Known as the ‘Lord of the Jungle’, the Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera parades kotiya) is one of the eight recognized subspecies of Leopard and is indigenous to Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Leopard, the smallest of the ‘Big cats’ is still the only large mammal predator in the country and relatively bigger in size than its relatives living elsewhere. It is rusty yellow coloured with its characteristic dark spots and lithe elongated bodies. It is stocky in build, with a shoulder height of about 45 to 80 centimeters with males weighing around 56 kg and females around 29 kg and lives up o 20 years. They are highly graceful and agile animals are predatory carnivores making them excellent hunters who pursue different prey such as small mammals, birds, reptiles, wild boar, sambur and barking-deer of which the spotted deer makes a larger part of its diet. They hunt mainly during the nights and are best observed during dawn and dusk and sometimes during the daytime as well.
In Sri Lanka the Leopard has been listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List 2007 due to the decline in the Leopard population in Sri Lanka. The reasons for the decline are poaching and the diminishing leopard habitat due to human-leopard conflict.
The Sri Lankan Leopard is able to survive in most habitats and is distributed throughout the island both within protected areas and outside the protected. They are most frequently found in the dry zone, evergreen forests, scrub jungle, rainforests and wet zone intermediate forests. The best place for leopard sighting is the Yala National Park, which is known to have the highest recorded densities of leopards in the world and the Wilpattu National Park.
Watching leopards in the wild is considered an art that requires lots of patience so as to win the trust of the animal. Since leopards are not favorable to human movement, it is best to keep still and quiet while staying a good distance away. The best period for leopard watching is during the dry seasons which is between May – August in Yala when the animals can be seen quenching their thirst at the waterholes.