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.
“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…
As Year 1 of Project Harimau Selamanya draws to a close, we can safely say that we had a very eventful and satisfying maiden year. A big thumbs up from the team, our government partners and our donors is testimony to this.
In any conservation project, there will be ups and downs.
The final trek is over, all of our cameras are in and the fieldwork for Project Black Cloud has, at last, come to a close. And it was just in time too! During December 2013, the floods that swept the east coast of the peninsula arrived in Kenyir, submerging the area under our house. In the forest, what had previously been innocent-looking streams rapidly turned into swollen rivers. The team managed to safely negotiate these, but sometimes needed the help of rattan ropes strung across the river. This one-year project in its current form comes to an official end as Laurie puts the finishing touches to his Master’s thesis – but fear not, we’re not done with Kenyir just yet. Read the rest of this entry