Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)

GenusPanthera (1)
SizeFemale weight: 29 kg (2)
Male weight: 56 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). The species (Panthera pardus) is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The Sri Lankan leopard is one of currently eight recognised subspecies of leopard, the smallest of the 'big cats' (4). Leopards have lithe, elongated bodies supported on relatively stocky legs and broad paws (5). Sri Lankan leopards are generally larger in size than their relatives elsewhere (4). As with other leopards, the coat is a tawny or rusty yellow, marked with the dark spots and rosettes so characteristic of this species; individual markings are unique (5).

This subspecies is found in Sri Lanka, just south of the Indian subcontinent (2).

Very little is known about Sri Lanka’s leopards, but individuals within the Yala National Park in the southeast of the country are found in scrub jungle with scattered rocky outcrops (4).

No detailed scientific study of the Sri Lankan leopard has been undertaken to date (4). Observations have revealed however, that these leopards may be more social than subspecies elsewhere, and they have also been known to tackle bigger prey including almost full-grown buffaloes (4). These intriguing differences may reflect the Sri Lankan leopard's unique position at the top of the food chain; leopards in other areas are superseded by the larger lions and tigers (4). Leopards tend to stalk and ambush their prey and are opportunistic hunters, taking a wide range of prey and readily scavenging carcasses. In Yala National Park, spotted deer appear to make up the majority of the diet (4).

Leopards are primarily arboreal and nocturnal, they are generally solitary creatures, with the exception of females and their young. Both sexes occupy territories although those of males tend to overlap those of several females (6). Litter size is usually around two cubs, and in Sri Lanka breeding is thought to take place during the dry season that runs from May to July (2).

Leopards have been highly prized for their coats throughout their range, and there has recently been a worrying increase in the number of skins seized by authorities in Sri Lanka (4). Leopard bones have also started to replace tiger bones in traditional medicine, thus adding to the demand for poached individuals (4). Although renowned as adaptable creatures, the destruction of their native habitat is a further threat (2). Years of civil unrest in the country have also hampered conservation programmes (4).

Trade in leopards, or products obtained from them, is banned by their listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3). Further research into the little-known Sri Lankan leopard is desperately needed before any effective conservation measures may be put into place, and the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society is currently undertaking research for this purpose (7).

For further information on conserving the Sri Lankan leopard see:

Authenticated (01/05/08) by Peter Jackson, Chair, IUCN Cat Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2003)
  2. Cat Specialist Group (March, 2003)
  3. CITES (March, 2003)
  4. Kumara, J. (2001) Island Leopards. BBC Wildlife Magazine, 19(12): 46 - 53.
  5. Lioncrusher's Domain (March, 2003)
  6. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (March, 2003)