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…

Read the rest of this entry

Photo update 10: Camera traps and durian trees

Wow, and just like that, we’re already halfway into Year 2 of Project Pteropus! We’ve been quite busy on Tioman, what with faecal sampling and phenology monitoring now taking place on both east and west sides of the island. We also have some very good news to share: the project will be able to keep going for the rest of the year, as the Rufford Foundation have awarded us a small grant – which we are enormously grateful for!

Rufford logo

Meanwhile, it’s high time for another photo update. Back in late April and early May, we put some Reconyx camera traps and Bushnell video traps up in some flowering durian (Durio zibethinus) trees. This will help us study the durian’s pollination ecology better – what animals visit to feed on the flowers, and how each species in this complex network plays a role, and interacts with the others, to influence pollination success and fruit development. It’s also a start in answering the question of whether flying foxes help to pollinate durian trees. This is an extremely complicated bit of research, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Dr. Sara Bumrungsri and his PhD student, Tuanjit Sritongchuay (Dr. Bumrungsri’s study discovered that the nectarivorous bat Eonycteris spelaea is a principal pollinator of durian in southern Thailand). They kindly entertained all of Sheema’s questions and requests, and were extremely generous hosts when Sheema visited their lab at Prince of Songkla University – where they taught her more about durian ecology and pollination studies.

Mak Long Hapsah and Pak Long Awang from Kampung Juara have generously allowed us to use their durian orchard for our study. As their trees are already quite old and tall – ranging between 15-25 metres high, we couldn’t climb them ourselves. So we enlisted the services of Saifful Pathil and Muhammad Nur Hafizi Abu Yazid (‘Fizie’ for short!), from Tree Climbers Malaysia. They are professional tree-climbers who are extremely well-trained in safe and effective climbing techniques, using high-quality climbing and safety equipment. So we knew right away that we were in good hands.

We were also joined by Kim McConkey and her sons Sanjay and Ryan, who not only helped us out but were also loads of fun to have around!

So for those of you who have never seen a durian tree, or maybe don’t know what durian flowers look like, or have no idea what professional tree-climbing is all about…here’s a little photo-journal documenting our work in the durian orchard! Also, follow the post all the way down for a little sneak peek of who’s been visiting the durian trees in the night… Read the rest of this entry

Project update 18: Project Pteropus: Year 1 in review

It’s been an intense roller coaster adventure for Project Pteropus so far! Sadly, we still haven’t been successful in getting much funding, as none of our grant applications last year were accepted. Donors either feel that flying foxes aren’t a priority, Peninsular Malaysia isn’t a priority, or both :-(

Still, this hasn’t stopped us from accomplishing many things last year. Thanks to kind monthly donations from Marinescape of New Zealand – our sole donor – we were still able to carry out some fieldwork.

Reuben and Esteban hard at work collecting flying fox faeces under the burning sun

Reuben and Esteban hard at work collecting flying fox faeces under the burning sun

Much of last year was spent on recces, observations, and testing things out at Kampung Juara. We collected lots of bat droppings, fruits, flowers and seeds. We hiked several jungle trails and observed different trees and what they drop onto the forest floor. We talked to local people in the village, and asked them about their experiences, knowledge and opinions. We counted lots and lots of bats. And we did it all every single month, until the monsoon arrived around November, forcing us to take a break for a few months.

Project Pteropus wouldn't have been possible without help from amazing volunteers, friends and family :-)

Project Pteropus wouldn’t have been possible without help from amazing volunteers, friends and family :-)

Most of the time, it was just Reuben and Sheema doing much of the work. But we were joined by many, many helpful volunteers who lent a hand, and this project would not have been possible if they hadn’t been willing to come along on our field trips and donate their time and energy! Esteban Brenes-Mora, our Costa Rican volunteer for 6 months, was an especially invaluable asset and is now sorely missed. And we would never have survived without help from Harimau Selamanya members Jasdev, Laurie and Wai Yee, plus our resident botanist Lahiru also made it over to help us identify plants. Huge thanks also to Lim Wee Siong, Anna Deasey, Khatijah Haji Hussin, Kim McConkey, Noraisah Majri, Mahfuzatul Izyan, and Joanne Tong. We’re also super grateful for all the help and support we’ve received from the lovely folk over at the Juara Turtle Project – Charlie, Izzati and Rahim are awesome people doing awesome work, so please check them out! They even donated the services of their volunteer Liz Moleski, who was kind enough to help out when Sheema got struck down by Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease (HFMD – the one that kids get, not cows!) and Reuben had to do a solo sampling trip. Last but not least, Project Pteropus benefited immensely from field visits and input from supportive supervisors Pierre-Michel Forget and Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz. All of these people helped to keep our project afloat and stop it from floundering :-)

Here are some of the things we found out from last year’s work: Read the rest of this entry

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