Saturday, January 20, 2007

postheadericon Project Overview

Project Overview
Bornean tropical forest contains a guild of five felid species: clouded leopard, bay cat, flat-headed cat, marbled cat and leopard cat. One is endangered, three threatened, and their presumed primary habitat is rapidly being lost and/or altered in the region. The behavioural ecology of none is well-known, and the impact of forest destruction and management on each of these species is obscure. This project, based at Danum Valley, an area of protected primary lowland Dipterocarp rainforest within a 9730 km2 timber concession - The Ulu Segama-Malua Forest Reserve and Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR), a predominantly logged lowland Dipterocarp forest surrounded by oil palm plantations, both located in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo will provide base-line data regarding the behaviour and ecology of the five species of Bornean wild cat and their responses to selective logging, upon which informed conservation and management decisions can be based.

Additional aims are to provide conservation research training to host country scientists and students, by means of mammal field-research courses and the intensive training of a postgraduate from the Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ITBC) at the University of Malaysia, Sabah. We will increase awareness of the Bornean wild cats in Sabah by producing and disseminating wild cat-specific environmental education materials. Questionnaire surveys will be conducted throughout the 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, attitudes and perceptions about conservation. Project findings will be used to provide recommendations for a Bornean wild cat conservation action plan, and presented at a Bornean wild cat conservation workshop at the end of the project.
Monday, January 15, 2007

postheadericon Project Mission

Project Mission

The Bornean Wild Cat and Clouded Leopard Project aims to protect Borneo’s resident wild cat species, through the creation of a multi-disciplinary project, merging pioneering research, conservation awareness and training. The tropical rainforests of Borneo are home to five species of wild cat: flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata) leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) the endemic bay cat (Catopuma badia) and the enigmatic clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). These species are all currently threatened, and four are now listed on the 2004 IUCN Red Data List as Endangered or Vulnerable. We will create a national flagship project on Borneo based in the Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, focusing on the clouded leopard to draw international attention to the conservation of Borneo’s wild cats and their forest environment. Armed with accurate information regarding the ecological requirements of these felids we will enable the development of effective conservation strategies to help ensure these species’ survival.

Project Objectives

1. To study the behaviour and ecology of the Bornean wild cats, with a focus on the clouded leopard. Using a combination of camera trapping and radio-tracking we will conduct the first field study of the five species of Bornean wild cats.

2. To investigate the effects of habitat alteration on Bornean wild cats. How well do Borneo’s cats adapt to managed forests and plantations? Our project will compare cat ecology in both primary and managed forests at Danum Valley and secondary forest and oil palm plantations at Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

3. To increase awareness of the Bornean wild cats and their conservation needs, using the clouded leopard as a flagship species. We will produce wild cat specific education materials for use in an established education programme at Danum Valley and will produce educational posters for display at two major tourist resorts in the area: The Borneo Rainforest lodge and Tabin Wildlife Resort.

4. To train host country scientists/students in a range of ecological/behavioural field techniques. We will train local scientists and students in mammal field research techniques including animal trapping and handling, the use of camera trapping and radio-tracking equipment, and associated data analysis techniques.

5. To investigate threats to the Bornean wild cats from hunting and trade in Sabah. A potentially significant threat to the Bornean wild cats, yet little is known about the rate at which hunting/trade occurs. We will conduct questionnaire surveys throughout the towns and villages surrounding the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. This will also provide an insight into local peoples’ views and knowledge of Borneo’s felids.

The Clouded leopard

Looking like a big cat in miniature, the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) has the powerful, robust build of a large cat, yet it weighs between 11-20 kg. The tail is very long, typically equivalent to head-body length (up to 80-90 cm), and the legs are short, with broad paws. The fur is instantly recognisable, with its distinctive cloud shaped markings. Coat colour varies from dark grey to pale, yellowish brown, and melanistic individuals have been reported from Borneo. Another distinctive feature of the clouded leopard is its long canine teeth, which are longer in proportion to body size than those of any other species of wild cat.

The Clouded leopard is found throughout south-east Asia, and is usually characterised as being most closely associated with primary evergreen tropical rainforest, but it also makes use of other types of habitat including secondary and logged forest, as well as grassland and scrub. The species has also been recorded from mangrove swamps in Borneo.

Early accounts of the clouded leopard suggest that it is highly arboreal, secretive and nocturnal, however more recent observations suggest it may not be as arboreal or nocturnal as previously thought. Nevertheless, Clouded leopards have arboreal talents rivalling those of the Margay of South America, and have been seen to run down tree trunks headfirst, climb upside down underneath tree branches and hang from branches with their hind feet. Their short legs provide excellent leverage and a low centre of gravity while climbing. Large paws with sharp claws allow clouded leopards to gain a good grip on tree branches, and their extremely long tail serves as an excellent balancing aid. What little is known of the feeding ecology of the clouded leopard suggests that it preys on a variety of arboreal and terrestrial vertebrates. In Borneo the cat is reported to prey on pigs, deer, monkeys, orang utans and smaller mammals.

Project justification

Little is known of the clouded leopard’s status in any part of its geographic range, although it is widely held that the wild populations are declining and in need of protection. Based on estimates of density and geographic range, the clouded leopard’s total effective population size is estimated at below 10,000 mature breeding individuals, and no sub-population is thought to exist that contains more than 1,000 mature breeding individuals. Consequently, the IUCN classifies the clouded leopard as Vulnerable.
The decline of clouded leopard populations is largely attributed to habitat degradation and fragmentation due to anthropogenic activities such as logging and conversion to agriculture. Hunting for trophies and the pet trade are also perceived to be a significant threat. Clouded leopards have always been hunted throughout their range for their pelts, ownership of which was, and still is in some places, seen as a status symbol. The teeth are also highly prized and their bones and organs are used in some parts of its range in traditional medicine. In addition, some restaurants that cater towards wealthy Asian tourists feature clouded leopards on their menus. Hunting of other wildlife, such as pigs, deer and monkeys, is also thought to indirectly affect clouded leopard numbers through a reduction in their prey base.

Despite these threats little is known regarding the natural history and ecology of the clouded leopard, and the extent to which hunting and trade occurs is also unclear. To address this, we intend to initiate a multi-disciplinary project, merging pioneering ecological research, education and training. We will create a national flagship project within the Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) and Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, to draw international attention to the conservation of all of Borneo’s wild cats and their rainforest environment.

Through pioneering scientific research our project will provide base-line data regarding the behaviour and ecology of the five felids, upon which informed conservation and management decisions can be based. We will aim to answer such questions as: at what density are these animals found, how much space does a viable population require, and how does habitat alteration affect clouded leopards? The IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group has identified this research as a global priority project. We will use these data to produce a conservation plan, which will be distributed free of charge to wildlife managers and other interested parties throughout Sabah and the rest of Borneo. In addition, we will provide conservation research training to host country scientists and students, and improve awareness of the wild cats by running education workshops for local schools and tourists. We will also conduct questionnaire surveys in the villages surrounding the Tabin Wildlife Reserve to assess the potential level of hunting/trade of this species and its prey base. Simultaneously, we will investigate the possible role of the clouded leopard in enhancing environmental awareness in the area, and as a flagship for Bornean wildlife conservation as a whole.

Study Areas

Our project will primarily be based within the Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The DVCA covers 438 km2 of primary lowland dipterocarp rainforest, within a 9730 km2 timber concession, the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve. Selective logging since 1960 has resulted in a mosaic of forest types from undisturbed forest through to newly logged areas. This, therefore, makes it an ideal site to obtain base line data on the five felids in pristine forests and to investigate the effects of selective logging on these cats. Our environmental education activities will also be based here, incorporated into an existing education programme. Tabin Wildlife Reserve comprises 1205.2 km2 of predominantly logged over lowland Dipterocarp forest with a central primary forest area of approximately 20.1 km2; active extraction of timber ceased in 1989. Tabin Wildlife Reserve is completely surrounded by a vast oil palm plantation and thus serves as an ideal site to investigate the effects that conversion to plantation crops may have on Borneo’s five felids.

Project breakdown

The project will run for three years and will comprise of distinct components. An initial field survey for cat sign and trails will enable efficient placement of camera traps. Data obtained from the camera trapping and field survey will allow efficient placement of live traps. The camera trapping survey will continue throughout the three years; the live trapping will begin approximately half way through year one and will finish roughly six months before the project end.

Year 1
Camera trapping survey initiated
• Live trapping and radio tracking programme initiated
• 1st mammal research field course held
• Preliminary hunting/trade survey conducted

Year 2
Camera trapping and radio tracking continued
• Environmental education materials produced
• 2nd mammal research field course held
• 2nd hunting/trade survey conducted

Year 3
• Camera trapping and radio tacking programmes terminated
• 3rd mammal research field course held
• Project dissemination workshop held
• Final reports published

Project Partners

This project will be co-ordinated by the GCP. The Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ITBC), at the University Malaysia Sabah, and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford, will provide scientific and technical expertise.


Funding for this project is being provided by the Darwin Initiative. The Darwin Initiative is funded by the U.K. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Additional funding has been provided by Wild About Cats.