Two endangered leopards -- including a rare black one -- have been killed by snares in Sri Lanka in less than a week, sparking calls for authorities to crack down harder on the cruel traps.
A third was found alive in a snare and released back to the wild after being tranquilized.
In the latest case, the bloated carcass of a leopard was discovered Tuesday strangled by a wire snare on a cashew plantation on the edge of a forest reserve in Neluwa, some 145 kilometers southeast of the capital Colombo.
"It is possible that the trap was set for a sambar deer, but the leopard got caught instead," a wildlife official from the area told AFP.
A week earlier, a rare black leopard -- also known as melanistic because the color is a pigment condition rather than the mark of a separate species -- was found trapped alive in the Nallathanni highlands, but died two days later.
The third leopard was found Friday at Yatiyantota, another highland nature area, before being released back into the wild.
Although setting snares in national parks and reserves in against the law, they are not illegal elsewhere and farmers often use them to protect crops or catch wild boar.
Sri Lankan conservationist Jayantha Jayewardene said the spate of leopard snaring might be villagers driven to desperation because the coronavirus lockdown had deprived them of income.
"For about two months these people have not had any work, and without money for food they are setting up snares to catch wild boar," Jayewardene told AFP.
"What we are facing is a bigger problem -- not just a wildlife issue."
There are believed to be less than 1,000 leopards in the wild in Sr Lanka, and harming the big cat is punishable by up to five years' jail.
Sri Lanka's Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust called for all snares to be banned, and those who set them to be prosecuted
"Snares are indiscriminate and therefore can kill any animal, either protected or not," the conservation group's trustee Anjali Watson told the Daily Mirror local newspaper.
"This [latest killing] is clearly seen as a case of incidental killing of leopards by snares. Hence they should be made illegal."