Sri Lanka plans new leopard conservation project

Image copyright PETA Image caption The Sri Lankan leopard population fell by 82 per cent from 1992 to 2000

Authorities in Sri Lanka have approved a massive new programme to save the country’s dwindling population of leopards.

The plan, approved by officials including President Maithripala Sirisena, will spend US$500,000 (£380,000) to begin with and aim to get them on a stronger footing before they eventually become extinct.

During the rain-soaked vote the president stressed the need to pay close attention to the needs of the special species, PETA said.

A major project involving tracking, vet care and release is underway.

PETA spokesman Daniel Covet said: “Stopping the leopard from extinction in Sri Lanka has emerged as a national priority for President Sirisena. The president emphasised that to ensure the species’ survival, government agencies need to do more to implement wildlife conservation plans.

Image copyright PETA Image caption Leading animal rights charity PETA said in a recent report that Sri Lanka is illegally poaching leopards and selling their organs

Image copyright PETA Image caption A number of leopards were found in February to have suffered facial and nasal disfigurements after they were blinded by a vehicle as they chased a cat

“A lot more needs to be done to secure leopard habitats and inform the public that leopards belong to the wild and not to a dying zoo.”

A spate of vicious attacks blamed on poachers – with the last known killing in 2016 in Vavuniya, in northern Sri Lanka – have left Sri Lanka under severe strain.

It’s believed the population has dropped from around 1,000 five years ago to an estimated 350 to 400.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption Amnesty International called on Sri Lanka to reinstate a ban on the trading and trade of cats and leopards

The government’s leopard conservation programme is part of a new development plan with the help of Dutch development agency Akvo.

Amnesty International called for the government to reinstate a decade-old ban on the trade of cats and leopards after the killing of two of the animals, both strays, in June – one an endangered black leopard and the other an endangered brown leopard.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption Animals activists say leopards often mistake humans for prey. Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption PETA says animal rights have a negative impact on a tiger’s recovery in the wild. Image courtesy: PETA

They want the government to expel all wildlife trafficking offenders and investigate how the trade operates.

An important step was also taken recently by a proposed “leopard safari” in Sri Lanka, the world’s only public leopard conservation area.

The plan, which was recently approved, will open up land previously closed to the public.

Speaking at the time of its approval, a government spokesman said the land would be open to public visits on a “case-by-case basis”.

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