Press Release: Mysterious black leopards finally reveal their spots

Leopards, found from the frozen forests of Russia to the scorching sands of the Kalahari Desert, are the most widely distributed large cat on earth. Their iconic spotted coat has been admired and coveted by humans for millennia. However, in just one region in their vast range, mysteriously the leopards are almost all entirely “black” or melanistic – the Malay Peninsula. This dark colouration sometimes hides the spotted pattern which all leopards have; the spots just don’t stand out clearly in melanistic individuals.

Spotted!

“This is a completely unique phenomenon for leopards, and represents perhaps the only known example of a mammal with almost an entire population completely composed of the melanistic form of the species” says Laurie Hedges, lead author of a study who just published a population density estimate on these animals in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

Melanism is a trait which can be found across many mammal species, and especially in big felids. Though theories, ranging from the explosion of Mount Toba in Sumatra to competition with tigers, have been put forward to explain how this unique melanistic population has come about, scientists are still puzzled…

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Media coverage: In the kingdom of the black panther

Rimba’s mascot takes centrestage in this special coverage by Mongabay! Reuben and our budding ‘carnivore researcher’ Laurie talk to Jeremy Hance about black leopards in Peninsular Malaysia, putting the spotlight on this mysterious and under-studied species. Click on the image below to read all about it!

mongabay panther

Special update: Good news from the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor

Hello all,

This playful dusky leaf langur (Trachypithecus obscurus), which was caught on a camera trap in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor last week, was all smiles probably because it knew of some good news coming our way. WHAT IS IT??

The first piece of good news is that the Terengganu state government has decided to freeze development along the Kuala Berang highway bisecting the proposed Kenyir Wildlife Corridor, pending recommendations from environmental consultants working for the federal government. These recommendations are to be submitted by the end of the year.

This decision was reached after we shared our research findings in Kenyir with Dato’ Toh Chin Yaw, Terengganu Chairman of Industry, Trade and Environment Committee, Terengganu State Government. Many thanks to Dato’ Toh for sharing the pictures and videos of Kenyir’s biodiversity with other government officials. Yesterday, this piece of great news was covered by a local news portal, fz.com.

The second piece of good news is that we finally got a  camera-trap picture of the elusive seladang or gaur (Bos gaurus) after 2 years of fieldwork in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor! We only recorded a single individual, which was detected by two separate cameras.

Although we still have a lot to do to secure protection for the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor, we are working closely with the state government to implement our recommendations. For now, we would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the wonderful people who have supported the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor project. Special thanks also go to Anuar McAfee for helping and working with us on this (Anuar also helped us get the flying foxes protected). Stay tuned for more updates!

* Update 8 November 2012: More extensive coverage, from the very excellent Mongabay: click here!