Experience she had during the field visit in Hortain Plains National Park
By Bandini Jayasena

A close call

My friends and I were camping in HPNP early January this year, wanting to climb Kirigalpoththa and Thotupola Kanda just for the fun of it, but I knew all of us had a secret intention of catching a glimpse of the most elusive animal of the Sri Lankan wild, the Sri Lankan Leopard, right there in HPNP.

We were quite hopeful as there were reports of several sightings just a few days before we had arrived there. Day one passed with us finding leopard scat along the Thotupola Kanda trail, which told us that the animal was around somewhere close by. Mounted with excitement, we headed off to Kirigalpoththa on Day two, passing grasslands and crossing streams, and ventured deep into an isolated patch of thick upper montane forest. We were hiking along the marked trail for some time, but being quite the adventurous lot, we decided to detour a bit, wanting to cut down on time and reach the peak faster.

Little did we know that our leader, the leopard expert in the group, was taking us along a leopard’s trail, which fell through a tunnel of thick bushes. We were practically crawling on all fours through the “tunnel” for quite some time until we heard a soft growl coming from probably 10-20m away from where we were that made us stop wherever we were, wait and listen. We heard a second growl and then complete silence afterwards. We were quite excited and frightened (to be honest) at the same time, not knowing what to expect. After waiting for some more time, we resumed our journey and started spotting fresh scat, pug-marks and claw marks along our way, which was a confirmation to us that the was leopard was still quite close to us and that we are trespassing his territory. It was a close call, however, not wanting to disturb the animal, we slowly made our way back to the marked trail and went on to complete the hike.

This experience has only increased my interest about this elusive creature, wanting to learn more and more about its behaviors and way of life. I am pretty sure the leopard saw us and it could have been following us too. We would never know what the leopard was up to, for it was true to its nature by being 100% sneaky.