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Camera traps reveal undiscovered leopard population in Javan forest

  • Government camera traps spotted three individuals in the Cikepuh Wildlife Reserve, along the southern coast of Indonesia’s main central island of Java.
  • The environment ministry says 11 leopards are thought to exist in the sanctuary.
  • The Javan leopard is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

In the Cikepuh area of Indonesia’s most-populated island of Java, leopards vanished long ago.

Or so people thought.

This week, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry announced that hidden cameras had confirmed the presence of Javan leopards (Panthera pardus melas) in Cikepuh, a wildlife sanctuary along the island’s southern coast.

The animals, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, were previously believed to have died out there in the early 2000s.

Only some 250 Javan leopards are thought to still roam throughout the island’s forests. Habitat loss, prey-base depletion, poaching and conflict with humans have decimated their numbers.

The species is still holding on in Cikepuh. The government’s camera traps spotted three individuals: two with yellow fur and black spots, and one with an all-black coat.

Eight more leopards are believed to inhabit the sanctuary, according to the ministry.

“The return of this species indicates that the sanctuary has been successfully restored,” ministry spokesperson Djati Witjaksono Hadi said in a statement.

This Javan leopard was caught on camera in the Cikepuh Wildlife Reserve in August 2016. Photo courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry
A black leopard spotted in Cikepuh last August. Photo courtesy of the environment ministry

Encroachment has been a problem in the area since the fall of strongman President Suharto in the late 1990s.

Before 2014, the presence of leopards in Cikepuh had never been comprehensively studied, said Erwin Wilianto, project officer at Forum HarimauKita, an NGO.

It was the previous year that reports of leopard sightings began to gain traction. Nearby cattle farmers said big cats emerging from the forest had attacked their calves.

A series of studies, including one by Bogor Agricultural University students, reinforced the notion that leopards might still exist the sanctuary. Researchers from International Animal Rescue, an NGO, found what appeared to be leopard footprints and droppings.

Last summer, the Natural Resources Conservation Agency, an arm of the environment ministry, installed the camera traps. Over 28 days, the three leopards were spotted seven times.

“The leopards’ presence in Cikepuh has finally been confirmed,” Wilianto told Mongabay.

Encroachment in some parts of Cikepuh isn’t as bad it once was, and the forest has begun to reclaim some areas, which makes for “very good for leopard habitat,” said Hendra Gunawan, head of the Javan Leopard Conservation Forum, an NGO.

“As long as it’s not encroached upon, the leopard population will be able to develop nicely,” he told Mongabay.

The leopards compose a small, isolated population. The next closest one is more than 200 kilometers away in Mount Jampang. The corridor that once connected the two areas is mostly farms now.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first >published on our Indonesian site on Feb. 10, 2017.

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