Sri Lankan Leopard, Panthera pardus kotiya

The Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is a subspecies of the leopard that is native to Sri Lanka. The range of this subspecies is highly fragmented, but in some areas, it does occur in high numbers. It prefers many types of habitats including rainforests, arid scrublands, evergreen monsoon forests, upper and lowland forests, and damp forests.

The Sri Lankan leopard differs in size depending upon sex. Males can reach and average body length of about our feet with an average weight of 124 pounds, while females can reach an average body length about three and a half feet, with a weight of 64 pounds. Tail lengths average around three feet in males and two and half feet in females. The coat of this subspecies is reddish yellow to tawny in color, with dark spots occurring along the entire body.

As is typical to leopard species, the Sri Lankan leopard is solitary, with the exceptions of breeding pairs and mothers with young. Both males and females hold territories, with male territories being larger than those of females. The home ranges of males will overlap those of many females, and sometimes other males. There is no breeding season for this leopard, with births occurring throughout the year, and litter typical consist of one to two cubs.

The Sri Lankan leopard is active mainly at night, but this is typically reserved for hunting. Like most big cats, this leopard is practical when choosing prey, consuming a variety of creatures including reptiles, birds, and many types of deer, along with monkeys, wild boar, and even buffalo. It hunts like most leopards, quietly stalking its prey until it is close enough to pounce and deliver a killing bite to the throat. However, it does not bring its prey into trees, like other species, because it does not compete with any other creatures for food.

There has been much confusion locally about the name of Sri Lankan leopard. Although its scientific name, Panthera pardus kotiya, uses the proper form of kotiyā, that name came to mean tiger in the Sinhala language in the 1980’s during a classification mistake. The term diviyā was used for the leopard during this time, due to incorrect translations into English given by the then head of the Wildlife Department in Sri Lanka. His mistake caused people to believe that there were no leopards in Sri Lanka, using the Sinhala term for small wild cats, like the fishing cat and the rusty-spotted cat, to represent the lack of tigers, causing even more confusion. Because of this, the leopard became known locally as diviyā, and tigers were given the name kotiyā.

The Sri Lankan leopard is threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and a bad reputation among humans. However, it easily tolerates these threats and can often be found near human settlements. In order to conduct effective conservation efforts, more research is needed concerning the leopards habits. The Sri Lankan government is working with Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) in the Leopard Project, ensuring that studies and efforts will occur. It was found in 2011 that there were 75 captive leopards in zoos across the world, with at least 27 males and 29 females in the European Endangered Species Programme. The Sri Lankan leopard appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”

Image Caption: Sri Lanka Leopard, in ZOO Jihlava, Czech Republic. Credit: Mistvan/Wikipedia