Yet more felids: the Javan leopard

May 23, 2013 • 2:49 pm

by Greg Mayer

We’ve noted a number of times here on WEIT the great things that have been done using camera traps to survey rare and endangered species, especially felids. Age Kridalaksana of the Center for International Forestry Research has gotten pictures and produced a video of his successful search for the Javan leopard, Panthera pardus melas (see also the video on conservation challenges in Indonesia). He got photos of three leopards, one of which was melanic. The  Javan population is thought to be about 250 adults.

Javan leopard, Panthera pardus melas, by Age Kriskalana
Javan leopard, Panthera pardus melas, by Age Kridalaksana.

The large mammals of the big Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo are very interesting biogeographically. At the peak of the last glaciation, all of these islands (which lie on the continental shelf) were united to the mainland  (see previous WEIT coverage on this here), so at that time large mammals could wander across all three islands. As the waters rose from the melting glaciers and the lands were cut off, species went extinct on the newly forming islands. It’s not easy to predict where a given species would survive. For the three big cats, each has a different distribution pattern: the leopard only on Java, the tiger on Sumatra and Java (and Bali), and the clouded leopard on Sumatra and Borneo. There are old stories of tigers on Borneo, but specimens can be obtained from the other islands by trade, so its survival there into historic times has never been verified.

As might be expected given its isolation from the main range on the mainland, the Javan leopard is a genetically well marked subspecies (see reference below).

h/t Mongabay


Banks, E.A. 1931. A popular account of the mammals of Borneo. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 9(2):1-139.

Uphyrkina, O., W.E. Johnson, H. Quigley, D. Miquelle, L. Marker, M. Bush and S.J. O’Brien. 2001. Phylogenetics, genome diversity and origin of modern leopard, Panthera pardus. Molecular Ecology 10:2617–2633. (pdf)

10 thoughts on “Yet more felids: the Javan leopard

  1. It would be very easy to mistrake that cat for one of its jaguar cousins on the other side of the globe.

    Has any research been done in coat patterns to determine if this is a case of common ancestry or convergent evolution? Either way, it’s pretty obvious that there must be some sort of evolutionary benefit to that type of marking.

    It’d also be interesting to compare the cats in other ways — behavior and so forth.


      1. Thanks for that.

        I did a bit of poking around on…and couldn’t find any pattern. But it was interesting to note that the LCA between jaguars and (leopards, tigers, lions) is all in the ~3MYA range…while the LCA between mountain lions (the only other big cat whose range intersects with the jaguar) and jaguars is ~12MYA. I think the jaguar might actually be more closely related to the cheetah than the puma…be nice to see it laid out in a family tree….


        1. Hey Ben,
          I looked up cat molecular phylogeny a few months ago for a comment on the Manul post, part of the summary being:

          “the molecular phylogeny puts Otocolobus as the sister group to Prionailurus, together comprising the ‘Leopard Cat Lineage’ as the immediate sister group to Felis in the strict sense, the ‘Domestic Cat Lineage’.

          “Successively more basal within Felidae (less closely related to Felis) are Puma + Acinonyx (Puma/Cheetah), Lynx (Lynxes/Bobcat), Leopardus (Ocelot and friends), Caracal (incl. Serval), Pardofelis (Bay Cat Lineage, Asian), and the most basal clade of all comprising Neofelis (Clouded Leopard) and Panthera (‘Great Roaring Cats’).”

          I can send a copy of the paper if you like (trumpet address?)

  2. As someone who has been involved in several camera trap projects for carnivores, may I just say: wow. That is a great shot. Usually it is just a bum or on occasion, an out of focus face and snout sniffing the camera. I’m sure there were plenty of shots of waving bushes or passing bugs so that shot is just schweet.

  3. I am so pleased that animal never crossed the Wallace Line. Not as bad as the Australian Drop Bear, but pretty close.

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