Clouded Leopard Education Projects
Principal Investigator: Jennifer L. McCarthy, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Annual deforestation rates in Sumatra are estimated to be among the highest of any humid, tropical area, with large amounts of land cleared for agricultural purposes. In addition, governmental transmigration programs during the 20th century relocated millions of Javanese people to Sumatra, resulting in a rapidly expanding human population. Incidences of conflict between humans and charismatic megafauna such as the Sumatran tiger receive a majority of the press, research, and funding for mitigation efforts. However, there have been indications of significant conflict between humans and smaller felids species as well. These conflicts are not usually reported to government officials as they rarely involve human fatalities, but rather the depredation of small livestock such as chickens. There are indications that retribution killings of felids are fairly common by villagers that are often living at the subsistence level where the loss of any livestock can be devastating.
This project was initiated as the first assessment of the conflict between humans and small felids on Sumatra, and to evaluate the efficacy of mitigation and education strategies in reducing this conflict. The project was located in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP) and focused on five felid species; the Sunda clouded leopard, marbled cat, Asiatic golden cat, and the leopard cat. The flat-headed cat was also included although it is not believed to occur in BBSNP and no reports of the species were expected.
Initially surveys were administered in eleven villages widely distributed along the border of the BBSNP. The surveys were designed to gauge the level of conflict between humans and the focal species. A total of 337 households were surveyed. In general, most people did not have strong feelings about the wild felids, but they did feel that they should not be allowed into the village and should be confined to BBSNP or a zoo. Over half of the respondents indicated that they had lost livestock to one or more of the focal species. Most alarmingly, the surveys also showed that over ten percent of the people interviewed admitted that they were aware of incidences in which the focal species had been killed in retribution for a perceived livestock predation.
One of several goat kills that were attributed to a clouded leopard, although there was no confirmed evidence of this. (McCarthy).
A village meeting to discuss the design of chicken enclosures (McCarthy).
After the initial surveys were completed, five of the original eleven villages were chosen in which to conduct education and mitigation initiatives. In these villages enclosures were built for villagers to keep their chickens in and several goat pens were reinforced. In total 84 chicken coops were built in the five villages. Educational materials were also presented on Sumatran felids. The presentations provided general ecological knowledge and were intended to encourage pride and ownership in the unique habitats and species that Sumatra harbors. All presentations were conducted in the evening as a casual gathering where families could ask question and relate their own knowledge of the species. Presentations were also given at local schools and were intended to engage children in conservation and protection of Sumatran felids. Prior to the project, many local people did not know all the felid species that occurred in the park and were unaware that they were experiencing population decline.
An informal discussion of forest ecology in a mitigation village (McCarthy).
A completed enclosure (McCarthy).
To assess the efficacy of the mitigation and education efforts, roughly five months after completing the first round of surveys a second survey was conducted in eight of the eleven villages originally surveyed. All of the villages where mitigation and education efforts (5 mitigation villages) were resurveyed along with 3 villages in which no activities were conducted after the initial survey (non-mitigation villages). In total 195 households were interviewed.
Mitigation villages reported a significant decrease in human-felid conflict, while non-mitigation villages reported similar levels of conflict in both surveys. The mitigation villages also showed a drastic shift towards a positive view of small felids and that the species should remain in the park to be protected. The non-mitigation villages remained indifferent in their attitude toward the felids with many thinking that they should be removed from the wild and placed in zoos. These initial findings indicate that the basic education and mitigation initiatives undertaken in this study may be very effective in reducing human-small felid conflict and encouraging the engagement of the local people in the conservation of small felids.
McCarthy and her team are working to partner with other organizations on Sumatra that are currently working on human-tiger conflict to expand this project to other areas of Sumatra. Numerous agencies are focused solely on human-tiger conflict but through collaboration the educational initiatives could be expanded to include small felids.