Clouded Leopard Conservation and Research in Borneo
Investigators: Andrew Hearn and Joanna Ross, Global Canopy Programme in partnership with the Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ITBC) at the University Malaysia Sabah, and the WildCRU, at the University of Oxford.
For detailed information, please visit the project’s blog.
This three-year initiative is aimed at addressing the conservation needs of the five species of Bornean wild cats: Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi diardi), bay cat (Catopuma badia), flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), and leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). The project is based at Danum Valley and Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo and will provide base-line data regarding the species’ behavior and ecology as well as their responses to selective logging to aid in the development of conservation and management decisions. Project leaders will also providing training to host country scientists and students through mammal field-research courses for UMS and the intensive training of a postgraduate from the ITBC.
In addition to research and training efforts, the project’s investigators will partner with the Clouded Leopard Project to increase awareness of the wild cats in Sabah by producing and disseminating wild cat-specific environmental education materials. Surveys will be conducted within communities surrounding the Tabin Wildlife Reserve to assess the potential level of hunting/trade of the wild cats and their prey and to assess local people's knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about conservation.
The project has a variety of components, each entailing different methods:
1. Camera Trapping
The investigators employ digital camera traps to assess the distribution, habitat associations, activity and density of Bornean wild cats in managed and unmanaged forests and agricultural plantations. Camera traps are placed along human/animal trails and abandoned logging roads. Two cameras are placed at each location to enable each flank of the animal to be photographed simultaneously. Photographic capture rates of wild cats will be used to calculate relative abundance for each species, and capture-mark-recapture techniques will be used to estimate the density of wild cat species in which individuals can be distinguished from one another due to their distinctive coat patterns (clouded leopard, marbled cat and leopard cat). Photographs of prey species and other wildlife will also be obtained and this data will be analyzed alongside the wild cat data.
In the second phase of the project, investigators will conduct a radio-tracking study to investigate the spatial patterns, ranging behavior, activity and habitat use of the Bornean wild cats. The study will be undertaken in both primary and logged forest at Danum Valley, enabling an investigation into the effects of selective logging on these species. Several large steel mesh box traps will be used to capture and radio collar wild cats; each successfully collared animal will be tracked for a minimum of 12 months. Live trap placement will be guided by previous camera trapping results, and traps will be moved to a new location if no captures have occurred after two months. Captured cats will be anesthetized, sexed, aged, measured, weighed, ectoparasites collected, genetic material collected (hair and blood), and photographed. Adult and sub-adult animals will be fitted with radio-collars, but juveniles will not be collared. Collared animals will be tracked by vehicle and on foot and the location of animals will be estimated by triangulation from two or more radio-fix bearings.
3. Hunting and Trade Survey
The region surrounding the Tabin Wildlife Reserve is home to three indigenous communities and several oil palm plantation communities. In collaboration with a Malaysian ecologist, Wong Siew Te, and with the assistance of locally employed assistants, the investigators will conduct structured questionnaire surveys throughout these communities to investigate local knowledge of endemic wildlife, gain an understanding of hunting of wildlife in the region, and investigate local attitudes to wildlife conservation and eco-tourism.
To increase awareness of the Bornean wild cats and their conservation needs, the investigators will produce wild cat-specific environmental education materials as well as wild cat postcards and posters. In addition, the investigators will collaborate with the Clouded Leopard Project to produce addition materials including a Malay version of The Clouded Leopard’s Secret bilingual conservation storybook and accompanying student learning guide.
5. Capacity Building/Training
The investigators will host mammal field research training courses for scientists at the Danum Valley Field Centre. Each year, a minimum of twenty Conservation Biology students from the ITBC will be trained during two 5-day field courses. The field course covers mammal live trapping/handling, radio-tracking, camera-trapping, field sign identification and use of computer software. In addition, the project is providing a 3-year, fully-paid, training position to a post-graduate from the ITBC.
The project began in July 2006 and will conclude in October 2009.
August 2008 (adapted from Project website)
Phase 1 of camera trapping in the primary forest of the Danum Valley Conservation area revealed the presence of the apparently extremely rare Bornean bay cat, the first confirmed record of this species in this protected area and the fourth-ever photograph of this felid in the wild. No other felids were photo captured during this six-month operation.
Phase 2 involved camera trapping along abandoned logging roads and trails within an area of good quality selectively logged forest –the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve. Felid photo captures included bay cat, marbled cat, leopard cat and clouded leopard, although the capture rates of the bay and marbled cats proved to be too low to conduct any quantitative density analysis. Photo capture rates of Bornean clouded leopards, however, proved to be sufficiently high to enable the implementation of a density estimation utilising a capture-mark-recapture framework. This has provided the first scientifically robust density estimate for clouded leopards on Borneo and indeed the first for this species.
During Phase 3 the team has returned to the primary forest to re-attempt to conduct a density estimate survey of the clouded leopard with a greater number of camera traps. To date they have collected three more photos of bay cats and three more of marbled cats, helping to build a picture of these felids’ activity and habitat use. They also photo-captured three individual clouded leopards in this area; however the photo-capture rate was again too low to perform a capture-recapture analysis.
On January 31, 2008 the team successfully trapped and radio collared a female sub-adult Sundaland (Bornean) clouded leopard. This is the first time this species has been radio collared. Tracking has proven to be difficult but possible in this heavily forested and rugged terrain. After several months of tracking, the cat’s home range had exceeded 20km2, although data suggest that the actual home range may be larger. Unfortunately, the cat’s signal was lost after it began to move in a northerly direction. By employing a helicopter for an aerial search in October 2008, the team re-located the cat’s signal 3km outside of her previous range. Unfortunately, the signal indicated that the collar’s batteries are low so it is unlikely she will be able to be tracked for much longer.
In the Summer of 2008 the investigators captured and collared six leopard cats (4 males, 2 females) and are currently collecting excellent data on four of these individuals. Two individuals are proving to be difficult to locate, but have only been recently collared for a few weeks. Trapping will resume shortly in an effort to capture other felid species.
Training and Education
Two training courses have been conducted, resulting in 34 trained students/scientists. The course was so well-received that UMS staff members are now planning to incorporate it into their conservation biology BSc degree syllabus.
Initial ‘Wild Cats of Borneo’ education/information posters have been produced and will soon be displayed as part of the environmental education program at Danum Valley Field Center and at two major tourist facilities in the region: the Borneo Rainforest Lodge and Tabin Wildlife Resort. The artwork for the bilingual storybook is in production and translation will be underway shortly.