Another hill-country leopard bites the dust

Villagers’ warning letter to Wildlife officers 5 days before goes unanswered
By Malaka Rodrigo

Snares have killed a number of Nuwara Eliya leopards in recent years and these death traps’ latest victim was reported from Pedro (Pidurutalagala) on June 13. This leopard was caught in the wire trap set up at the edge of the Pedro Forest Reserve, less than 500 metres from the Nuwara Eliya police station, according to eyewitnesses. The trap’s wires had tightened across the leopard’s belly when it attempted to break free, causing internal injuries to its vital organs, ultimately killing the beautiful animal.

Snares have become the worst death traps for hill-country leopards, but this was a preventable one, if Wildlife officers had taken prompt action, point out environmental activists. The incident had taken place at Gemunu Mawatha village bordering the Pedro Forest Reserve. Villagers enjoy sighting many animals that cross into their village, but in recent months, poaching has increased in the area even resulting in the death of a pair of rare barking deer, which were frequent visitors to the village, and of rabbits trapped in snares.

Even the villagers’ dogs have got entangled in these wire traps which mainly target wild boar. Therefore nature-loving villagers of Gemunu Mawatha Nature Society had sent a letter to the Wildlife Minister S.M. Chandrasena and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) to take immediate action to stop this rampant poaching. In the letter sent on June 8, it was highlighted that wire traps used by poachers posed a serious danger to the leopards living in the Pedro Forest too.

But no action was taken, and five days later, on June 13, their worst fears came true. The villagers even named the two poachers who are active in the area and the villager who supports them, but still no action has been taken to date. “It was indeed preventable, if action was taken immediately,” said Dr. Janaka Gallangoda of the Nature Exploration & Protection Society of Nuwara Eliya (NEPS). These poachers are also said to have settled in an area of the Pedro Forest, which is a high security zone where the main Rupavahini Tower is located.

Dr. Gallangoda said that the illegal meat trade was thriving in Nuwara Eliya, indicating that poaching activities were on the rise. Trap guns and hakka patas (devices that explode in the mouth) are usually not used in Nuwara Eliya, due to the wet conditions.

Hence, snares and electrocution have become the main tools of killing animals – mainly wild boar and Sambur. Snares are cheap to set up and are therefore popular among poachers. Three-wheeler brake cables are used to set up these wire traps.

Activists point out that WildLife officers or Police could easily trace the culprits on this evidence, but inaction by the law encourages poachers to continue with their illegal activities. Meanwhile WildLife Department Director General Chandrawansa Pathiraja said that information regarding the Nuwara Eliya leopard’s death had not reached him to date.

He said if the incident occurred only about 500 metres from the town, the leopard’s death should have been notified to the WildLife regional office and it is indeed a matter to investigate why no action has been taken so far.

Second Leopard shot dead in Giritale

Another large leopard was shot dead in Giritale Wildlife Sanctuary, making the number of big cat casualties of the week to two. The leopard is said to be a 7-foot long large mature beast. Two suspects have been arrested and the leopard’s carcass sent to Giritale for the post-mortem. According to regional reports, the poachers intended to sell the leopard’s skin for a large sum of money.

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