The Cost to Save the Tress of Sri Lanka’s Leopards

In the hills of south-central Sri Lanka, Raja Mohamed-Walsh, one of the World Wildlife Fund’s volunteer rangers, is out there every day. Their region is home to 56 leopards, and with the limited resources…

The Cost to Save the Tress of Sri Lanka’s Leopards

In the hills of south-central Sri Lanka, Raja Mohamed-Walsh, one of the World Wildlife Fund’s volunteer rangers, is out there every day. Their region is home to 56 leopards, and with the limited resources of a recently unified state, they’re under threat. Pongo rats and red-crowned cockatoos eat the leopards’ leaves and their young. And they lead their leopard children into human settlements, leaving them to starve to death. “All life that’s in there needs to be rescued,” says Mr. Walsh. “What I’m doing is so small and regular that people don’t care if it takes a year or two. They just need this animal.”

To save the tigers, animals like Mr. Walsh, who are famous by working with them, are the ones who are ending the human encroachment on their habitats. Wildlife protection managers like Mr. Walsh hope to raise public awareness that leopards, in this part of the world, are as big and as majestic as tigers — but are much more difficult to approach. When they want to, they’ll come in their tracks — in the middle of the night, or in the trees, evading enticements.

A team of game wardens tries to catch them as they eat. They lure them with loaves of bread, and when the leopards decide they’re ready, they shoot them. Some are still alive when the wardens get there. But others are dead. They’re dragged to local police, placed in two-person chariots, and put in a “vegetative state” — no food. “One day, they’ll wake up, and I don’t know whether they’ll still be alive,” Mr. Walsh says. “No one really knows.” —

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