Image credit: Johor Wildlife Dept.
NEW YORK, NY — Experts from Panthera, the world leader in the conservation of big cats, reported today that a rare spotted leopard had been photographed in Malaysia. The image of the unusually marked cat (previously, only black leopards were believed to exist in the area), was captured by a Panthera camera trap in Taman Negara Endau-Rompin National Park in the southern state of Johor. This research, in partnership with the Johor State Government is part of Tigers Forever, a collaborative project between Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) which aims to increase tiger numbers by 50% at key sites over a ten year period across tiger range. Panthera is testing unique new digital camera traps as a key component of Tigers Forever, as individual tigers can be identified by their unique stripe patterns resulting in population density estimates. The photographic ‘capture’ of the spotted leopard was an unexpected bonus during routine surveys for tigers in the park.
The news marks a high point in an otherwise bleak outlook for the world’s tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards. While events commemorating 40 years of environmental progress continue to multiply, the iconic cats that have roamed the globe for years continue to dwindle. 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 the Year of the Tiger, fewer than 3,000 wild tigers live in Asia today. Tigers occupy only seven percent of their historic range and they are being hunted by poachers to sell tiger parts on the lucrative wildlife black market. But Tigers Forever, with WCS, is working to protect and increase tiger numbers at key sites, one of which is the Hukaung Valley Tiger Sanctuary in Myanmar (Burma), the world’s largest tiger reserve which was established by Panthera’s President and CEO, Alan Rabinowitz.