Snares, set up by humans are increasingly becoming a deadly and unseen threat to wildlife. It lays in wait for unsuspecting animals. Once caught escaping a snare is near impossible. In just a span of one week, three leopards in Sri Lanka were caught in snares including a rare melanistic leopard in Nallathanniya. Two out of them including the rare leopard lost their battle to live. The other was fortunate enough to only sustain minor injuries. He was treated and released by Department of Wildlife veterinarians to a suitable area.
But as the World Environment Day is commemorated across the world Sri Lanka’s Leopards continue to be in peril. In the six months that have passed six leopards have lost their lives due to human activity, a majority due to illegal snares set up. In the latest incident, a carcass of a leopard was found by officials of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) in the village of Happitiya, Neluwa. The animal had become entrapped in an illegal snare set up for hunting animals near a cashew plantation. According to sources from the DWC the leopard had been trapped in the snare for nearly three days. It had suffered an agonizing and painful death.
While the DWC is set to take legal action against the owner of the land in Neluwa, the dangers of illegal snares for animals, especially leopards are being raised by wildlife experts and enthusiasts. In fact, many call it the bane of wildlife. The death of animals which become trapped is prolonged and gruesome.
Once an animal is caught in a snare, the wire only continues to tighten on the animal as it tries to escape. The process causes severe internal injuries and, the longer its trapped the lesser the chance of its survival even with human intervention and help. For example, the melanistic leopard, while appeared to visibility fine, the first postmortem carried out found that it had suffered severe internal injuries from the snare.
According to one wildlife enthusiast officials and authorities should take immediate action to prevent these losses in future and act against poachers to stop continuing with their illegal activities. “The DWC must also focus on implementing a special project to protect mountainous leopards in Sri Lanka. This is why we have continued to point this out,” he said.
The environmentalists point out that illegal snares have become a systematic problem that needs to be addressed. According to the Small Cat Advocacy and Research organization, these traps are often laid by villagers from lower socio-economic standings who are trying to protect their crops, that help them feed their families through sale or direct consumption, others because of their daily wages being so extremely low cannot afford enough protein and food to nourish their families. Some villagers needing money who because of the demand for bushmeat also lay traps to hunt for animals such as wild boar and deer. Leopards, unfortunately, are often incidentally killed as a result when trapped in snares intended for other types of animals.
According to the Small Cat Advocacy and Research organization, Sri Lanka needs proper public education and awareness on wildlife conservation. It also noted that investment in tools and solutions that can help farmers protect their crops such as underground reinforced fencing is also essential. The organization also stressed on the importance of stopping the demands for bushmeat. “We should examine the intersectionality of systemic issues relating to such wildlife threats, and what we as citizens can do to actually help. Laying blame on people trapped in a cycle of hardship, ignorance and incompetence is not the solution” the release by the organization said.
Meanwhile noting the continuous leopard deaths even as the country marked the World Environment Day releasing a statement Leopocon Sri Lanka, an organization dedicated to the protection of Leopards in the country noted that it was clear attempts had been made to hide the death of the Neluwa leopard. “Its canine teeth and nails had been removed already by the time the officials recovered the carcass. With this incident, it is clear that the number of annual leopard deaths could be far greater than what is reported with much of the deaths going uncovered” it said.
“We, Team Leopocon have identified many loopholes in the current conservation process of the Department of Wildlife Conservation” it further said. According to the organization to date one, there is no proper consensus conducted to estimate the leopard population and no proper leopard conservation program implemented by the DWC.
The release by the group pointed out that the 2018 Auditor-General Performance Report of the DWC indicated that “The Department had failed to introduce a proper procedure for the protection of leopards and their community growth or for the safety of leopards and the public”.
“Renowned leopard conservationists in the country say that above 20 leopard deaths are happening annually. They also state that many deaths go unseen and therefore these numbers can go up much higher than expected” the release said.
According to Leopocon most of the deaths occur because of snaring, more in the central highlands than the dry zone while deforestation, plantation expanding into protected wildlife areas, lack of natural prey are the major factors contributing to these tragic deaths.
They also noted that the unavailability of veterinary units, which in turn delays the arrival of the veterinarian to tranquillize and rescue the trapped animal. “As a result, the leopard that died on the May 29 also had to be transported from Nallathanniya to Udawalawe for further treatment,” it said.
The organization also revealed that it was the fourth time a melanistic leopard was killed by snares. “The tragic events within the past two weeks have led environmentalists and conservationists to question the current status of leopard conservation in Sri Lanka” it further added.
The organizations said the DWC should extend its services to include the leopard and improve its conservation with immediate effect. “The government should have a proper legal process to protect these animals by improving the current legal aspects of wildlife protection. Further, we urge relevant authorities to revise existing laws and tighten terms on punishment for wildlife crimes” it said.