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Black Leopards Reveal Their Spots

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Black leopards on the Malay Peninsula can now be identified by their spots following the development of a photographic trick that may end up saving their skins.

“Most automatic cameras have an infrared flash, but it’s only activated at night”, said Dr Gopalasamy Reuben Clements from James Cook University. “However, by blocking the camera’s light sensor, we can fool the camera into thinking it’s night even during the day, so it always flashes.”

With the infrared flash firing, the seemingly black leopards suddenly show complex patterns of spots that could be used to distinguish different animals and help estimate the population size of the species.

“We found we could accurately identify 94% of the animals,” Clements said. “This will allow us to study and monitor this population over time, which is critical for its conservation.”

“Melanism”, where individuals that normally have patterns or colours in their coat are instead completely black, predominates in the Malay Peninsula. “This is perhaps the only known example of a wild mammal with virtually an entire population composed of black individuals,” said Dr Laurie Hedges from the University of Nottingham – Malaysia, who was lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

The black leopards of the Malay Peninsula are extremely rare. The researchers now want to use...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.