Clouded Leopard Conservation and Research in Borneo
Fernando Nájera, DVM MSc PhD Candidate
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. University Complutense of Madrid, Spain
The Borneo Wild Cats Veterinary Project is a multidisciplinary, university-based program, focused on improving veterinary management practice for Southeast Asian wild cats, specifically targeting the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi). The project, an active collaboration between the Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre, WildCRU (at the University of Oxford) and the University Putra Malaysia and University Compultense of Madrid, Spain, has three main goals:
Anesthesia of Clouded Leopards
Since February 2013, the team has conducted live trapping of clouded leopards, allowing them to fit free-ranging individuals with radio collars, as well as to collect blood samples. Different lures and baits have been tested for their ability to entice the clouded leopards into the traps, including using urine from captive clouded leopards around and inside the traps, using catnip and artificial fawns. The artificial fawn and clouded leopard urine have shown the most potential for successful trapping.
Three individual clouded leopards have been caught to date in this study. The team used a combination of two anesthetics on the animals which they had previously used for anesthetizing captive clouded leopards. The anesthesia protocols have been successful thus far, and will be published in an upcoming paper.
While the clouded leopards were anesthetized and being fitted with radio collars, blood samples were collected in an attempt to better understand the physiology of Sunda clouded leopards. Blood was also obtained from captive clouded leopards and it is hoped that together the results will lead to improving the health management of the species.
Each blood sample has been analyzed, recording measurements including red blood cell count, white blood cell count, platelet count and hemoglobin concentration. These records will be entered into a database, along with cortisol levels (a hormone released when animals are stressed), and studied to determine the physiological effects of live trapping on clouded leopards. This will allow for improving the live trapping method, making it more adequate and ethical for the animals.
Investigating Disease Threats to Clouded Leopards
To implement effective conservation measures, it is essential to know and understand the environmental threats facing Sunda clouded leopards. A major issue with wildlife health implications is habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation (where patches of natural habitat has been removed) of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary makes felids more susceptible to threats associated with humans. In particular, feral cats and dogs could act as ‘pathogen reservoirs,’ spreading diseases to clouded leopards and other wildlife.
A serological study was performed on Malay civets, common palm civets, leopard cats, Sunda clouded leopards, and feral cats and dogs. Blood serum and oral swabs were taken from all wild species, while just blood serum was taken from the feral animals. The data collected will show the potential diseases and other pathogens which may pose a threat to wild animals, and will help conservationists in planning ways to minimize the chances of wildlife becoming infected. The results from the study will be published in an international veterinary medicine journal, giving them applications across a wider range of countries.