Deve Gowda, the caretaker of a leopard reserve in southern Sri Lanka, knew it was in trouble when he came across a woman feeding a cat in early February. Not only was she feeding cats — but leopards.
A leopard that had been spotted earlier by an Internet-savvy Game Reserve Management Group staff member — supposedly the elusive creature had made its way to an orphanage in Ranilal Uyanikawela, a town southwest of Colombo. There was a dozen or so leopards living in the Ranilal Uyanikawela reserve, some of which lived in the center of town and hunted prey on a daily basis.
When Gowda brought the leopard in for rescue, the traumatized little animal, which had not eaten in days, was clearly stressed. One of the injured leopards that was killed for carrying out that act had been bitten severely, its paws and tail torn from the legs. At one point, the leopard looked out from underneath its paw to see a litany of the caged cats in Uyanikawela — a catastrophe waiting to happen.
“It’s shocking — it’s a unique situation,” Gowda said. “From November to February, the leopards are on the streets; they are not at the reserve.”
And it’s not just that the leopards are on the street — it’s that they have left their natural habitat in the Sri Lankan marshlands to live in the open in Colombo. The forested wetlands surrounding Ranilal Uyanikawela are being drained, so the leopards have moved to where their regular food, ducks, has been replaced by the greenery and vegetables that are on offer on the outskirts of the town.