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Endangered Black Leopards in Malaysia: Researchers See Spots

Jul 13, 2015 06:17 PM EDT
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Leopards on the Malay Peninsula might be better off now that scientists can tell them apart. That is, in a rare instance that occurs in Malaysia, the leopards are almost all black--and until recently, scientists could not discern the differences between many of the cats.  

Now they've developed a method to see the leopards' spots despite their dark fur. Because the leopards' spot patterns are visible via infrared techniques, the scientists are manipulating the mechanism of automatic cameras to use infrared flash firing during the day, according to a release.

By blocking the camera's light sensor, researchers at James Cook University can suddenly see the black leopards' spot patterns. Via their spots, researchers were able to identify 94 percent of the individuals, said Dr. Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, who is with a research institute from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, as a release said: "This will allow us to study and monitor this population over time, which is critical for its conservation."

In certain areas of Peninsula Malaysia where few leopards are seen, researchers want to use their ID methods to study the remaining leopards. Threats to leopards in Malaysia include poaching and habitat threats from timbering, and oil palm or rubber plantations, the release noted.

A study on the cats was just published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Laurie Hedges, from the University of Nottingham-Malaysia and lead author of that study, says, according to that release: "Understanding how leopards are faring in an increasingly human-dominated world is vital. This new approach gives us a novel tool to help save this unique and endangered animal."

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