Monday, January 15, 2007
7:13 PM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
The Clouded leopard
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.