Javan Leopard

Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas) is a subspecies, which is found only in the Indonesian island of Java. It is classified as critically endangered by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) since 2008. The population of these leopards is estimated at less than 250 mature individuals, with a decreasing trend. The total remaining habitat is estimated at just 2,267.9 to 3,277.3 km2 (875.6 to 1,265.4 sq mi).

Provincial animal of West Java, this cat either has a normal spotted coat, or a recessive phenotype resulting in an all black coat. It is orange with black rosettes and spots, but is also commonly black.

Molecular research shows that the subspecies is craniometrically distinct from leopards of rest of the Asia. They are a distinct taxon that split off from other Asian leopards hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is estimated that in the Middle Pleistocene, they came to Java from South Asia across a land bridge that bypassed Sumatra and Borneo.

Distribution and habitat

They are commonly found in Ujung Kulon National Park, Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, Gunung Halimun National Park, Ceremai National Park, Merbabu National Park, Merapi National Park, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Meru Betiri National Park, Alas Purwo National Park and Baluran National Park. These versatile creatures can thrive in a variety of habitats ranging from dry deciduous forests to patches of dense tropical rainforest in the south-western part of the island, to the mountains and finally in scrub in the east. A survey conducted in 1990s showed they seemed to particularly prosper in the seral stages of successional vegetation patterns, which made them less susceptible, compared to many other mammals, to the disruptive activities of humans in the name of development.

A monitoring research was conducted from 2001 to 2004, in a 20 km2 (7.7 sq mi) area of Gunung Halimun National Park using camera traps and radio-tracking. Study area showed the presence of seven leopards. The total population was estimated at 42 to 58 individuals. Study also indicated that home range of an adult female covers about 9.82 km2 (3.79 sq mi).

Diet

In Indonesia their diet consists mainly of barking deer, lesser mouse deer, long-tailed macaques, Javan gibbon, silvered leaf monkey and of course wild boar. Like all other wild cats that live near human habitation Javan leopards too look for food in close by villages and have been known to prey on domestic animals like dogs, goats and the poultry. This poses a major problem both for the farmers and the cat.

Threats

These animals are threatened by poaching, loss of habitat and prey base depletion, rising human population and agricultural expansion. Java has already lost more than 90 per cent of its natural vegetation and today it is one of the most densely populated islands in the world. With 118.3 million people Java holds 59 per cent of Indonesia’s total population living in 2,286 sq miles (5,920 km2). Primary forests remain only in the mountainous regions at elevations above 1,400 m (4,600 ft).

Conservation

Efforts are being made to bring back the population of these handsome cats, which are already on the brink of extinction, much like the Javan tiger. Hunting laws are being strictly enforced. As a part of process Gunung Halimun National Park was enlarged to three times its original size for restoration of the Javan leopard, Javan gibbon and the Javan Hawk-eagle in 2005.

In Indonesia captive breeding programs are not very successful. In 2007, the Taman Safari zoo had 17 animals — seven male and ten female — of which four were breeding pairs. Captive breeding programs are also set up in the Indonesian Ragunan and Surabaya zoos.

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