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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Project update 14: Final report from Project Black Cloud

laurie_leopard 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. Continue reading

Project update 12: All creatures great and small

Since the last update, things have been steadily progressing with the Black Cloud team in Kenyir. After a month’s rest since the first round of data retrieval, we have been visiting the cameras again, making the journey in a record total of just 3 weeks this time. The trails are more familiar and we’ve managed to work out new routes so things have been running smoothly!

A curious clouded leopard
A curious clouded leopard. © Laurie Hedges / Rimba

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