To survive a visit by a sloth bear

Written By: Radheesh Sellamuttu (Managing Director, Leopard Trails) on June 1, 2015 Photographer : Radheesh Sellamuttu (Managing Director, Leopard Trails) and Indika Nettigama (Game Ranger, Leopard Trails)

Perhaps we will never truly understand some things, like the role that instinct plays in providing safe passage to adulthood in young animals. Should this leopard cub live to adulthood, last Thursday would be a key turning point in its life, and whether due to instinct or some random set of factors, the outcome of this day is likely to alter the gene pool of Yala’s leopards forever.















With hearts beating and cameras ready we watched as the shaggy black beast broke on to the scene, hot on the trail of the leopard cub, nose to the ground and heading straight for the den site. Just moments earlier the cub was seen nervously peeking out of its den site. It appeared that the mother had left the cub alone this morning to hunt or perhaps she was in search of a new den site. My heart skipped a beat as the sloth bear investigated the opening to the den site. Could the young cub distinguish friend from foe or would its curiosity drive it to come out and take a look at this strange black goliath with curved daggers for claws and a nose that appeared to have a motion of its own. The latter choice would more than likely have not ended well for the cub.

After several nervous moments we breathe a sigh of relief as the bear loses interest. The crevice in the granite rock was too narrow for it to pass through and the cub stayed put. It was just a short while earlier that the cub crawled back into its hole from being exposed on a high vantage point. The cub was to escape unscathed for that day. Perilous turning points in a leopard cub’s life truly cannot be captioned or explained, it surely needs to be lived in all its intricacy and vividness.

The previous evening we watched the mother and the cub interact on the same rock. The mother greeted the young one with several purposeful licks, throwing it off balance with each lick. At one point in the evening there appeared to be a confrontation in the bushes between the mother leopard and a bear, as the bear made uninterrupted vocalisations for several minutes and it is this that made me wonder whether the mother had left the cub alone the next morning to find a new den site. There were other visitors circling the den too, including raptors, a large wild boar, a ruddy mongoose, and a couple of skinks!

2015 has been kind to Yala’s leopard population with new cubs seen on Leopard rock, Thalgasmankada and Akasachaithiya road in May. In the school of the wild, the process of natural selection will decide who will survive to lead the rising of this future generation.