Wednesday, March 27, 2013

postheadericon New paper: clouded leopard & prey activity patterns

Sunda clouded leopards terrestrial activity was shown to be mainly nocturnal
On the menu. A samba deer calf may be an important component of
Sunda clouded leopard's diet

At long last we are beginning to churn through the mountain of camera trapping data we have been accumulating over the last few years and to turn it into conservation science. Our most recent paper, available from here, explores the terrestrial activity patterns of the Sunda clouded leopard and those of their potential ungulate prey.

I say potential, because at this stage we really don’t know what these cats are eating – in fact, we know almost nothing about even the basic ecology of these elusive felids. We have a number of anecdotes and sightings of clouded leopards attacking this species, and eating that, which tend to suggest that the clouded leopard has a very varied diet, feasting on a diverse array of mammals from monkeys to muntjacs. But we really don’t have a good handle on what constitutes the most important prey. 

Ultimately, the only way to answer this important question is to collect scat, and poke around to quantitatively assess prey composition – and this is something we are attempting to do right now. Another, indirect approach is to explore overlaps in activity between the predator and their prey – by making use of camera trap data. We might expect predator activity to be often in phase with the periods when those potential prey species are most vulnerable to their method of predation. For some predators, this may result in their activity patterns mirroring those of their prey, as has been shown in several felid-prey systems, but this may not always be the case.
Saving their bacon? Bearded pigs were shown to have a more diurnal activity
pattern when clouded leopard were present - evidence of avoidance?

With this in mind we catalogued the tens of thousands of images for clouded leopard and prey from across our forest study sites, and used some clever wizardry to construct models of each species’ activity patterns. So what did we find? Firstly, Sunda clouded leopard’s terrestrial activity was found to be primarily nocturnal, although crepuscular peaks and some diurnal activity was also evident.  We found that of six potential ungulate prey species, Sunda clouded leopards' activity patterns overlapped most closely with those of sambar deer and greater mouse deer.

Interestingly, we also found that in one of our forest areas where clouded leopard were apparently absent, bearded pigs showed a greater level of nocturnal activity, whe compared to pig populations living alongside the predatory felid. This finding suggests that bearded pigs may be prey species for clouded leopards and they are capable of altering their activity pattern in response to this risk.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

postheadericon Return to Danum Valley

A glimpse into the life of a clouded leopard. This was the first of
six males we recorded.
Male 2 wanders along a high ridgeline early in the morning

Well it’s been a fair while since I last wrote on here – so high time for another update on our progress with the clouded leopards of Borneo...  

Following directly on from our survey of the Crocker Range the team and I packed up and headed to an old stomping ground – the Danum Valley Conservation Area. 

The last time we were here, way back in 2006, we struggled to get sufficient numbers of photographic detections of clouded leopards to estimate their density. Armed with far more, and arguable much better, camera traps, and hopefully a little more wild cat savvy than in the past, we headed into the forest along once familiar trails and ridges, in search of Sabah’s elusive felids. Not wanting to make things too easy, we set ourselves the hardest task to date (yes, even harder than Crocker’s punishing mountains): 80 camera stations over 150 km2. This took the team a gruelling 6 months to complete, the vast majority of it spent camping at makeshift camp sites – but thankfully it was most definitely worth it.  

One of only two detections of the bay cat. In seven years we've only
recorded this cat  around 30 times
We photographed an amazing 9 nine different animals, six males and 3 females, on 93 distinct occasions, which is a record for us! Marbled cats were coming in thick and fast too, with a total of 53 independent photographic detections, yet we photographed surprisingly few bay cats, only two occasions. Whilst these reddish/grey cats appear to be rarer than chicken’s teeth, and so I wouldn’t expect to get many of them on camera, we actually fared much better back in 2006/7, despite a hugely greater effort. I suspect this is more a reflection of our heightened ability to place cameras in clouded leopard areas as opposed to there being less bay cats – but more on these thought later.  

A rather nice turn-up for the books was the Hose’s civet, which to my knowledge is the first confirmed record for this species in Danum.  Suffice to say, the second crack at Danum Valley has been a complete success, and I thank my team for putting in a huge effort! 
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

postheadericon We've got a result!

Gul surrounded by mossy forest on one of Crocker's ridgetops 

All our hard work hiking up and down Crocker Range's high ridges and river valleys has thankfully paid off.... We've got a result! I’m still tweaking the analysis, but overall we obtained 370 clouded leopard photos, representing 51 independent capture events of 8 different animals. Two of these animals appear to be cubs following their mother. Using the spatially explicit capture recapture approach I estimate that clouded leopard density in the southern portion of Crocker is around 1.4 individuals per 100km2 (0.8 - 2.2 ind/100km2 95% Confidence Intervals).

This was one of the toughest surveys to date and when we first started we weren't sure we'd pull it off. So a big thank you to the team - Gil, Gul, Jasz, Nur and Ijam for doing a sterling job. Thanks also to our volunteers - Sean Proctor, Kevin Hodge and Lyndsey Stanton, who all stood up remarkably well to the rigors of Crocker Range life! Lastly, a big thank you to all the organisations and individuals that have supported us, in particular,  Staff from Sabah Parks and the Sabah Wildlife Department, Karen Povey and the Clouded Leopard Project at Point Defiance Zoo,  Houston Zoo and The Kaplan family. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

postheadericon Volunteers needed in the Danum Valley!

We are now offering volunteer placements for individuals to help us conduct a clouded leopard camera trap survey of the Danum Valley Conservation Area. If you fancy experiencing the ‘real’ Bornean rainforest, learning new skills and helping us learn about the elusive Sunda clouded leopard, then read on...

Sunrise over the Danum Valley - one of Sabah's last remaining primary rainforests - and one of the last remaining places
 on Earth where Sumatran rhino, elephant, clouded leopard and orang utan live side by side.

Return to Danum....

Our camera survey of Crocker Range is now complete and the data will shortly be analysed - more on this soon. Meanwhile our team have now moved onto perhaps the jewel in Sabah's crown: the Danum Valley Conversation Area

Back in 2007 Danum was host to the first ever attempt at a camera trap based assessment of clouded leopard density. Ultimately though, we never reached our goal, due primarily to a lack camera trap, sub-standard camera equipment, and a lack of expertise.  I'm pleased to say that thanks to our sponsors the camera traps are no longer a problem - and with six surveys under our belt since our last visit here I think it's fair to say we now have the expertise.

A rarely photographed clouded leopard cub, one of three animals previously recorded in Danum Valley.


Our work is focused on providing basic, yet scientifically sound information regarding the Sunda clouded leopard and other threatened felids in Sabah to help guide viable conservation strategies for these species. As such, one of the core questions that we are attempting to answer is:

What is the distribution and conservation status of Sunda clouded leopards and other felids throughout Sabah, and what factors affect their presence and abundance? 

To help address this question we have developed a research approach primarily constructed around multiple 6-month camera trap surveys designed to estimate clouded leopard densities and felid community structure in areas of forest exposed to different forest management strategies.  Few data exist regarding Bornean felid communities, with your efforts, we can ensure that we gain the best possible information we can.


We are looking for volunteers to start as early as the beginning of May 2012, but positions will be available throughout the survey – ending in September 2012.  You must be available to work on the project for a minimum of 1 month, although we will consider taking on candidates for shorter periods if they already have sufficient experience. Get in touch if you are interested and we’ll take it from there.


The Danum Valley Field Centre
The Danum Valley Conservation Area is located deep within Sabah, Malaysian Borneo (4º50′N – 5º00′N and 117º35′E – 117º45′E). The Danum Valley Field Centre is approximately 70 km inland from the town of Lahad Datu on Sabah’s east coast.

Covering 43,800 hectares (438 km2), the Danum Valley Conservation Area is one of the largest, most important and best-protected expanses of pristine lowland forest remaining in SE Asia.

Danum Valley, and several other large primary forest protected areas including the Maliau Basin and Imbak Canyon Conservation Areas, are embedded within an exceptionally large (>10,000 km2) forest concession operated by Yayasan Sabah (the Sabah Foundation). The bulk of the of the Yayasan Sabah area is under a regime of natural forest management, but also includes extensive timber and oil palm plantations, community forestry programmes, eco-tourism sites and two of the region’s largest forest rehabilitation projects. 


Volunteers will assist with all aspects of the project (see earlier posts on the blog for an idea of what we get up to), including, but not restricted to: mapping and creation of forest trails and incorporation of spatial data into a GIS, deploying and checking camera traps over an approximate area of 150km2 of forest, and photographic data management. 


We are ideally looking for candidates with (or currently undertaking) at least a first degree in an appropriate Natural Science, although this is by no means a prerequisite and we will happily consider keen individuals with a demonstrated interested in wildlife conservation.  Above all else candidates should have an extremely high level of fitness and a willingness to work in a challenging environment.  The work will involve very long and arduous hikes over difficult terrain, and will frequently necessitate camping for up to 10 nights at a time at remote locations. Volunteers must be able to carry 50+ litre rucksacks weighing between 15-20 kg. The ideal candidates will have some experience of the activities described above, although this is not essential as full training will be provided.  

This is an extremely rewarding position working in arguably one of the most beautiful forests remaining on Borneo. However, I simply cant overstate just how important it is for volunteers to be physically fit. In the past we have had to turn down candidates simply because they were unable to deal with the conditions.  Please think this through before applying!


Unlike other projects we will not ask for any contribution towards project costs. However,  you must be able to cover both your own transport costs to Danum Valley Field Centre, Sabah, and your subsistence costs (i.e., food and accommodation costs at field sites).  

Further Questions

For further information and to apply please email me

Camera Trap Images. Photo Copyright Andrew Hearn & Joanna Ross