Murder at Katagamuwa
Radheesh Sellamuttu (Managing Director, Leopard Trails)
Indika Nettigama (Game Ranger, Leopard Trails)
Arran Sivarajah (Game Ranger, Leopard Trails)
Dramatic stories are not always played out within the bounds of the park. On that fateful Thursday night in December 2014 the wild boar family at the Katagamuwa gate of Yala would lose one of their young. The slayer was a young male leopard seen lurking around the Katagamuwa gate just outside of the park entrance as darkness descended over Yala. In hindsight the alarm calls we heard on entering the park must surely have meant that he had been in the area for some time, perhaps observing the wild boar family to spot the chinks in their armour.
In an unusual sequence of events that evening, the leopard charges two of the wildlife department staff on a motorbike from the rear. Several men rally together shouting at the leopard including the army officers on duty nearby to prevent the obvious. The leopard may have felt uncomfortable with the proximity of the men or perhaps the motion of the motorbike aroused his instincts as a hunter.
Shortly after our departure from the sighting the wildlife department staff witness the leopard charging into the group of wild boars causing them to scatter. One unfortunate piglet is picked up and the leopard leaps into a tree to escape injury from one of the charging adult boars. In the struggle the piglet is dropped, once again picked up, and then killed. They watch this sequence of events in amazement using their torches and from the relative safety of the park office.
The next morning I head straight to the office to discuss the baby boar killer with the department staff and the army officers on duty. “Bike ekata paninda haduwa” (he tried to jump onto the motorbike) the army officer at the checkpoint says as he narrates the story. We retrace the movements of the leopard and try to paint a picture of the kill using pug marks, claw marks, drag marks and blood stains.
I believe this young male to be a leopard I referred to as the 3:3 Modaragala male in a previous blog post. This is not to say he is resident in the Modaragala area. It is simply a reference point for our team since we have photographed him there a few times.
As I drive back to camp Leopard Trails ranger Jerome calls with news that he has visual of a leopard behind the staff quarters at our camp and moving up the road. I park in complete darkness listening to grey langur alarm calls as I approach camp but the cat has blended away into the night. Both these two incidents are a reminder that the leopards of the buffer zone are very much a reality.
As I finish writing this blog post I contact the Katagamuwa gate to ensure that their story is accurate and I am told that a similar incident has taken place three days later on December 17th 2014 where a leopard has charged two men on a motorbike by the gate. This gives rise to an interesting question – what is causing this cat to behave in this way?