TikaWeeks #33/2023: Sri Lanka update

Posted by John on 14th August 2023

Leopard prowling in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka (courtesy of Laurence Pordes)

With the sighting of a melanistic (black) leopard cub in Yala National Park in March this year, interest in Sri Lanka’s apex predator has surged once more. Also in March, the inaugural Global Leopard Conference, a virtual extravaganza of leopard research and conservation reporting from around the world, was hosted in South Africa. Leopards may be the most adaptable of the big cats, however the leopard’s global population and distribution are in decline. Many of the threats to leopard survival occur commonly across the 63 countries where leopards are found, and those protecting them are seeking better conservation solutions.

The following passage is adapted from the article Let Leopards Live in today’s Daily Mirror online (Sri Lanka).

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is considered to be the most adaptable of the big cats as it can survive across a vast range of habitat types and climatic conditions, from the arid Kalahari Desert of Namibia to the crushing cold of the Russian Far East; from the dense, moist lowland rainforests of the Malaysian Peninsula to barren, rocky outcrops of the Arabian Peninsula and up to the realm of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) above 5000 metres in the Himalayas. One reason for this is the leopard’s eclectic diet, feeding on more than 100 known species across the globe, ranging from giraffes to mice, although with an overall preference for medium-size prey of around 25 kg. 

Another of the leopard’s attributes is its ability to live close to humans, with well-known examples of this from Mumbai, where a high density of leopards occupy the urban Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and Nairobi, where animals regularly emerge from Nairobi National Park into the city’s suburbs. In Sri Lanka, leopards are resident within the city limits of Kandy in the Dunumadalawa Forest Reserve. 

Despite this adaptability, the leopard has lost most (63-75%) of its historic global range and finds itself increasingly relegated to isolated patches of landscape. In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, the leopard can run into conflict with people over livestock with retaliatory killing of leopards widespread globally. 

Additionally, the leopard is cursed by its own natural beauty with illicit demand for leopard skins – as well as bones and teeth – remaining a cause of population decline in some regions of the world. Due to this decline and ongoing persecution, the status of the species is considered ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List). 

The Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is one of nine genetically distinct subspecies of leopard that once roamed across the length and breadth of Africa and Asia.

The Leopard Project, run by The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust of Sri Lanka (WWCT), offers more information on the Sri Lankan leopard. The aims of this project under the auspices of the WWCT are to identify viable leopard populations in all habitat types extant within the island, to verify the importance of the leopard on the variant environments in which it resides thereby allowing for a more thorough conservation approach, and to garner as much information necessary for an overall countrywide conservation plan.

The Pekoe Trail – Stage 17: Demodara to Hali-Ela

Beginning at Demodara railway station, this 13 km-stage is considered moderately challenging with 529 metres of ascent and 678 metres of descent over the 4- to 4.5-hour hike.

The first kilometre runs along the fairly wide Demodera-Spring Valley Road. Heading northeast, circuit around Nine Skies Bungalow, a delightful old planter’s house now restored and operated as a small boutique hotel. After 800 metres, cross the Badulla bridge then turn sharp left up a gradually ascending concrete track that twists and turns its way up to tea fields to the north. After 3.6 km, the trail passes the office and tea shed of the Demodara Tea Estate (Oetumbe Division). From here, turn sharp right, passing a few houses on the right, and then back onto a tea trail that gently descends for 400 metres, after which you cross a small bridge over a creek and then walk up to a large flat playground – if you are on the right track, you will find yourself climbing on a straight path for about 100 metres, which is the start of the push up the hill ahead.

The next 2 km are a gradual and enjoyable ascent to the trail that circumvents the top of the hill. The flat playground rises approximately 200 metres to the highest point along the wide and clear tea trail, wrapping around the hill as it goes. The 6.5-km point is the highest location of this stage at 1192 metres with fabulous views back towards Demodara and Ella. This is definitely the place to stop for a snack and refreshing drink.

The trail for the remainder of this stage is clear and the views, as you gradually descend towards Hali-Ela, are idyllic. This is a very rarely visited part of the tea country, yet quite exquisite. The next 3 km are fairly straight and all downhill. After 8 km, you arrive at a junction beside a stunning gigantic purple bougainvillea, taking the ‘second exit’, leading straight down a leafy path. The next few hundred metres offer plenty of well-deserved shade, as the trail runs through a patch of forest with tall trees everywhere.

At the 9-km point, there is a large tea-weighing station and the trail turns back on itself, while descending further. A few hundred metres further on you enter the tea workers’ village that serves the Rosette Estate. Exiting the village, follow the narrow tarmac road heading towards the Unugalle Estate. After 11.2 km, you arrive at a crossroads but keep going down the narrow tarmac road for another kilometre to the Uva Planters’ Club, a truly historic landmark of Uva Province.

Originally called the Uva Gymkhana Club, it was founded in 1880 and it is still active today. The Uva Club was the focal point of the social life of the expatriate planter. It was founded before the railway was opened as far as Haputale in September 1894 and eventually reached Badulla in April 1924. Much of the development of the railway line would have been initiated, shared, discussed and planned at the social gatherings at the club.

Leaving the Uva Planters’ Club behind, follow a small tarmac road to the right leading to Unugala Hospital. After 12.5 km, either take the steps down onto the railway line or, if you feel more comfortable, continue on the tarmac road to Hali-Ela railway station, which marks the end of the stage.

Categories: Accommodation, News, Sightseeing, Sri Lanka, Travel tips, Wildlife

« All articles