Posted on Category:Marine Life

Javan Leopard Habitat Shrinking

On the Indonesian island of Java, the suitable habitat of Java leopards has decreased by more than 1,300 square kilometers, or 500 square miles, between 2000 and 2020. This is according to a recent study that tried to map the remaining habitat in which the big cat can still survive.

The researchers examined a number of variables that can affect the presence of leopards, such as the extent of primary and secondary forests, the presence of plantations and the distance to rivers and human settlements. They also examined past monitoring data to build their habitat suitability model. In total, they estimated about 12,900 km2 (5,000 mi2), or about a tenth of the landmass of Java.

The survey revealed that in 2000, it was estimated that 2,481 km2 (956 mi2) of land was “very suitable”.”However, by 2020, this had decreased by more than 40% to 1,430 km2 (552 mi2). The “suitable” habitat decreased by 251 km2 (97 mi2), while the habitat considered unsuitable increased by about 1,300 km2 (500 mi2). The loss of primary forests is responsible for most of these declines, the researchers note.

The Java leopards (Panthera pardus melas) are the only large predator remaining on the island; poaching, loss of prey and habitat loss and fragmentation are among the causes of the decline. It is believed that the endangered subspecies has only 350 individuals. The remaining leopards live in very isolated fragments of forest across the Island.

Hariyo”Beebach” Wibisono, director of SINTAS Indonesia, an NGO, hailed the results of the new document as further proof of the peril conservation situation of the big cat. It reflects the results of research he conducted in 2018 which suggested that the habitat adapted to the leopard covered less than 9% of the island, half of which is in unprotected areas.

“This article actually comes to the same conclusion; that the Java leopard is endangered due to habitat degradation and very isolated habitats and populations,” Wibisono, who was not involved in the new article, told Mongabay. Taken together, the research highlights that the conservation status of the Java leopard is “much more critical than we thought,” he said.

He added that he was, however, unsure of the extent of the remaining “suitable” habitat and said he thought it might be overstated in the suitability mapping. In some matters, he noted, plantations can serve as a habitat for Java leopards, but this depends heavily on other variables, such as the presence of roads. “If there are roads there, it can become an inappropriate habitat for the Java leopard,” he said.

Erwin Wilianto, founder of SINTAS and the Java Leopard Focus Group, said that the document emphasizes that the habitat of the big cat is “shrinking without connectivity.”He also shared Wibisono’s concern that the ecology of the species is essential to estimate its suitable habitat.

“This article only indicates a suitable area based on statistical terms, not ecological terms,” Wilianto wrote, adding that more than 10 breeding animals are needed in an area to be viable. “Therefore, an area of less than 230 km2 [89 mi2] should be removed from the areas of “appropriate” status.”

Given the results of his own study and this recent article, Wibisono said that there are three important steps to preserve the species: maintain healthy leopard populations, strengthen low-density areas and then repopulate forests where the species is no longer present. Previously, conservation efforts had to be supported by an in-depth inventory of what the subspecies had been not found so far.

“What we would like to do is find out which forests have the highest density of leopards in Java,” he said. “But first, we need to find out the status of the Java leopard.”

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