years. No doubt there have been more that have gone undocumented. Around 90% of those snared leopards have ended up dead despite the best efforts of the DWC, who work hard to save these animals in conditions that are never ideal where they are forced to make very difficult, necessarily quick decisions. The ideal decisions are not always made, that is true, but that is also something that each of us could also say about our own areas of expertise. From long experience working with wildlife we know how challenging even the simplest sounding task can be - wild animals are not known for their cooperation and wilderness areas are renowned for throwing up unexpected complications. If this leopard had been released immediately upon the snare being removed, we would probably all be celebrating a “successful” rescue, but there is a good chance that the leopard would not have been, as his adrenaline wore off and his wound got worse and he died somewhere in the forest nearby unbeknownst to the crowds. Snares are nasty and their effects can take time to manifest, externally as well as internally - we have stood over a beautiful young male leopard with not a mark on its body that had died from internal injuries from a snare around its waist. That said, there are always improvements in protocol that can be made and there probably do need to be some adjustments made in light of this episode and we will support this. Reducing the stress on the leopard as much as possible needs to be paramount.

We have also seen condemning comments directed at the plantation companies upon whose lands these events typically transpire. Having worked in the Central Highlands for many years, including conducting a wide-ranging remote camera study which encompassed the estate where this black leopard was snared, we have no hesitation in saying that the vast majority of estate managers living in these areas are genuinely interested in the wildlife around them and in ensuring that this wildlife is protected. But as we know there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and in a difficult landscape with thousands of people scattered across dozens and dozens of communities, it is not surprising that despite best intentions and even 95% compliance, snares are still set and animals still die. It only takes a couple of people here and there. Already the estate sector is working to try and combat this issue - after all many are Rainforest certified and as such are mandated to eliminate these kinds of incidents. We too will continue to remove snares as we find them. 

It is important to remember that the main issue here is the use of snares. Our understanding is that the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance is murky on this, stating it is clearly not legal to set snares but then throwing a caveat that certain wildlife species (“pest species”, including wild boar) and certain circumstances (protection of life and livestock and even just in case of proximity of certain “dangerous” species) override this. We know that some people in estate communities have the perception that it is not illegal to set snares to protect their vegetables from wild boar. The obvious problem with snares is that they are both horribly cruel and completely indiscriminate - as this latest leopard incident once again demonstrates. For this reason, it seems clear to us that snaring should never be allowed, in any circumstance, as it is simply not possible to target only certain “pest” species (like wild boar) using this technique. As such we need to get this practice stopped island-wide, with less harmful solutions advocated for crop protection. 

Dr. Andrew Kittle 


Anjali Watson 

The Leopard Project 

The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) 

Sri Lanka 


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