The new insight has allowed conservationists to reliably identify individual animals based on camera traps, the first step in preventing widespread poaching, according to new research.
"Understanding how leopards are faring in an increasingly human-dominated world is vital," lead author Laurie Hedges, a zoology graduate at the University of Nottingham in England, said in a statement.
"This black coat may have made them 'perfect stalkers' in our dimly lit Malaysian jungle and this advantage may have helped them compete with tigers for similar-sized prey," said study co-author Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, the co-founder of the Malaysian jungle conservation organization Rimba.
Alternatively, the Malay leopards may be black through random chance.
Despite a cornucopia of prey species for the big cats, few have been spotted on the peninsula.
But a 2010 study in the Journal of Zoology study found that almost all Malay leopards have the gene for melanism, or black coats.
Scientists don't know exactly why, though some suspect the black cats evolved their shadowy coats to better camouflage themselves while hunting in the dense jungles of the island nation.
A leopard really can't change its spots — it can only conceal them.
The black leopards of the Malaysian Peninsula may look like they have uniform dark coats, but hidden cameras with infrared light have revealed a surprise: The black cats sport the characteristic leopard spots within their dark-hued coats.
Some have even hypothesized that the Mount Toba super-eruption about 74,000 years ago wiped out all but a few of the leopards, and those leopards that survived happened to be black, Hedges told
Either way, the vast majority of Malay Peninsula leopards sport dark coats, which has made counting the leopards, and in turn conserving them, surprisingly tricky.