The leopards turned their backs on a camera crew

The battle to save Sri Lanka’s leopards is over – and a world away – an extraordinary photograph captures the moment that the animals turn their back on humans. As the country’s president, Mahinda…

The leopards turned their backs on a camera crew

The battle to save Sri Lanka’s leopards is over – and a world away – an extraordinary photograph captures the moment that the animals turn their back on humans.

As the country’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, watched the final stages of the battle for the country’s rare black leopards, he had just been handed an emotional photograph depicting a moment the cats turned their backs on a foreign camera crew.

The leopard in question had been shot in the last days of fighting in May, one week before Rajapaksa was overthrown and exiled from Sri Lanka.

The battle had raged for 10 months, as two governments vied over control of the country’s prized wildlife for decades. With the defeat of the last remaining government forces in the final fight, the leopards were forced to surrender their territory, ending more than 1,000 years of hunting.

In the photograph, published in the New York Times the following year as an image of the cat’s final moments, the wild animals have no face – just their eyes.

The picturesque photo was taken on August 10 in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where Rajapaksa was watching the final battles for the country’s most elusive mammal. When the shot was taken, the leopard was holding onto a branch for support, a symbol of his surrender.

On Sunday, the last time the leopards faced the cameras, the final scene was not exactly the one that had been depicted in the photo.

At the height of the battle, a local wildlife official said he heard a gunshot as an unknown animal broke free from his control. His body was found later near the scene, the state government said, with the leopard later killed by a local farmer.

The leopard’s final moments were captured in the New York Times photograph, where its eyes have been drawn back to blank white.

The photos, published in 2015, show what may be the most poignant and memorable scenes of the animal’s life – and the battle which forced it to give up its territory.

It is a powerful image – but one which has had more than its share of critics.

Sri Lanka’s government has not yet released photographic evidence of the final moments captured in the photo, with the photos themselves being taken down by the newspaper.

In the photo the leopard – named Cheen – was holding

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