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Sri Lanka ‘keystone’ leopards hailed in major new Wilpattu National Park study

Sri Lanka ‘keystone’ leopards hailed in major new Wilpattu National Park study

The Sri Lanka Daily Mirror newspaper highlights a story on the multimedia Motherboard website hailing Sri Lanka’s 1,000 leopards as “a keystone species in the ecological parlance of the country”.

Entitled ‘Saving Leopards Is Hard, Especially With All The Landmines’, the story quotes wildlife researcher Anjali Watson as saying that leopards are an ‘umbrella species’—wide ranging animals—and protecting them would mean protecting many others in the same territories.

The story focuses on Wilpattu, Sri Lanka’s oldest and largest national park, which was once a warzone. Watson and husband Andrew Kittle cite stories from soldiers stationed in these forests.

“The men recalled nights when they would be jolted awake by the sound of landmines exploding in the pitch darkness, somewhere beyond the border of their camps. Nervously, they wondered whether guerillas had triggered the bombs, and if their enemies would soon close in on them.

“But the dawn would bring evidence of a different kind of victim. The remains of peacocks were found lying in heaps of shredded feathers; elephants lay with limbs blown off. A few leopards and bears were also shot because men who encountered them were afraid.”

When the 30-year war ended and many landmines laboriously cleared, Watson and Kittle had free access to the park. They are now publishing data from one of the most comprehensive studies of the leopard population in Wilpattu—the first since the Smithsonian Institution did a more general survey in the late 1960s.

The story concludes optimistically, with Kittle saying: “For us, there’s always this thrill, no matter how often you see the animal. You have this respect for its ability to exist in very compromised locations, often alongside people, with minimum conflict.”

Read the full story here.

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