Black Leopard: Infrared Camera Reveals Hidden Cat's Spots

First Posted: Jul 13, 2015 03:30 PM EDT

Scientists from JCU In Australia had a bit of trouble telling leopards on the Malaya Peninsula apart, until they were recently able to solve a problem involving the manipulating mechanism of automatic cameras.

"Most automatic cameras have an infrared flash, but it's only activated at night," said Dr Gopalasamy Reuben Clements from JCU, in a news release. "However, by blocking the camera's light sensor, we can fool the camera into thinking it's night even during the day, so it always flashes."

Through an infared flash, the black leopards actually begin to a show a great detail of spotted patterns that researchers noted could help distinguish one animal from another. In fact, thes spots could be used to estimate the population size of species. 

With this newfound knowledge, researchers tested the method in the north east Peninsular Malaysia.

"We found we could accurately identify 94% of the animals," added Dr. Clements, who also works with a local research institute from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. "This will allow us to study and monitor this population over time, which is critical for its conservation."

The researchers hope to use this new method to study black leopards in other parts of the area where there is abundant prey but leopards are rarely seen, according to officials. However, widespread poaching is thought to be the cause.

Yet, at the same time, suitable leopard habitats are also disappearing quite quickly throughout parts of Malaysia and other parts of the world as forests are felled for timber and replaced with oil palm and rubber plantations.

"Understanding how leopards are faring in an increasingly human-dominated world is vital," said Laurie Hedges from the University of Nottingham -- Malaysia, lead author of a study on the cats just published in Journal of Wildlife Management. "This new approach gives us a novel tool to help save this unique and endangered animal."

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the Journal of Wildlife Management

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