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Natural history of the leopard (Panthera pardus) in Peninsular Malaysia


Abstract and Figures

Modern leopards originated in Africa less than a million years ago and dispersed east through Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent up to the Far East and Southeast Asia, where it has a discontinuous distribution today. Scarce resources, intraguild competition and the eruption of Mt Toba may have led to extinction of leopards on Sumatra. In Peninsular Malaysia the range and population of leopards have decreased since the last century along with reduction in suitable forest habitat, to an estimated 500-700 individuals today. The fact that nearly all leopards on the peninsula are melanistic is an unusual phenomenon attributed to genetic drift and natural selection, the latter likely driven by advantage in concealment from tigers in a thickly forested environment. Melanism alone does not make leopards in Malaysia genetically distinct from other Indochinese leopards (Panthera pardus delacouri) to warrant classification as a different subspecies, but it does make them a globally unique subpopulation worthy of conservation and protection.
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Natural history of the leopard (Panthera pardus)
in Peninsular Malaysia
Abstract : Modern leopards originated in Africa less than a million years ago and dispersed
east through Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent up to the Far East and Southeast Asia, where
it has a discontinuous distribution today. Scarce resources, intraguild competition and the
eruption of Mt Toba may have led to extinction of leopards on Sumatra. In Peninsular Malaysia
the range and population of leopards have decreased since the last century along with reduction
in suitable forest habitat, to an estimated 500-700 individuals today. The fact that nearly all
leopards on the peninsula are melanistic is an unusual phenomenon attributed to genetic drift
and natural selection, the latter likely driven by advantage in concealment from tigers in a
thickly forested environment. Melanism alone does not make leopards in Malaysia genetically
distinct from other Indochinese leopards (Panthera pardus delacouri) to warrant classification
as a different subspecies, but it does make them a globally unique subpopulation worthy of
conservation and protection.
Keywords: leopard, Panthera, pardus, delacouri, melanism, melanistic, Malaya, Malaysia,
panther, Felidae, Carnivora
“It exhibits in perfection that symmetry of form, that combination of grace, strength and agility
which distinguish its tribe. The panther is the embodiment of a beast of prey.”
– R.I. Pocock
The leopard is the most widely distributed wild cat species, ranging from Africa, where it
used to occupy the entire continent but is nearly absent from North Africa today, through
Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, including Sri Lanka, through most of East Asia up
to the Russian Far East. In Southeast Asia it is found from Myanmar to Thailand and Vietnam
on the mainland, down to Peninsular Malaysia* and finally on the island of Java. Leopards
in Malaysia belong to the subspecies P. pardus delacouri, which is distributed on mainland
Southeast Asia including Malaysia.
Though widely studied in Africa and India, there is less research on leopards in other
parts of Asia and hardly any carried out in Malaysia up till recent years. Leopards are
cryptic carnivores and are by nature scarce owing to their position as top predators. Adding
to this is the difficulty of conducting field studies in thick tropical rainforest compared to
other leopard habitats and lack of funding or interest compared to more charismatic species
like the tiger. Interestingly an overwhelming majority of individuals documented in the
peninsula are of the black or melanistic variety (Kawanishi et al. 2010). It is this
characteristic of Malaysian leopards that this paper shall focus on, discussing the various
theories explaining this unusual phenomenon and whether it is a sufficiently unique
attribute to make the black panthers here evolutionary distinct from other Southeast Asian
leopards. First, some background on the evolution of leopards and how they came to the
region, followed by a survey of literature on the natural history of leopards in Malaysia and
their ecology.
Malayan Nature Journal 2019, 71(2), 127-137
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Singapore (c/o)
*As there are no leopards on Borneo, ‘Malaysia’ would henceforth refer to West Malaysia excluding
Sarawak and Sabah.
Origin and evolution
Leopards originated in Africa, diverging from a common ancestor with lions in the Panthera
lineage 2 to 3 million years ago during the Pleistocene. Subsequently, these early forms
were found in Europe, India and Java (Turner and Anton 1997). However genetic analysis
posits a second radiation of the modern leopard out of Africa between 470,000 to 825,000
years ago. The route taken out of Africa into Europe and Asia largely parallels that of
Hominids, suggesting that the history of leopards is closely tied to our ancestors, like a
shadow on the fringes of campfires as they made the same journey out of Africa (Uphyrkina
et al. 2001). This long prehistorical association with humans perhaps explains why leopards
are able to co-exist so successfully with us compared to other large carnivores, as they
became behaviourally adapted to our ways, first as predator and competitor for common
prey animals but eventually as subordinates as our numbers grew.
Discontinuous distribution in Southeast Asia
By two to three hundred thousand years ago, leopards have spread throughout the Asian
continent up to the Pacific Ocean in the east and the island of Java to the south, with the
associated populations differentiating into the current array of eight subspecies (Kitchener
et al. 2017). During the Pleistocene ice ages the Sunda shelf was exposed when sea level
was over a hundred metres lower than present day, thereby connecting Malaysia, Sumatra,
Borneo and Java by land. Though leopards used to occur on Sumatra (Whitten 2000), there
is no evidence of them ever being on Borneo despite the seemingly similar habitat found on
all the Sunda islands. As sea level rose around 14,000-10,000 years ago after the most recent
glacial maximum, these land masses were cut off as connecting land bridges disappeared,
leaving the Javan leopard (P. pardus melas) an isolated subspecies today.
A leading hypothesis of why leopards could not persist on Sumatra and perhaps
Borneo, if they ever existed on the latter, is the scarcity of food resources combined with
competitive pressure from a rich guild of carnivores found in these parts. Comparative
studies of the biomass of potential prey species per unit area in different habitats found
unsurprisingly that tropical evergreen forests are significantly less productive for ungulates,
which comprise the majority of big cat prey. Where the more open woodland savannas and
deciduous forests of Africa and South Asia supported a few tons of prey per km2 on average,
rainforests in the Sunda region contained typically less than a ton, even as low as a few
hundred kilograms per km2 (Meijaard 2004). It is argued that smaller herbivores of the
rainforests, such as monkeys, squirrels and other rodents could not support a mid-sized
predator like the leopard in the long-term, while a host of smaller carnivores that are more
adapted to hunt smaller prey could subsist on them. Besides five smaller felids, ranging from
the clouded leopard to the flat-headed cat, that are found on Sumatra, there are also nine
Viverrid species like the Malay civet, banded palm civet and linsang that could be competitors
for smaller prey. Further, the presence of the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica), the
smallest tiger subspecies and one adapted to the rainforest environment likely posed a
significant threat, directly and indirectly through competitive displacement as they targeted
the same prey species like barking deer and wild boar (Volmer et al. 2017). However, the
same conditions exist more or less in Malaysia, which has the same habitat and a similar
complement of predator and prey species, including the tiger (Table 1). Notably the biomass
of primates was found to be much higher in Malaysia than Sumatra, 1,234kg/km2 vs.
727kg/km2 (Marsh and Wilson 1981),which could help support leopards given their greater
usage of this resource compared to tigers (see ‘Diet’ below).
Do leopards persist in Malaysia despite the suboptimal conditions due to the
peninsula being connected to mainland Southeast Asia and a replenishing source population
i.e. is Malaysia a population sink for leopards? Or have they become better adapted over
time to the environmental conditions here?
Table 1. Number of predator and prey species in Sundaland (Cranbrook 1987)
Another compelling reason postulated for the extinction of leopards in Sumatra is
the eruption of Mount Toba over 70,000 years ago, which was the largest volcanic eruption
in the Quaternary (Volmer et al. 2017). This catastrophe would have had an impact not just
locally but globally due to the volume of ash and debris that would have altered the weather
worldwide for months. This could very well have been the final push that resulted in local
extinction of leopards in the vicinity. Rising seas would have prevented subsequent
recolonisation of what would become the island of Sumatra. Interestingly, early twentieth
century Malayan naturalists like F. N. Chasen and C. B. Kloss believed that leopards existed
on Sumatra at the time (Chasen 1940), albeit with no firm evidence. If so it is possible that
extinction was more recent on Sumatra.
Leopards on Java formed an isolated population for a sufficiently long period to
have become a subspecies distinct from those found on mainland Southeast Asia. Though
the Malayan peninsula was never entirely cut off from continental Asia by water, it is
connected to it via the Kra Isthmus, which is today a mere 44 km wide at its narrowest.
Could this tenuous land bridge be a significant bottleneck for leopards such that genetic
exchange would also have been compromised?
The Leopard in Malaya
“The most vicious killer in the jungle is the panther or black leopard.”
– Charles Shuttleworth
“In Malaya uncommon but widespread throughout the forest of the mainland from lowlands
to hill tops.” – Lord Medway
Up till the middle of the twentieth century, when forests covered a larger extent of the
Malayan peninsula than it does today, leopards presumably roamed from the Thai border up
north to Singapore Island at the southern tip, including larger islands like Penang and
Langkawi (Harrison 1966). Now locally extinct on the islands, their range on mainland
Mustelids – excl. otters
Malaysia has been reduced, commensurate with the loss of forest cover from over 75% in
the 1950s to less than 50% by the 1990s (Aiken 1994). A recent survey of leopard
populations in the region depicted confirmed and potential leopard habitat in Malaysia,
which is mainly down the central mountain range and three major protected areas:
Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau Rompin (Figure 1). As a testament to the
leopard’s tenacity, they can still be found in small forest fragments surrounded by urban
development and plantations, like Krau Wildlife Reserve (600km2), Pasoh (24km2) and
Ayer Hitam Forest Reserves (12km2), located within or on the outskirts of the capital city
Kuala Lumpur (Rostro-Garcia et al. 2016).
Figure 1. Leopard habitat in Peninsular Malaysia (Rostro-Garcia et al. 2016)
Using infrared illuminated black and white (IR) photographs taken by camera traps,
researchers were able for the first time to distinguish individual black leopards as their
unique pattern of rosettes showed up clearly under IR illumination. This then enabled a
population and density estimate using standard statistical software (Hedges et al. 2015).
Where previously only absence/presence and occupancy surveys could be carried out, this
ground breaking study conducted in a logged secondary forest on the East coast in
Terengganu resulted in a density estimate of 3 leopards per 100km2, a low figure compared
to studies done elsewhere but expected given the suboptimal habitat as already discussed.
Combining this number with the area of potential habitat, a crude estimate of total
population in Malaysia was given as 282-847 individuals (Rostro-Garcia et al. 2016). Given
the large range in estimates, more surveys in other parts of the country using the new
methodology are needed to gather baseline population data.
It is not known how many leopards there were in the past, but as a comparison, tigers
were said to number around 3,000 in the 1950s (Locke 1954) a far cry from the estimate of
300 today (IUCN 2015). A similar trend would put the number of leopards at 5,000 and
above seventy years ago. Of course, the two populations are not independent and tigers
affect leopard numbers as a competitor species, so it is possible that the latter could have
fared better as tiger population declined. This is seen in Ujung Kulon, west Java where there
are more leopards today than fifty years ago when Javan tigers still roamed there
(Boomgaard 2001).
The author would be inclined to lean towards the higher end of the current estimate
for leopard numbers in Malaysia, i.e. 500-700.
“The black panther or melanistic leopard is very dark grey or brown, against which the
rosettes of black spots are just discernible. In Malaya, melanistic animals outnumber
conventionally coloured leopards.” – Lord Medway
TL (cm)
HB (cm)
Weight (kg)
Locke 1954
Tweedie and Harrison 1965
Harrison 1966
Medway 1983
The Straits Times 29 Dec 1883*
Parr 2003^
#Zoological Reference Collection,
*Singapore specimen shot
^for Thailand
For a species with such an extensive global range, leopards exhibit a wide range of size and
colouration depending on the habitat and subspecies (Stein and Hayssen 2013). There is also
a fairly large sexual dimorphism between males and females. With this in mind, a
‘typical’ leopard found in Malaysia seems to be small compared to those from other parts of
its range, with a Total Length (TL) of less than 2 metres and a Head and Body (HB)
measurement of 1.0 to 1.2 metres (Table 2). Admittedly the sample size is not large, but can
be compared to HB of over 1.2m and TL of over 2m for African and Indian leopards
(Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). This is in line with Bergmann’s rule, where body size is smaller
in warmer environments along the equator compared to cooler regions at higher latitudes.
Table 2. Size of Malayan leopards
Leopards are known for their adaptability, and this is reflected in their broad diet
encompassing over 100 species of mammals and birds. They eat animals ranging in size from
insects to large antelope like the Eland. The preferred or optimal prey size is in the 10-40kg
range, with an average of 25kg. This seems to provide the highest calorific return with the
least risk of injury, taking into account the general size of leopards (Hayward et al. 2006).
Though no systematic studies appear to have been done on diet of leopards in
Malaysia, naturalists listed known prey items as follows, some as evidenced by scat:
monkeys, mouse deer, wild pig, ground birds, binturong, goats and dogs. The last well
known as a favourite of leopards throughout their range (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). This
is also the case in Malaysia, where a panther had accounted for 50 dogs before it was finally
shot by Arthur Locke.
“ far its favourite food is dog and it has been known to kill and carry off dogs in the
estates in broad daylight.” – G.T.C. Metcalfe
Of note is the importance of primates as a food source for leopards in Malaysia in
the context of competition for scarce ungulate prey from tigers. This was seen in Taman
Negara where leopard numbers were higher in areas where macaques were more abundant
(Kawanishi 2002). Unlike in Africa, where prey is often taken up onto trees to keep them
away from larger predators and scavengers, this is less necessary in the more forested
terrain of Asia where thick foliage aids in reducing incidents of kleptoparasitism.
Interestingly, leopards are said to start feeding from the stomach area of their prey more
often than not, compared to the hind quarters for tigers (Locke 1954).
Activity pattern
The time of day when predators are most active are influenced by a number of factors,
typically coinciding with the time when their prey are active. For large cats that prey on
ungulates in the tropics, this usually means they are mainly crepuscular animals, as the latter
tend to feed more during the cooler times of day. Periods of activity as determined from
camera traps in two different forested areas in Malaysia indeed showed peaks during dawn
and dusk (Figure 2). However compared with the tiger, leopard activity was not as markedly
crepuscular, being more evenly spread, and generally more diurnal. This could be avoidance
behaviour and an adaptive response to a more dominant competitor, by reducing the
likelihood of confrontation while sharing the same space.
Taman Negara (Kawanishi and Sunquist 2004)
Jerangau, Terengganu (Azlan and Sharma 2006)
Figure 2. Activity pattern of leopard in Malaysia
Melanism in leopards
Melanism in brief is the occurrence of darker forms than what is typical in the same species.
In leopards it is a recessive trait manifested when there are two sets of the mutated ASIP
(Agouti Signalling Protein) gene present. It is thus possible even when both parents are of
the spotted variety when each has only one allele of the gene, but both pass on this recessive
allele to their offspring resulting in expression of the melanistic phenotype. There is also
some evidence that female black leopards have smaller litter sizes and therefore lower
fertility rates than spotted ones (Lekagul and McNeeley 1977). These factors point to a low
likelihood of the rate of melanism increasing and becoming widespread in any given
population unless it is beneficial and naturally selected for (Schneider et al. 2012). This
makes the concentration of black leopards in Malaysia a phenomenon that warrants further
investigation. This topic was extensively discussed and the subject of Kawanishi et al.
(2010), which collated the results of past surveys in the country evidencing the overwhelming
prevalence of black leopards in the peninsula. Here I summarize the theories and elaborate
on those I believe to be most likely explanations.
Where and why leopards are black
The unique history and situation of Peninsular Malaysia in Sundaland has already been
discussed, and the existence of a bottleneck at the Kra Isthmus mentioned as a potential
inhibitor of genetic exchange for leopards with the rest of mainland Southeast Asia.
Kawanishi et al. (2010) conjectured that an isolated small population would have made it
possible for genetic drift alone to account for melanism becoming fixed over a period of
20,000-40,000 years.
Being darker also has selective advantages for leopards under particular
circumstances, and is associated with certain environmental conditions. A study mapping
the global distribution of melanistic leopards confirmed environmental variables like
precipitation and vegetative cover being main factors correlated with melanism in the
species (da Silva et al. 2017). Black leopards were found to occur almost exclusively in
moist evergreen forests with low variance in rainfall throughout the year. In South Asia this
is found in the Western Ghats, northeast India and the Lower Himalayan range in Bhutan.
In Southeast Asia it extends from western Thailand down the Tenasserim range into
Peninsular Malaysia (Figure 3). Such favourable habitat is also found in west Java, where
melanistic individuals of the Javan subspecies are more commonly found than on the rest of
the island (Boomgaard 2001).
Figure 3. Distribution of melanism in Asian leopards (in dark circles) (da Silva et al. 2017)
Darker pigmentation as a characteristic of birds and mammals living in humid
environments near the equator gave rise to Gloger’s rule. One reason was that darker
feathers and hair were found to be more resistant to bacteria, conferring greater resistance
to disease. Logically, being dark in an environment with low light levels such as under
closed canopy forests would also be advantageous for camouflage from predators and prey
alike. These reasons could have selected for melanistic leopards in Malaysia and other parts
of Asia where conditions are similar. As plausible as they may sound, it is curious to observe
that melanism is not more prevalent in other species living in humid rainforests given the
advantages it brings. Comparing just within the Felidae, there are more spotted and
patterned pelages among the various smaller cats that live in the humid tropics than pure
melanistic individuals. For jaguars, the only other large cat species where melanism also
occurs, black individuals are also found more often in moist forest but nowhere are they as
concentrated in number, even in the Amazon rainforest (da Silva 2017). Most glaringly,
black leopards are not recorded from the equatorial rainforests of Central and West Africa,
ideal habitat where such individuals would presumably be better concealed from prey
(da Silva et al. 2017). Better camouflage would be effective if vision is the primary sense
used by prey. Most ungulates rely more on an acute sense of smell and hearing, especially
so where sight is limited in a thick and gloomy forest. Being black, which is the most
extreme form of dark colouration, may thus not provide a significant benefit for stalking
prey in such an environment.
The most likely reason then, for the occurrence of melanism in leopards would be
the advantage in concealment from predators or socially dominant competitors. In Asia
concealment from tigers was a reason to explain melanistic leopards postulated in
Kawanishi (2002) and I believe one that best explains the phenomenon. This competitive
pressure is absent in African forests, where leopards are the top predator, not counting
humans, since lions inhabit only the plains and more open woodland savannas. The same
could be said of jaguars as well, being the top predator in the forests of South and Central
Co-existence of tigers and leopards
Today, with the exception of Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java after the 1980s when the larger
cat became extinct there, tigers and leopards are sympatric throughout Asia. Temporal
separation by avoiding activity in the same time period is one strategy already mentioned
adopted by leopards as a form of ecological niche partitioning. The other two key ways are
resource and habitat differentiation. In places where ungulate prey species are abundant in
terms of size range such as south India, where spotted deer, sambar deer and gaur are
present in large numbers, the two cat species favour prey of different sizes (Karanth and
Sunquist 1995). In the absence of different size prey, tigers would displace leopards by
targeting the same prey species, as happened in Nepal (Odden et al. 2010). Lastly habitat or
spatial partitioning is when two species utilize different habitat type in the same landscape
to reduce competition. This was also observed in Nepal (Seidensticker 1976) where in
Chitwan leopards favoured more open terrain such as grassland and forest edge compared
to tigers.
In Malaysia and other evergreen rainforests in Asia inhabited by both tigers and
leopards, prey and spatial partitioning are less effective due to low prey densities and
uniform habitat respectively, though for the former case leopards can subsist on more
unconventional prey like monkeys that are not feasible for tigers as seen in Taman Negara.
Having also seen the similar activity patterns for both cats in Malaysia, albeit with some
minor differences, temporal partitioning as a strategy also seems limited. A characteristic of
the evergreen rainforest habitat is the opportunity for better visual concealment amidst the
more three dimensional environment enabling sharing of the same area without confronta-
tion (Kawanishi 2002). To this end, melanistic leopards would have the edge in being better
hidden from tigers, which are primarily visual and aural hunters and possibly unable to
scent other animals even at close range.
The author contends that the leopard population on the peninsula have evolved to
become melanistic as this trait confers a significant selective advantage in enabling the
ecological separation with tigers in a moist evergreen rainforest environment. For this
reason when leopards were extant in Sumatra they would have been in all likelihood
melanistic given the very similar environmental factors favouring this trait. Although no
skins from the island have ever been preserved, intriguingly Sir Stamford Raffles
referenced black tigers or ‘Rimau Kumbang’ being numerous there (Pocock 1930).
Is the Malayan black panther evolutionarily distinct?
The Malayan peninsula, with its multiple episodes of faunal compression due to repeated
sea level rises constricting the already narrow Kra Isthmus would have created conditions
for differentiation both between and within species. Indeed, this is an important
biogeographical boundary for flora and fauna, dividing mainland Indochinese from Sundaic
mammal communities (Woodruff and Turner 2009). Did the relatively isolated leopard popu-
lation here give rise to significant intraspecific genetic variance? Analyses of gene samples
across a range of Southeast Asian wild felids found surprisingly that, unlike other cat species,
leopard DNA did not show significant variance between individuals from Malaysia and those
north of the isthmus (Luo et al. 2014). In contrast, there is evidence that tigers in Malaysia
are sufficiently divergent genetically from other Southeast Asian tigers (P. tigris corbetti) to
justify them being a different subspecies (P. tigris jacksoni), though superficially they are
It seems that black leopards in Malaysia are genetically similar to their counterparts
from the Southeast Asian mainland and the current subspecies classification as P. pardus
delacouri remains valid, despite the fixation of melanism in the population. The dramatic
appearance of the phenotype is merely superficial and was likely a rapid adaptive response
to local conditions as already elaborated. This also implies that there was never an impedance
of leopard gene flow across the isthmus, in contrast to the tiger that had resulted in a
different subspecies on the peninsula for the latter. In comparison, leopards seem to have
continued to move freely across the Indochinese-Sundaland boundary despite the historically
challenging conditions, demonstrating greater resilience. After spreading south into
Sundaland, their adaptability was evident in the plasticity of phenotype allowing for
melanism to be selected for as a competitive response to the presence of tigers in a thickly
forested habitat. The seeming lack of any bottleneck effect that would have resulted in an
isolated population favours natural selection over genetic drift as the primary driver of
leopard melanism in Malaysia, bolstered by the improbability of this recessively inherited
trait becoming fixed absent any adaptive benefit.
Implications for conservation
Unlike the tiger, it appears that black panthers in Malaysia are not genetically distinctive to
warrant classification as a different subspecies of leopard. Indeed, one could argue that
losses in their population could conceivably be replaced with Indochinese leopards from
elsewhere, which belong to the same subspecies. However it remains a fact that nowhere
else in the world is there such a concentration of black leopards, a phenomenon that arose
due to very specific conditions of habitat and community unique to this locality. This should
make the leopards of Malaysia worthy of conservation efforts because if ever they are lost,
it would be unlikely that the same circumstances can be replicated or recreated for
widespread melanism in a charismatic wild cat to recur.
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... Leopard population in Peninsular Malaysia was assessed as endangered (DWNP, 2017). It is estimated that about 500-700 leopards are left in Peninsular Malaysia due to decline of suitable forest habitat (Chew, 2019). ...
... Taman Negara National Park covers three states of Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia and is regarded as the world's oldest tropical rainforest (Ibrahim and Hassan, 2011). The present study on leopards concern on the distribution, population size, genetic structure, prey preferences, temporal activity patterns, natural history and habitat selection (Asrulsani et al., 2017;Chew, 2019;Dutta et al., 2013;Hayward et al., 2006;Jacobson et al., 2016;Sanei et al., 2011;Simcharoen et al., 2008). ...
... In Jhalana Forest Reserve (India), humans and leopards coexist where leopards frequently encounter humans on the forest reserve fringes and in town or villages (Kumbhojkar et al., 2019). (Chew, 2019). Leopards play an important ecological role of regulating their prey populations, especially wild ungulates (Dorresteijn et al., 2015). ...
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Aim: This research assessed the distribution of leopard to predict the habitat suitability in Taman Negara National Park and adjacent forest area. Methodology: Environmental factors for habitat suitability were derived from geographical information system (GIS) data such as elevation, slope, land-use, distance from urban and distance from river. Leopard presence data from 1993 to 2008 were integrated with the environmental parameters using maximum entropy (MaxEnt) modeling to assess habitat suitability across the study area. Results: The results showed that distance from river contributed the most (39.3%) in the habitat suitability modeling followed by distance from urban (31.4%), elevation (12.3%), land use types (10.1%), and slope (6.9%). Distance from river and urban showed highest contribution that influenced leopard distribution in which most suitable habitat occurred in proximity with river and further from urban. Habitat suitability of leopard were distributed among 48% over 2,218,389 ha of the study area. Interpretation: The findings of this study provides knowledge on how the species move and exploit different habitat niches for more effective conservation management. It provide models for future wildlife conservation and urban planning.
... The Indochinese Leopard is listed as Critically Endangered (Rostro-García et al. 2019). The population trend of the Leopard is decreasing in Peninsular Malaysia because of high threats to its survival and habitat (Chew 2019). Dead Leopards have been seized from poachers and wildlife traders (Lai 2013;Traffic 2013Traffic , 2014. ...
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Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. During a study near an ecotourism site, we recorded a melanistic Leopard Panthera pardus delacouri on top of Bukit Kudung in Jeli District. This finding is considered important because the Indochinese Leopard P.p. delacouri is classified as Critically Endangered in the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). We hope that this record will foster conservation efforts in the area.
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1. The current classification of the Felidae was reviewed by a panel of 22 experts divided into core, expert and review groups, which make up the Cat Classification Task Force CCTF of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. 2. The principal aim of the CCTF was to produce a consensus on a revised classification of the Felidae for use by the IUCN. 3. Based on current published research, the CCTF has fully revised the classification of the Felidae at the level of genus, species and subspecies. 4. A novel traffic-light system was developed to indicate certainty of each taxon based on morphological, molecular, biogeographical and other evidence. A concordance of good evidence in the three principal categories was required to strongly support the acceptance of a taxon. 5. Where disagreements exist among members of the CCTF, these have been highlighted in the accounts for each species. Only further research will be able to answer the potential conflicts in existing data. 6. A total of 14 genera, 41 species and 77 subspecies is recognised by most members of the CCTF, which is a considerable change from the classification proposed by Wozencraft (2005), the last major revision of the Felidae. 7. Future areas of taxonomic research have been highlighted in order to answer current areas of uncertainty. 8. This classification of the Felidae will be reviewed every five years unless a major new piece of research requires a more rapid revision for the conservation benefit of felid species at risk of extinction.
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The geographic distribution and habitat association of most mammalian polymorphic phenotypes are still poorly known, hampering assessments of their adaptive significance. Even in the case of the black panther, an iconic melanistic variant of the leopard (Panthera pardus), no map exists describing its distribution. We constructed a large database of verified records sampled across the species' range, and used it to map the geographic occurrence of mela-nism. We then estimated the potential distribution of melanistic and non-melanistic leopards using niche-modeling algorithms. The overall frequency of melanism was ca. 11%, with a significantly non-random spatial distribution. Distinct habitat types presented significantly different frequencies of melanism, which increased in Asian moist forests and approached zero across most open/dry biomes. Niche modeling indicated that the potential distributions of the two phenotypes were distinct, with significant differences in habitat suitability and rejection of niche equivalency between them. We conclude that melanism in leopards is strongly affected by natural selection, likely driven by efficacy of camouflage and/or thermo-regulation in different habitats, along with an effect of moisture that goes beyond its influence on vegetation type. Our results support classical hypotheses of adaptive coloration in animals (e.g. Gloger's rule), and open up new avenues for in-depth evolutionary analyses of melanism in mammals.
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To date, leopards (Panthera pardus) in Peninsular Malaysia have been overlooked by large carnivore researchers. This is in part due to the country's unique population of individuals that are almost all melanistic, which makes it nearly impossible to identify individuals using camera traps for estimating leopard density. We discovered a novel modification to infrared flash camera traps, which forces the camera into night mode, that allows us to consistently and clearly see the spots of a melanistic leopard. The aim of this project was 1) to determine the feasibility of identifying melanistic leopards with confidence using infrared flash camera traps, and 2) to establish a density estimate for the leopard population in a wildlife corridor in Malaysia using maximum likelihood and Bayesian spatially explicit capture-recapture (SECR) models. Both SECR approaches yielded a leopard density of approximately 3 individuals/100 km2. Our estimates represent the first density estimate of leopards in Malaysia and arguably, the world's first successful attempt to estimate the population size of a species with melanistic phenotypes. Because we have demonstrated that melanistic leopards can be monitored with confidence using infrared cameras, future studies should employ our approach instead of relying on scars or body shape for identification. Ultimately, our approach can facilitate more accurate assessments of leopard population trends, particularly in regions where melanistic phenotypes largely occur. © 2015 The Wildlife Society.
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Panthera pardus (leopard; Linnaeus, 1758) is the smallest of the 4 large felids in the genus Panthera. A solitary and adaptable species, P. pardus is the widest ranging of all wild felids, inhabiting rain forests, mountains, semiarid environments, and suburban areas throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia to the Russian Far East. Despite this distribution, P. pardus is listed as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and several Asian subspecies are listed as endangered. P. pardus primarily feeds on small to medium-sized ungulates, but has a varied diet including fish, reptiles, birds, and small mammals.
On the Island of Sumatra, the leopard (Panthera pardus) became extinct during the Late Pleistocene. Several theories exist about the reasons why leopards could not subsist in Sumatra, while today, national parks still bear tigers (Panthera tigris) and Asiatic wild dogs (Cuon alpinus). One often debated theory is that the competition for prey was the reason for the extinction of leopards in Sumatra. The aim of our study is to model the impacts of competition for prey in the carnivore guild of the Padang Highlands in Sumatra to test if competition pressure was sufficient to force the leopard to extinction. In the first step, we reconstructed the carnivore guild of the Padang Highlands based on fossils collected by Dubois in the three cave sites of Sibrambang, Djamboe and Lida Ajer. In the second step, we developed and applied an agent-based model based on population density, prey spectrum and daily meat intake and simulated different scenarios of competition among the Sumatran predators. We simulated the reconstructed guild and further tested scenarios with the absence of guild members to see under which circumstances leopards could have survived in Sumatra. Simulation of the reconstructed carnivore guild revealed that, in fact, the leopard could have been driven to extinction by competition from other carnivores. Excluding one of the competing medium-sized cats or the Asiatic wild dog leads to the survival of the leopard in our simulations. Interestingly, our model demonstrates that humans and tigers were not the strongest competitors for leopards because their exclusion from the scenarios does not conclude with the survival of leopards in our simulations. According to our results, the presence of two medium-sized cats and the Asiatic wild dog, in combination with the small litter size of the leopard, were the main reasons why the leopard could not tolerate the competition for prey in the Padang Highlands in Sumatra and thus became extinct in Sumatra.
The Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri) is a genetically distinct subspecies that historically occurred throughout mainland Southeast Asia, but might have experienced recent declines in numbers and distribution. This study aimed to determine the current distribution of the Indochinese leopard, and estimate its population size, by reviewing data from camera trap and other wildlife surveys conducted during the past 20 years. Our results showed the Indochinese leopard likely now occurs only in 6.2% of its historical range, with only 2.4% of its distribution in areas of confirmed leopard presence. The leopard is extirpated in Singapore, likely extirpated in Laos and Vietnam, nearly extirpated in Cambodia and China, and has greatly reduced distributions in Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. There are plausibly only two major strongholds remaining, which we consider priority sites: Peninsular Malaysia, and the Northern Tenasserim Forest Complex. We also identified a small isolated population in eastern Cambodia as a third priority site, because of its uniqueness and high conservation value. We estimate a total remaining population of 973–2503 individuals, with only 409–1051 breeding adults. Increased poaching for the illegal wildlife trade likely is the main factor causing the decline of the Indochinese leopard. Other potential contributing factors include prey declines, habitat destruction, and possibly disease. We recommend a separate IUCN assessment for the Indochinese leopard, and that this subspecies be classified as Endangered. Our findings provide important information that can help guide where conservation actions would be most effective in preventing the extinction of this subspecies.
1. Ecological factors influencing prey selection by tiger Panthera tigris, leopard Panthera pardus and dhole Cuon alpinus were investigated in an intact assemblage of large mammals in the tropical forests of Nagarahole, southern India, between 1986 and 1990. 2. Densities of large herbivores were estimated using line transects, and population structures from area counts. Carnivore diets were determined from analyses of scats (faeces) and kills. Selectivity for prey species was inferred from likelihood ratio tests comparing observed counts of scats to hypothesized scat frequencies generated from prey density estimates using parametric bootstrap simulations. Predator selectivity for size, age, sex and physical condition of prey was estimated using selection indices. 3. Ungulate and primate prey attained a density of 91 animals km-2 and comprised 89-98% of the biomass killed. Predators showed significant (P