Less than a hundred kilometers from the bustling metropolis of Jakarta, scientists have captured incredible photos of one of the world’s most endangered big cats: the Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas). Taken by a research project in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park, the photos show the magnificent animal relaxing in dense primary rainforest. Scientists believe that fewer than 250 mature Javan leopard survive, and the population may be down to 100.
“After I set up the camera and I checked the results, and I saw the leopard pictures I was very, very happy,” says Age Kridalaksana with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in a video produced by CIFOR (see below). In all, Kridalaksana captured three different leopards on the camera trap, representing perhaps 3 percent of the total population. One of the leopards photographed was melanistic, or sporting a black coat.
However, three leopards in the small area may represent a problem according to Kridalaksana.
“Because the leopard is the top predator in the food chain system, I think it is too much, if we compare with the prey like deer, like mouse, like civet. We assume that the condition of the ecosystem is not balanced, so the leopard tends to find another place to find a meal.”
Such ecological conditions are likely pushing leopards into nearby villages, spawning human-wildlife conflict. Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park is surrounded by densely populated villages, including some that are located within the park boundaries. Making matters worse, some villagers poach game with in the park.
“Indeed we have a very big challenge since more than 300 villages are located inside or around the park with more than 100,000 individuals,” Iwan Ridwan, a forestry technician with Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park, says in the video by CIFOR. “The most significant threat is deforestation, since deforestation reduces the habitat of these species and reduces their living space in order to search for food and to reproduce.”
Officials are working on programs to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and create new economic opportunities that don’t depend on the park for livelihoods.
Not surprisingly the Javan leopard is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. In many ways, its surprising to have a big cat surviving on an island home to around 120 million people and rising. Javan used to have its own subspecies of tiger as well, but the Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) went extinct in the 1970s. Much work remains to save the Javan leopard from the same fate as its bigger cousin.
Javan leopard caught on camera trap from CIFOR stock footage library on Vimeo.
This article was written for Mongabay.com and re-posted on Focusing on Wildlife.