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.
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).
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)