A group of scientists from the James Cook University in Australia used a visual trick that helped them detect spots on black leopards’ skin. The finding may help other scientists better track black leopard populations since the spotted pattern is unique for every animal.
The research team analyzed a prowl of black leopards on the Malay Peninsula. Until now, other scientists had difficulties in tracking the elusive cats for at least a couple of reasons. First, they are extremely rare. Second, their black fur makes them virtually indistinguishable from each other.
But Australian researchers reported that after using a modern imaging technique they learned that black leopards have spots too. The discovery can help them study and easily classify every member of the populations making it easier for conservationist groups to try and preserve the mysterious felines.
And researchers explained how they detected the spots. Reportedly, they tweaked the infrared flash on a camera trap to be perfectly functional during daytime as well. William Laurance, co-author of the black leopard study, acknowledged that the team made the discovery by accident.
“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,”
said Mr. Laurance.
The imagery they collected during daylight hours revealed that black leopards have a complex set of spots which is very different from one animal to another. But the patterns of spots cannot be detected with the naked eye. All one can see is a uniform black coat.
A paper on the findings was published the Journal of Wildlife Management early this week. Study authors wrote in their paper that the patterns of spots helped them tell one black leopard from another in 94 percent of cases.
Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, co-author of the study, told reporters that he hoped the discovery would help governments and environmentalists alike in their conservation efforts.
Across the globe, most leopard populations have light colored fur with a visible spotted pattern. But the populations living on the Malay Peninsula are affected by a non-life-threatening condition called melanism, which turns their fur color black.
Clements explained that their dark-colored coat actually helps them survive. Black leopards need the color to hunt for their prey in the dimly lit jungle. Plus, their coat is an advantage that allows them to compete with other similar-sized animals over prey.
Image Source: Jukani