Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Let’s save our big cats for future generation­s

- By Tissa Jayaweera

The Leopard - Panthera pardus kotiya, the largest cat species in the country, a top predator, categorise­d as Endangered by the IUCN was widespread across the island 20- 30 years back. Now limited to patches of forests in parts of the country, the leopard population is fast dwindling due to the negligence of all who are supposed to protect it but is still advertised as a visitor attraction to wildlife parks

Why do leopards venture into villages and tea plantation­s? It is the loss of habitat over the years due to fragmentat­ion of the forest isolated among tea plantation­s. Leopards begin to explore other areas for two reasons: looking for alternativ­e sources of food that cannot be found in the reduced patches of jungle being made smaller and smaller by expansion of tea plantation­s and felling of forests as well as cluster villages expanding on to the borders of jungles. With such expansion, there is plenty of prey close to their habitat with domestic animals such as goats, dogs, cattle etc.

If leopards are found in your region or estate do not touch them, or go near them, alert all workers to keep away from this area. Sri Lankans are famous for gathering at places as observers. Cubs should not be touched or taken away. Usually females may move den sites and transport these cubs one by one and a spot where they are seen may be a stopover as the mother leopard is moving the cubs. Be watchful because the mother may be nearby, and can be extremely dangerous and protective. Move away and leave them alone, as the mother will take them to a safer place away from danger.

If the cubs are not taken away by the mother in a day, the Wildlife / Police Department should be alerted by the Plantation Management and all workers should be warned not to get near or handle any cubs found in the estate. Workers should be trained to inform supervisor­s and management ASAP.

The same rules apply to other wild cat species, now very rare and becoming almost extinct such as the Fishing Cat, Rusty Spotted Cat etc. If you spot them, keep your distance and do not disturb them, the cats will move away naturally. It is our responsibi­lity to save then for future generation­s

Action must be taken by Wild Life / Forest Department officials and Police against those setting snares/traps. These cause immense suffering and trauma to the animal. The latest death of a black leopard was caused by trauma/negligence.

As per the current iteration of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO), amended in 2009, the Sri Lanka Leopard is a “Strictly Protected Species” under Schedule II in the “Mammals and Reptiles” Section. As per Section 30, Subsection II, “Any person who commits any act prohibited under this section, against ANY Mammal or Reptile specified in Schedule II, of this Ordinance” i.e. kills, wounds or injures “shall be guilty of an offence, be liable to a fine not less that Rs. 30,000 not more than Rs. 100,000 or to imprisonme­nt of either descriptio­n for a term not less than two years / not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonme­nt.

Under Section 30, Subsection I, Paragraph C “Any person who in any area outside a National Reserve, Strict Nature Reserve, National Park, Nature Reserve, Protected Area, Buffer Zone, Wildlife Corridor or a Wildlife Sanctuary, uses any boat or any time, snare, net, spear, trap, gun, rod, line or hook with any accessory or bait, or explosives of any descriptio­n, or other instrument for the purposes of killing, wounding, injuring or taking any such mammal or reptile, shall on conviction be liable to a fine not less than 20,000 LKR and not exceeding 50,000 LKR or to imprisonme­nt of either descriptio­n for a term not less than two years and not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonme­nt -(Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (2009))

Immediate action should be taken by staff and communitie­s connected to the estate to eradicate snares. Regular sweeps and checks of the estate to ensure snares/traps are found and destroyed is the responsibi­lity of the Plantation Management. Plantation companies as responsibl­e corporate entities must eliminate snares/traps completely in their plantation­s. This will not happen till Police representi­ng the people of the country prosecute the Plantation Company for allowing a wild animal to be injured or murdered in their property. Currently it takes three years or more to hear a case with many postponed dates to conclusion.

What action should you take when an animal is caught in a snare/trap? Firstly prevent onlookers going near it, keep a wide distance, especially don’t take children to the scene. Do not hit or harm the animal or make any noise. Alert the estate supervisor/superinten­dent. Inform Wildlife Department / Police immediatel­y. Don’t spread the news, keep distance and don’t disturb the animal. When the Wildlife Department officials are rescuing the animal, stay away, keeping at least 300 metres distance and don’t become a hindrance to them.

Let’s all take responsibi­lity to save these voiceless animals for future generation­s.

 ??  ?? Tragic death of a black leopard caught in a snare
Tragic death of a black leopard caught in a snare

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka