A team of researchers accidentally found that the rare black leopards living in the Malay Peninsula’s jungle display also have unique patterns of spots just like their light-colored peers thriving across the globe.
Until now, conservationists and researchers alike had hard times in tracking and preserving the elusive animals because they simply couldn’t tell one animal from another due to their dark fur.
But the spotted patterns will now help conservationists easily monitor the solitary animals because there aren’t two black leopards that display the exact pattern of spots.
Researchers from Australia’s James Cook University (JCU) and the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus learned that the felines also have spots, by using an automatic camera with an infrared flash designed to capture photos of the animals during nighttime.
Luckily, someone had the idea to use the camera’s infrared flash during daylight hours as well. What scientists saw on the photos was a complete surprise. The animals jet black fur had a hidden pattern of spots on it that was otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
“It was really by accident that we discovered that if you can get that infrared flash to go off in the daytime you could suddenly see the spots,”
acknowledged Dr. William Laurance, a senior JCU researcher involved in the study.
Dr. Laurance was over thrilled that researchers were later able to use the newly found spotted patterns to identify nearly 95 percent of the black leopards prowling in the Malayan dimly lit jungle. That’s more than any conservationist would have ever hoped for.
Currently, researchers are trying to asses how large the population of black leopards living on the island is. Leopards are usually solitary animals that only stay in groups when they are cubs and need their mother around.
Researchers said that without the patterns in sight no one can tell precisely how large the population is, what habits the animals endorse, or what types of factors influence their numbers.
Leopards located in other regions have their spotted patterns in plain sight, but the leopards on the Malay Peninsula are different. Researchers explained that they are affected by a skin condition called melanism which gives them the dark toned coat. Just like albinism makes some animals or people unusually white.
Yet, melanism is not a bad thing after all. It helps black leopards easily camouflage in the dark corners of the jungle and patiently wait for their prey. Basically, their fur helps them survive.
Image Source: Inagist