Rare Spotted Leopard Photographed for First Time in Malaysian National Park (Photo)
A spotted leopard caught on camera in Taman Negara Endau-Rompin National Park. Photo credit: Johor Wildlife Department/Panthera/WCS
Routine surveys for tigers in a Malaysian national park have yielded an unexpected, and cheering, result for big-cat researchers: A first-time sighting in the area of a rare spotted leopard, "captured" on film by a digital camera trap.Previously, only black leopards were believed to exist in Taman Negara Endau-Rompin National Park, located in the southern state of Johor, according to experts with the conservation group Panthera, who made the, er, spotting. According to the organization:
The news marks a high point in an otherwise bleak outlook for the world's tigers, lions, jaguars, and snow leopards... Widely viewed by scientists as "keystone species" whose existence indicates healthy ecosystems, big cats are plagued by a sharp loss of habitat due to deforestation and development, as well as relentless poaching for the illegal wildlife market and as a retaliatory measure for human-wildlife conflict.
In Malaysia, Panthera is working with the Johor State Government as part of of a collaborative project with the Wildlife Conservation Society that aims to increase tiger numbers by 50 percent over a 10-year period at key sites across the animal's range. The digital cameras set up in Taman Negara Endau-Rompin National Park are being used primarily to estimate population density of tigers, which can be identified individually by their unique stripe patterns.
Saving Snow Leopards, Jaguars, and Lions
The group has also been tracking snow leopards in Mongolia, working to secure a vital jaguar corridor in Colombia, and helping create a pan-African lion corridor to connect core populations of the iconic cat.
Panthera and other organizations trying to protect big cats have their work cut out for them: Tigers and lions have both been eliminated from more than 80 percent of their historic ranges, while jaguars have lost nearly 40 percent of their former territory. Many cat species are hunted by poachers, who get high prices on the black market for tiger parts and snow leopard pelts. But, says Panthera Chairman Thomas S. Kaplan, efforts to protect big cats, along with their homes and prey, are critical, and not just for the felines themselves:
"[Big cats] being very often the sexy, charismatic megafauna in any given hotspot... saving wild cat species is an intelligent way to save the habitats and eco-systems that are most at risk today."
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