Recently, Sri Lanka announced it was abandoning a no-kill policy toward leopards, the most endangered big cat in the world, in favor of protecting them as a “species of greatest conservation significance.” As of 2012, the population of leopards in Sri Lanka was estimated at 170, down from an estimated 300 in 2000. Prior to the announcement, almost all tiger—including the rare tiger—were shot and killed by park rangers. The National Tiger Conservation Authority says it has rescued three tigers from human traffickers in recent years, but does not have the funds to keep rescuing the endangered animals.
Up to 60 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of leopards are killed by poachers or killed by human encroachment. Leopards are considered a dangerous in the human world, but a dangerous animal in the animal world. South American and Asian leopards are considered “problem animals” in many countries and—like Asian elephants—endangered and may have lost their genetic link with the great cat family. Once endangered, tigers have rebounded to numbers comparable to the cinquières, which once roamed large portions of Europe. Tigers are now considered natural predators and are no longer used for food.
Lion hunting or hunting large cats is a huge concern in many places. South Africa is still the largest source of lion meat for the global market. Until now, anti-poaching programs have been limited to thousands of small steps, such as various animal conservation drives or, for the last decade or so, the animal rescue program at the Animal Planet Network. While a variety of steps have saved leopards in Sri Lanka, they have no resources to turn the leopards loose in the wild. With the leadership of Viruru, the natural resource conservation group based in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government hopes to reverse the trend. If nothing else, their focus on tiger conservation is putting heat on the trade in tiger parts.