On our game drives into Block 1, we encounter multiple individual leopards (Yala has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world), but there are a few leopards in particular who are sighted often and have made a name for themselves as entertaining characters. I’d like to introduce you to three of these interesting big cats in this blog.
This youngster was born in 2017 and had a brother called Lance. Lucas and Lance were protected and well-looked after by their mother, an exceptional leopardess from the north- western sector of Yala. She quite frequently exposed her cubs to tourists and eventually the cubs got habituated to the jeeps at a fairly young age.
Usually, a male leopard stays with their mother till they reach 18 months, after which they begin their lonely journey to become a dominant male in an area. However, Lucas left his mother and younger brother even earlier to claim his own territory. Lucas has made some friends, and quite a few enemies, along the way. Now, he can be seen regularly around the south-eastern corner of Block 1, bold as ever, not hesitating to capture prey larger than his own body size.
Only this past month, Lucas was spotted feeding on multiple carcasses. Either Lucas is really lucky to find some dead meat lying around, or he has grown to be an extremely successful hunter – I’m betting on the latter.
This pretty lady is referred to as Strawberry because of her sweet personality! She is roughly about 3-3.5 years old and is currently looking for a partner to have her first litter with.
Strawberry shares part of her mother’s territory around the south towards the south west area of the park. Currently, her mother has her paws full with another litter of cubs, so Strawberry stays away as much as possible as a leopardess with babies means heightened aggression towards any other leopard who enters her territory – even if it’s a previous cub. This is because there is always a chance that other leopards or leopardesses will kill cubs in order to have more feeding or mating opportunities. Clearly, Strawberry has no interest in aggravating her mother.
About 2 months ago, Strawberry gave us rangers a scare as she was becoming so skinny we thought she was dying due to starvation. She then went missing from our radar for 2 weeks, leading us to assume the worst. But suddenly, one evening, she reappeared out of nowhere, looking healthy as ever; imagine our surprise and relief!
On a game drive, you might be able to catch sight of Strawberry. And don’t worry, she won’t shy away from our jeep. Much like Lucas, she has become habituated to tourists, and will stop, look and then continue on her merry way, giving us plenty of opportunities for some iconic photographs.
Harak Hora is a legendary individual who dominates about 1/4 th of Block 1. A bold leopard, his name is Sinhalese for “Cattle Thief” – he really is good at hunting buffalo and cattle.
Leopards are renowned carnivores and highly opportunistic – allowing their populations to thrive around the world. However, leopards have preferred meals – when they get accustomed to one type of prey, they are likely to keep going back and give hunting priority to that – much like us humans who like to keep patronizing our favourite restaurants. Harak Hora clearly prefers buffalo and cattle.
Harak Hora jumps on these large mammals without thinking twice. However, hunting down such large-bodied mammals can be dangerous as, in case of retaliation, it is easy for them to overpower these predators. Because of this, buffalo have a reputation for taking the lives of young leopards quite often. Harak Hora is very experienced, but even the best can be challenged. Last year in April or May, our hero attempted to take down a buffalo. This backfired, and Harak Hora was left with an injured jaw. Officials were worried as an injured leopard in the wilds might not survive – but no treatment could be attempted as he vanished. 3 weeks later Harak Hora returned, stronger than ever and with wounds that had healed. The only tell-tale sign of the mishap is the missing skin from his lower left jaw – a battle scar to prove that nothing could stop him!
Next time you go on safari at Yala with Wild Coast Lodge, remember these names. Our rangers are likely to mention them, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of them too, maybe even see them in action.
Watch for our next blog on more interesting leopard personalities of the Yala jungle!
Ranger at Wild Coast Lodge