PETALING JAYA: The Ulu Muda Forest Area is only one of the two known places in Peninsular Malaysia where the spotted leopard can be found, said the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).
In an open letter to the Kedah government, the research team from Oxford University in England said the area has the potential of becoming one of the major players as Malaysia’s flagship protected areas.
The Endau Rompin National Park is the other one.
“Camera traps at other forest sites have only detected the melanistic leopard (commonly known as the black panther),” said WildCRU.
The rarity of the spotted leopard in areas south of the isthmus of Kra – the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand and Myanmar – increased the importance of the Ulu Muda forest reserve as a valuable conservation area, it said.
Both the spotted and the melanistic leopards are of the same species (Panthera pardus), which has been listed as vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Besides acting as an important wildlife corridor connecting the forests in Thailand to the Pedu Forest Reserve in Kedah, researchers have also found Ulu Muda to be a highly suitable habitat for the clouded leopards due to its good forest cover and high elevation.
“Yet, the density of the population is estimated to be at one individual per 100km sq, lower than that of any other intensively studied sites in Malaysia.
“This could be attributed to illegal hunting and ongoing logging,” it said.
The clouded leopard is also categorised as vulnerable under IUCN.
During the research, scientists came across 54 species within just 120km sq of their camera grid, including 37 mammals, 15 birds and two reptiles.
Forty-three per cent of the mammals detected (16 species), four bird species and one species of reptiles are considered as near threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.
On April 21, a group of 10 non-governmental bodies including WWF Malaysia, the Malaysia Nature Society from Penang, Kedah and Langkawi and Water Watch Penang, said the area was also home to species such as the Asian elephant, the Malayan tapir, the Malayan sun bear and the serow as well as more than 300 species of birds.
“It is one of the only two areas in Malaysia where all 10 species of Malaysian hornbills are found, including the rare and endangered plain-pouched hornbill,” it said.