The leopard (Panthera pardus) is the smallest of the four big predatory cats species in the genus Panthera. Though smaller, they are perfectly well able to take large prey, because their massive skulls facilitate powerful jaw muscles. Leopards occur in rainforests as well as in deserts, in all parts of sub-saharan Africa and the southern half of Asia and the Russian and Manchurian Far East. This is the largest distribution of any wild cat. The biggest leopard is the Persian leopard (subspecies saxicolor), the largest leopard documented weighed 96.5 kg. Males are 30% larger than females. Smallest adult individuals are female Arabian leopards, weighing as little as 17 kg. This is an extraordinary variety of size within one mammal species. Doubtlessly, most leopards live in Africa. But estimates vary between 230,000 and 700,000 individuals of the African leopards. There is an ongoing debate if all of them belong to the same subspecies Pantherea pardus pardus. In Asia there are 8 different leopard subspecies, the Java leopard being the rarest one. Java and Sri Lanka are the only islands inhabited by leopards. Borneo`s “cloud leopard” is a different species.
The Ceylon leopard or Sri Lanka leopard is a subspecies called Panthera pardus kotiya. Ironically, “kotiya” means tiger in Sinhala, leopards are called “deviya”. The Sri Lanka leopard is a comparatively large subspecies, maybe because there are no competiting more dominant tigers or lions. Males can reach up to 77 kg. Though the Sri Lanka leopard is classified as endangered, leopards can be more easily observed in Sri Lanka than in other countries, where they tend to be even more hiding due to the existence of larger preditors. However, leopard watching differs from elephant safaris. Observers have to stay at a distance in order to gain some trust of the animal. Most important is to be quiet. The estimated number of leopards in Sri Lanka is 600 or 700 individuals. The Sri Lanka leopard occurs in a variety of habitats including all 3 climate and vegetation zones of the island: dry evergreen monsoon forest in the south-west (Sinharaja), arid scrub jungle in the north and east (Wilpattu and Yala), and montane forest in the central highlands (Horton plains). In the Central Province most leopards live outside national parks.
Team Sightseeinglanka had good luck to observe leopards from close distance on a safari in Sri Lanka’s largest National Park, Wilpattu, between 11th and 14th of August, choosing Manawila Park Bungalow as their accommodation. August is the driest period of the dry season in the northern and eastern parts of the island, where all Wildlife Parks with leopard populations are located. During the dry season, wild animals are facing increasing problems to find drinking water in the parks. In particular, spotted deers, the leopards’ favourite prey, gather at the few remaining ponds. This is why August is a month of high chances to see leopards, which are at the top of the food chain in Sri Lanka, close to those watering places, too. Leopards, the largest cat species occuring in Sri Lanka, freely roam in the jungle and open areas of Wilpattu Park in the day and night time. They like open grasslands and sandy areas, where they relax especially in the dawn and dusk hours. These are the places and times for those remarkable sights team leader Kapila was able to capture in photographs. The leopard is a magnificiant animal, the beauty of the Sri Lanka's jungles. Since the density of leopards is increased these days in both Yala Park and Wilpattu Park, chances are high to observe at least 3 or 4 Leopards, if the tour operator really knows the undisturbed tracks. Team Sightseeinglanka knows some undisturbed areas in Yala that are as much or even more densely populated by leopards than blog area, the touristically most frequented part of Yala. Similarly, Team Sightseeinglanka knows where to drive in Wilpattu National Park in order to enjoy tranquil areas with best chances to spot leopards. (Otherwise those two "leopard" national parks can be quite crowded - with visitors more than with wildlife - on some standard routes.) See the leopard photo series captured last week by our veteran nature lover and wildlife enthusiast Kapila and his friends here...
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