All About Leopards in Sri Lanka

Leopards In Sri Lanka

Looking for the most charismatic species in Sri Lanka? Wildlife enthusiasts look forward to visit the island nation to witness the spotted cat – the leopard. However, the tourists have been disrupting the natural habitat of wild animals.

The Panthera Pardus Kothiya (leopard) are an endangered species and one can see a huge decline in the numbers. Last year, a Sri Lankan leopard was brutally killed for its claws and teeth. Since 1964, leopards have been the most protected animal in the nation. But, in the recent years, we have seen killings of the majestic animal.

There are 4 wild cat species on the island. Leopard happens to be the most popular and also the largest cat in Sri Lanka. There are many tourists who visit Sri Lanka just to get a glimpse of the majestic animal.

Want to know more about the endangered species in Sri Lanka? Let’s DIVE right into the section where you will find out more about the Sri Lankan leopard. Here’s an elaborate post on the ‘leopards in Sri Lanka. We will be covering the following aspects in this post.

  • About The Sri Lankan Leopard
  • Where can you find leopards in Sri Lanka?
  • Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka To Spot Leopards
  • How many Leopards Are there in Sri Lanka?
  • Reasons for Decreasing Population
  • Important Jeep Safari Pointers To Keep In Mind

Brace up and read the full post before you head to the island nation for a leopard spotting tour.

About The Sri Lankan Leopard

When you head to Sri Lanka, the overriding thought in your mind is to spot a leopard at Yala. It is indeed a star attraction for those who love nature and wildlife. In Sri Lankan language, leopards are called ‘Panthera Pardus Kotiya’. These are the leopard subspecies that are native to the island nation. As per IUCN, Sri Lankan leopards are an endangered species.

The solitary animal enjoys hunting alone and relaxing in the lush green forest four hours. Well, it is quite difficult to spot a leopard anywhere in the globe. Perhaps the accessibility makes the tourists curious! Spotting a leopard in Sri Lanka is not a hard task. If you have a good guide beside you and the month and timing are right, then you will certainly spot a leopard.

Sometimes, you would just see the swish of his/her tail and even their fierce eyes. The Sri Lankan leopard has a rusty yellow coat and spots all over his/her body. The dark spots on the rusty yellow coat are quite distinct and easily recognizable. The wild cats tail is quite long! It actually covers more than half of the leopard’s body.

Please note that the female leopard is 30% smaller than the male leopard. These majestic creatures can weigh up to 170 pounds or more. Don’t even think of lifting a leopard as they weigh quite a lot and are tough to carry. Perhaps nobody would want to take the challenge of prancing around a live leopard. Moving on, leopards are quite confident and they are courageous enough to walk on roads even during daylight. Even though these wild cats are nocturnal creatures, but you can spot them during the day or even early in the morning.

When mating season sets in, the leopards start hunting in pairs. If a lady leopard has cubs, you will find them walking around with the newborns. It is a visual treat for sore eyes!

Where Can You Find Leopards In Sri Lanka?

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Majority of the nature and wildlife enthusiasts fly to Sri Lanka to witness the beauty of a leopard. Since you are planning a trip to spot a leopard, you must keep a list of places you ought to visit.

As per reports (unconfirmed), about 550-600 leopards are residing in the wild. The figures can be misleading because there are no legit reports that tell you about the population of leopards in Sri Lanka. The question is – What are the places where you can spot them? The chances are not bleak. Whenever tourists visit the national parks with a legit guide, they are able to spot the beautiful wild animal.

Let’s not forget that a leopard is quite confident and is seen walking around the roads. Perhaps you might even spot them drinking water on a hot day.

To spot a leopard, you can go to the following national parks:

1. Yala National Park: Yala is one of the most famous national parks in whole of Sri Lanka. Please note that it gets quite busy with tourists and jeeps swarming around. When it is on-season, the park will be filled with tourists from all over the globe. However, there is a limit to the jeeps that cruise inside the park.

February to June is the best time to visit Yala. This is basically dry season and spotting a leopard becomes easier. The leopard comes out from the bushes to take a swig of water. During dry season, the water level is quite low and that’s why the leopards come out to drink water.

Avoid traveling during September month because the park closes for maintenance purpose. Apart from spotting leopards, you can also find monkeys, wild elephants, buffaloes, wild boards, crocodiles, and boars around this park.

Isn’t it wonderful to see the wild animals roaming around freely? Since the leopard is an endangered species, you must choose a safari guide carefully. There have been cases where amateurs indulge in speeding the vehicle. Be watchful when you visit the national park. Don’t forget that it is their habitat and you must respect their space.

The leopards at Yala do not harm the tourists. But, you must maintain silence and not tease the wild animals. There are certain do’s and don’ts that we will cover later on.

2. Wilpattu National Park: Wilpattu is another national park in Sri Lanka where the leopards reside. It may not be densely populated with this beautiful gigantic cat, but you can get lucky here. It is indeed not as crowded as Yala. There are 26 national parks at the island nation and one of the most famous ones has to be Wilpattu. Yala has to be the most popular one.

There are many lakes in Wilpattu. These are known as ‘villus’. A variety of animals can be spotted here, including the majestic leopard. Asiatic elephants, wild boars, peacocks, monkeys, a range of exotic birds can be seen in this lush national park.

You will find the leopard marking territory at the trails in the park. They venture out at night or early in the morning to drink water. Hence, we recommend tourists to step out for a safari during these hours.

Note – You will also find sloth bears in the above-mentioned national parks. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the safari.

Since we talked about the best hours to visit the national parks, we will tell you more about the best time to visit Sri Lanka to spot leopards. Let’s move on to the next section!

Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka To Spot Leopards

Sri Lanka is a wondrous holiday destination! The weather is gracious almost all of the year. The winter season is not as cold. It stays pleasant even during the winter season. Leopard sighting in Sri Lanka is a popular activity during the hotter months or the dry months. For obvious reasons, the leopard comes out of the bushes to drink water.

When few water sources are there in their habitat, they are forced to venture out. This is the best time to watch them! The guides will take you near all the watering holes where the leopard steps out to quench their thirst. Photographers and videographers are able to capture each moment of the wild animal. If you are lucky enough, you would also see the leopards in action. There are times when tourists are able to see the leopard catching their prey.

Since there are plenty of wild hares, elephants, monkeys, and boars in the wild, the leopard does not have a hard time looking for food. September month and early part of October is not the best time to visit Sri Lanka. This is the time when the popular Yala National Park closes for its annual maintenance drill.

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Note – Sri Lanka experiences two different monsoon seasons.

January to March is supposed to be dry season. This is the perfect time to venture out for leopard spotting in Sri Lanka. During this time, the national parks see a lot of crowd. People from different parts of the world visit the parks to spot the rare species. Sometimes, there will be odd rainshower in the day, but the dry season tends to be perfect for leopard spotting.

As soon as April sets in, the weather gets hotter and tourists are able to see more leopards. The leopard is confident and is not scared of civilization and humans. However, they only step out to kill their prey or drink water. These solitary animals love to spend time behind the bushes and relax most part of the day. In May and June, Yala stays dry but Wilpattu gets the odd rainshower during these two months.

By September, there is a lack of water at these national parks. Hence, the national park does not look as good as it does during monsoon season or the dry season. The national park closes in the month of September, but reopens later in the year. Note – We told you about the best months to visit Yala and Wilpattu, but we are now going to disclose the days you should skip.

Never head to the national parks on a weekend or a holiday. This is the time when the park is bustling with people. Perhaps the leopards and other animals hide behind the bushes. It gets maddening during the weekend and festival season. Anytime between January to April is a good time to visit to spot the leopards in Sri Lanka.

How many leopards are there in Sri Lanka?

As per researchers and several reports, it was noted that there are 700-1000 Sri Lankan leopards across the globe. In Yala, you will find 40 leopards. This might seem like a disappointing number, but it is good considering the animal is an endangered species.

There is absolutely no information about the exact number of leopards in Sri Lanka. Since the government is doing everything to protect the species, they should keep a count. As per IUCN, the wild cat is endangered, but the count is not confirmed as of yet.

When you travel to Sri Lanka to spot leopards, be ready for a ‘no show’ too. You would see many more animals, but spotting the predator depends on the time you choose to visit the national park.

Ideally, head to the national park early in the morning or in the evening. These are the best hours to spot the leopards as they are less threatened by human beings and zooming of jeeps.

Reasons for Decreasing Population

According to Anjali Watson (a conservationalist), 70% of the natural habitat was destroyed and this caused the decline in leopard popular.

Few years back, a leopard was run over by a speeding jeep. Poaching was prevalent few years ago. As of today, 700-1000 leopards exist in the country. Is this count legit? Have more leopards died due to human intervention? Since there is no count, there is no way to find out the exact population of leopards in the country.

Human intervention and destruction is not the only cause of decline of leopard population. Sometimes the leopards get trapped in the wire snare traps. These are kept around the jungle to hunt for boar and deers.

As responsible inhabitants and travellers, we must respect the wildlife and keep some pointers in our mind. The next section covers the important jeep safari pointers that will educate you to become more responsible on your next trip to Sri Lanka.

Tips For Your Safari Jeep Ride

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Leopards in Sri Lanka are declining. However, when we take care of few pointers, we are able to protect the species.

  • Never feed animals or keep edible snacks in your jeep. This could tempt the wild animals to attack your jeep and steal the food.
  • Never take your pets along for a jeep safari. Cats, dogs, and guinea pigs can be the leopard’s next target. The wild animal might attack you to get their hands on your pet. Do not underestimate the wild animal’s sniffing power.
  • Never get out of the jeep. The guide will give you all the instructions. If you step out of the jeep and start walking on the trail, chances of getting attacked by a wild animal becomes high.
  • Avoid close encounters as much as possible. If you find a small wild animal, do not underestimate their power. Even a cute little wild hare could attack you. Avoid touching any of these wild animals. They say beauty is good to see, but not to touch. Keep this in your mind!
  • Turn off your mobile. Any jarring sound could scare the animal. When you are in a national park, you do not want to disturb the natural habitat of the animals. Simply turn off your phone or keep it on silent. The sound could alert the animals and they might not come out to greet you.
  • Turn off the flashlight of your phone. The animals get irked by the light. If you are clicking pictures, carry a camera that does not make any sound or does not require flashlight. This way you will enjoy spotting the animal and will not disturb them.
  • In case you see any animal on the road. It is a possibility that the leopard might be sitting on the road or crossing the road. Simply stop the vehicle and do not make any noise. If they come close to you, simply freeze and do not start conversing with the animal. This could save your life!
  • Always choose a legit safari tour guide. There are many amateurs out there who are good at speeding but have no idea about ethical leopard spotting jeep safaris.

Concluding Thoughts

Was this post enjoyable? We hope you found all the answers to the queries hovering over your mind.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful destination. Whether it is your honeymoon or just a friendly tour with some buddies, there are plenty of things to do. You must enjoy staying at the luxurious villas. But most importantly, you must visit the national parks.

Perhaps a week won’t be enough in this naturally blessed island nation. How about spending 2 weeks here? You could meet all the wild animals and spot some leopards too.


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Hi, I am Richard, I moved to Sri Lanka with my family in 2016. We launched the website so we can share what we experience, learn with anyone interested in visiting Sri Lanka. The country is such an amazing island. I invite all of you to be here at least once in your lifetime.