Clouded Leopard Conservation and Research in Borneo
Investigators: Andrew Hearn, Joanna Ross, Henry Bernard, Katherine Secody, Pr. David Macdonald with Mohd. Soffian Bin Abu Bakar
Years of operation: 2010-2014
Despite a flurry of scientific interest in the last few years, much remains unknown about the felids of Borneo, especially the Sunda clouded leopard. From 2006 to 2009, The Bornean Wild Cats and Clouded Leopard Project investigated the status and ecology of Bornean felids, mostly through the extensive, intense use of camera-traps. Now in 2010, a new project, The Bornean Clouded Leopard Programme, aims to continue this research. Current research is focused on habitat differences, the effect of previous land management programs, conservation practices, and overall density estimates for wild cats in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Previous data from The Bornean Wild Cats and Clouded Leopard Project has also been used to help develop goals and estimates for the Programme.
Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Area
So far the Programme suggests that Sunda clouded leopards and other felids vary greatly in density between regions, with selectively logged forests being best able to support all four threatened species. However, specific accurate information regarding temporal variations, migrations, or social movements cannot be provided without further analysis or study. It is nonetheless clear that degraded forests or plantations are not sufficient habitats and the four endangered felids (Sunda clouded leopard, flat-headed cat, marbled cat, and bay cat) are all in immediate need of conservation efforts. Preliminary density and behavioral estimates are given, but still require review.
These estimates do suggest that no single area is large enough to accommodate a genetically viable population of 500 clouded leopards over the long term. This highlights the need for inter-forest migration corridors to promote gene flow within the currently isolated Sabah felid populations.
Site and Methods
The Programme is focused on five study areas in Sabah, each of which has a different history of land management and conservation. These are the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve (logged 20-30 years ago, rehabilitated), the Malua Forest Reserves (recently selectively logged), the Danum Valley Conservation Area (primary forest), the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (logged 20-30 years ago, rehabilitated, currently surrounded by agricultural plantations), and a nearby oil palm plantation. The variable conditions of these sites allows researchers to document how the felids respond to fragmented and variable habitats.
In order to document the animal populations, the researchers are using high-density networks of camera traps. Camera traps pairs are used to photograph both flanks of any animal passing between, with roughly 1.5 km between each pair. This arrangement allows researchers to identify individual animals based on coat patterns (although the uniformly-colored flat-headed cat and bay cat would be exempt from identification). This network will hopefully operate for a very long time. Normally camera networks are only active for roughly six months at a time, however, to better understand long-term movements and behavioral patterns this study seeks to operate their network for up to two and a half years.
Map of the five study sites within Sabah, Malaysia. Shaded polygons within the study represent the five areas surveyed by camera traps.
In order to study not only population densities but also movement and behavior a few additional methods will be used. Data is analyzed by the programs MARK and CAPTURE to estimate population density based on capture-recapture rates (the likelihood of photographing a single individual multiple times). CAPTURE is a high-utility program that also allows for time-specific abundance, density, survival, and movement figures. Over time these figures will also be used to study seasonal or annual changes. Another program, PRESENCE 2.0, allows integration of geographical data (such as oft-used paths, etc).
Overall (Preliminary Results, subject to change):
With regards to exact population densities, it appears that clouded leopard population densities appear to vary greatly even across relatively small scales. An estimated 10,000 km2 area will be required for a completely genetically viable population. Marbled cats were only sufficiently photographed in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Accurate population densities cannot be given at this time, but will soon be released.
Relative abundance levels were also calculated across the different study sites. These are based upon the number of times each species was photographed relative to the other ones. The ratios are given below.
Spatial ecology was studied using radio collars. Only one Sunda clouded leopard was caught and tagged, a female in the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve. Thirty-seven radiolocations were obtained over a 109 day period before the device malfunctioned. The data showed that the cat moved, on average, roughly 800 meters per day. The home range was estimated to be roughly 22 square kilometers.
Nine leopard cats were also collared and tracked, however, further analysis is still required before accurate range estimates can be given. The preliminary results suggest that home ranges may be larger than previously estimated as well as suggesting a high mortality rate amongst this species.
The Ulu Segama Forest Reserve is a 2028 km2 area within the Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Area in Sabah. Between 1978 and 1991 Ulu Segama was the target of timber extraction. While the forest has since been allowed to recover, it has left Ulu Segama as a highly mosaic mix of pristine wilderness and forest in various stages of regrowth. Human activity is currently very low in Ulu Segama, with the only permanent human presence being the researchers and staff of the Danum Valley Field Centre and a nearby forest rehabilitation program.
The local program started as planned, with work beginning in the Danum Valley and Ulu Segama Reserve. However, an unexpected resignation of a key staff member has hampered the logistics of the survey. Thus, the more complicated projects in the Danum Valley Conservation Area have been delayed, while the relatively simple Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary was surveyed instead.
Progress in Kinabatangan has gone smoothly, with clouded leopards detected in sixteen different locations. Flat-headed cats, marbled cats, and leopards cats have also been recorded. The collection period ended in December 2010, with data still being processed. Unfortunately, camera trap losses have been high.
Map of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah, showing the camera trap locations
Work in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve began in January 2011 and should finish around July. While, logistically, the areas small size and extensive mangrove forests pose problems for camera-trap surveys, the area is thought to harbor clouded leopards. Research here may be useful as it would elucidate how clouded leopards would fare in this habitat. However, as of July 2011, no clouded leopards have been detected.
Three clouded leopards identified during the Lower Kinabatangan survey