Written by Staff Writer at Travel + Leisure Asia
When Li Yan came across an abandoned shelter for abandoned leopards in a dense forest outside Colombo, she was fascinated to learn that its had been formed as a refuge for the big cats by their own brothers and sisters.
But not all leopards in Sri Lanka live in family structures — and the 40 cats that live in this household are not family members. The shelter has also become a dying breed.
The Sri Lanka Bat Carnivore Conservation (SLCBC) is offering to help any communities that want to take in leopards by establishing adoption programs and then supporting them during the breeding season, from October to March.
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The first orangutan orphan is introduced to the adult orangutan community at the Don Bosco Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Indonesia. CNN
There are only about 3,000 known leopards left in the wild and, currently, more than 70 of them reside in Sri Lanka, which is home to six UNESCO World Heritage sites.
But the leopards are increasingly fleeing for the safety of cities, and are in danger of being wiped out entirely in the long term, says SLCBC’s Director of Surveillance, Health and Preservation, Lilia Fernando.
“I think what’s going to happen is that species will become extinct in Sri Lanka within the next 100 years, and the habitat will be gone as well,” Fernando tells CNN.
She refers to a lack of suitable habitats in the country that is limiting leopard habitats and plans to retrofit about 10% of Sri Lanka’s park land into leopard conservation areas by 2020.
Leopards, Indian elephants, tigers, wild dogs and other endangered species are also threatened with extinction in India.
Finding homes for tigers and leopards
Barbados hosts one of the few leopard camps in the world. Getty Images
Fernando says 5-6 leopards are relocated in Sri Lanka each year, but a real, long-term solution is needed to give leopards a stable place in the wild.
“We need to find a place where the animals can be fostered, very much like the Aldabra Atoll , where there are actually a million plants and animals that are native to the atoll,” she says.
Leopards face many other difficulties as well.
“The most important thing is to increase habitat in Sri Lanka and where we have that, conserve it and use the plantations as part of the leopard conservation program,” Fernando says.
“They live in forests where there are coffee plantations and they can’t actually hunt because there are coffee plantations. So they have to use their venomous teeth to munch on coconut shells and palm leaves. They eat as much as they can and this releases poison.”
It’s a sort of lethal combination that creates a good food source for other predators.
“That’s exactly the problem with cats that have come back to Europe after World War II, after all the cats that were exported and then wiped out during the Holocaust,” she says.
“The fact that these cats are released back into large residential areas and they start using gardens as food is a problem.”
How to stay safe
SLCBC cat licensing is free for every person who shelters a leopard or cat and Fernando says that from January 2015 to March 2016, more than 300 leopards and cats were captured and brought to the SLCBC.
Breeding helps breed in numbers.
“At the moment we are looking to establish family units (and) nurture them (to breed) as soon as possible,” Fernando says.
“The real reason for doing this is to try to get everybody in the government and the society to understand that leopards can be kept and loved, so their habitat is created. And then they can reproduce, there is more big cats on the islands and on the mainland and they can actually help with climate change.”
According to Fernando, many countries have yet to see the effects of climate change, but current trends seem to point to it being less of a tropical zone and more of a cold zone in the future.
“So it’s really an appeal to people to be more conscious about this,” she says.