Wilpattu is Sri Lanka’s oldest and largest national park, but the region previously was a war zone. During the 1980s, the wild lands of Wilpattu witnessed fighting between the Sri Lankan state and a militant separatist group known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Off limits to the researchers during the conflict, the park area remains dangerously unsafe today. Although a signed ceasefire in 2002 reduced fighting, the conflict did not end until 2009. Buried landmines and unexploded remnants of the war continue to pose a severe danger to animals and visitors.

Researchers with The Leopard Project at the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) in Sri Lanka have been studying leopards for over a decade. They have gathered enough data to officially put the native big cat on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species in 2008.

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