Extinction of Javan leopard

Oct. 7, 2022, 5:24 p.m.

The Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas) is an endemic species to Java and currently classified as critically endangered, since there are possibly even fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild.

Javan leopards, the dwindling ‘guardians’ of Java’s forests. Tradition holds that the Javan leopard is a symbol of prosperity, and a guardian of forests that provide people with healthy water and fresh air.

However, this big cat species is critically endangered and relegated to small patches of forest scattered about the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java.

After the extinction of Javan tiger, Javan leopard became the only apex predator on the island, whose role is particularly important in balancing the ecosystem.

Even though not all of them have black skin, they often called as Black Panther. The original habitat of the island of Java. Just like its name, they are endemic to the tropical forests of the island of Java. Javan Leopard also known as clouded leopard, their ability is climbing and spend a lot of time in the trees.

The natural habitat of this critically endangered big cat is the Indonesian island of Java – the most populous island in the world. It is estimated that less than 10 percent of Java’s primary forest remains intact today. Worryingly, it is precisely this shrinking habitat that the Javan leopards need to survive.

With an estimated Javan leopard population of just 80 to 250 animals, every death constitutes a real threat to the survival of the species.

The Javan leopard has a silver-grey eyes, light brown skin color with black spots on its body. The size of the leopard can reach up to 160cm with a weight of 50-70kg, which male is larger than the female.

The Javan leopard is a nocturnal animal that is active at night. The Javan leopard has a good skills on climbing and swimming. When looking for a prey at night, this animal usually wait in the trees and will carry their prey up to the tree.

Like most large cats, Javan leopard is a habitat generalist depending on a wide variety of small to medium-sized species, including Javan deer, barking deer, wild boar, Javan green peacock, various primate species and flying lemur.

A Javan langur, one of the Javan leopard’s preferred prey species.

When foraging for wild prey, the leopards often encounter and raid livestock raised by the forest-edge communities. Compared to tigers, Javan leopard is more cryptic, thus rarely attack humans. The most common conflict is, therefore, the fear of local communities when witnessing leopards crossing their gardens looking for prey. In that situation, the local communities often set up traps to capture the leopard.

Due to the increase of leopards – human conflict and an increase of the capturing of leopards concerns for the future of the Javan leopards are growing.

Despite these dense urban landscapes, pockets of natural forest persist around the island, and some of these are still patrolled by Panthera pardus melas: with the extinction of the Javan tiger — last glimpsed in Meru Betiri National Park in 1976 — the critically endangered Javan leopard is the only big cat left on the island.

Fragmentation of habitat poses a huge threat to the few Javan leopards left in the wild. Without contiguous protected areas, the animals struggle to find a suitable mate and thus maintain a genetically diverse population. It is currently assumed that none of the Javan leopard subpopulations is larger than 50 individuals. This small population size could quickly become a major problem.

Most habitats are disconnected and heavily isolated. Establishing physical corridors is very unlikely between these habitats as they are too far from one another, and mostly separated by well-established human settlements and infrastructure. The management of Javan leopard should follow meta-population management approaches which include repopulation of empty forests, exchange of breeding individuals between subpopulations (especially breeding females) and enhancing the existing physical connectivity wherever possible.

Prior to 2000, Java had lost the largest portion of its natural forest, with only 23% of the island forested. Further, between 2000 and 2017, Java had lost nearly 70% of its forest. The highest deforestation occurred between 2000 and 2013 with 65% forest loss or nearly 5% per year.

The Javan leopard is threatened by loss of habitat, prey base depletion, and poaching due to human population growth and agricultural expansion.

Javan leopard’s spots help them to camouflage on the tree to find their prey from above!

They have an exceptional hearing ability, five times sharper than human. Hence, these animals are able to hear if their prey is close and always aware for any threat.

Currently, humans are the biggest threat to this species. This is the result of animal trade, poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation but also due to a decline of prey species which forces leopards to enter villages to find food, what causes animal-human conflicts. There are many reports of leopard – human conflicts, which unfortunately often end up in the killing or capturing of leopards.

Javan leopard body parts have entered international illegal trafficking networks. Though most are sold as stuffed mounts, many are used in rituals: are these traditional kinds of rituals.

There is currently no international support for the conservation of the species. There is no funding.

The extinction of the Javan leopard will lead to the further loss of Java’s remaining forests.

What do you think should be done today to ensure the survival of a unique felid species?

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