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Sri Lanka’s leopards are under threat, but this woman is determined to save them

Sri Lankan conservationist Anjali Watson says that as forests the place leopards reside are cleared to plant crops and construct houses, the large cats are being squeezed into pockets of wilderness that do not join with one another.

“We’ve lost a lot of leopards,” says Watson. Nobody is aware of what number of prowled the land earlier than the conflict, but about 70% of the animals’ habitat has been destroyed, and solely 750 to 1,000 grownup leopards stay, she says.

What’s extra, leopards are vulnerable to getting caught in snares. The wire traps are often set for bushmeat species, together with wild boar and deer, but they are indiscriminate in what they catch.

As Sri Lanka’s high predator, and its solely massive cat, the leopard “plays a key role” in Sri Lanka’s ecosystem, says Watson. “We call it an umbrella species,” she says, as a result of taking steps to save leopards protects all the opposite species that share their forest dwelling.

A ardour for wildlife

Watson grew up within the metropolis of Colombo, but “I loved being out in wild spaces … I have a strong affinity with animals” she says.

(Video courtesy of Chitral Jayatilake)

In 1994 she moved to Ontario, Canada, to research at McMaster University, and met her future husband, Andrew Kittle.

A number of years later the couple, who share a ardour for wildlife, had settled in Sri Lanka. In 2000 they launched a pilot challenge to research leopards in Yala National Park within the island’s southeast. At the time, little or no was identified concerning the elusive animals, says Watson. To defend them, it was very important to perceive their lives — and to depend them.

Watson and Kittle, who went on to set up the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) in 2004, at present work in 4 places round Sri Lanka. They are investigating the scale of the leopard inhabitants utilizing distant cameras that take pictures after they detect motion. Leopards that are caught on digicam may be recognized as a result of each has a singular sample of spots — and famously, their spots by no means change.

Installing the cameras is usually grueling work, says Watson. It can contain lengthy drives on spine-rattling, rocky tracks, clambering up hillsides, bushwhacking by means of jungle, and occasional encounters with elephants, bears and snakes, in addition to leeches and ticks.

Anjali Watson attaches a motion-detecting camera to a tree.

Out within the area, the workforce collects leopard scat to discover out which animals they are searching — leopards are not choosy eaters and their weight-reduction plan consists of deer, monkeys, wild boar, porcupines and hares.

Watson hopes that WWCT’s information will assist to form growth plans that make area for leopards. If corridors between forest patches and buffer zones round protected areas are safeguarded, each people and animals might thrive. Watson is devoted to making certain that these “beautiful, fabulous creatures” survive.

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