- ► September (2)
- ► May (3)
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
10:30 PM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
The latest cloudie to be identified at Tabin - Clouded leopard Male 4.
Although the photograph is a little blurry it is good enough to enable
to do some real conservation science and to generate a robust estimate of the density of these little known cats.
Male 3 posing for the camera.
Friday, October 23, 2009
9:17 AM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
The loss of a single pair of cameras, although frustrating, should not have too detrimental an affect on our survey, but the loss of further cameras could be a real problem. We also recently photographed poachers on the main core road (photo above) that runs through the centre of Tabin. An individual can be seen standing in the back of a Toyota Hylux, spotlight in hand. Thankfully these guys left the cameras alone.
The sun bear spots the camera and immediately makes a bee-line for it.
Since writing this blog it seems as though the bear-trashed cameras may in fact pull through, despite both being full of water for several days. The exposure seems to be affected, but they may be fine during the night and as a back-up? Sorry Karen (CLP), but we have many more broken cameras!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
4:38 PM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
An understatement….. estimating the density of Sunda clouded leopards using camera traps isn't easy!
In addition to the physical challenges of deploying and repeatedly checking the network of cameras the statistical framework to estimate density requires that several (ideally at least 10) different cloudies are photo-trapped on more than one occasion (as many as possible). However, getting a cloudie on camera can be a rare event, requiring as much as 200 camera trap nights* to get a single photograph. Randomly placing your cameras will almost certainly result in zero photo-captures!
Clearly, finding the best locations to situate the cameras is of vital importance, and, ultimately will make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful density survey. A sobering thought! The problem is, finding the perfect camera site is like looking for a needle in a rather large haystack, and finding 74 such sites is a real challenge.
The Bornean Wild Cat Team, after a hard day cutting trails. Left to right: Jo, Sajaril (Itoi),
Remy, and Jasmi (Jas), (Andy -taking photograph).
Fortunately we have nearly 3 years of experience to help guide us, and there are certain tricks that we’ve learned along the way. For starters, when surveying for Sunda clouded leopards in Bornean forest old logging roads are like gold-dust. We’ve found that they can be prime locations to photo-trap cloudies and, in addition, they provide us (and, unfortunately, poachers) with much needed access to the forest interior. We’ve discovered that cloudies tend to favour travel routes that require less effort; natural ridgelines and well worn existing human trails (ideally relatively dry underfoot) can be hot-spots for cloudie activity, although these associations may also be related to hunting success.
Thus, on arrival in Tabin our first priority was to survey the area for existing (i.e. still drivable) and abandoned (i.e, not drivable and swathed in recovering forest) logging roads. We discovered two existing roads, one running north-south along Tabin’s western border and one running west-east for about 10 km through the centre of Tabin. The first road is used extensively by plantation contractors, and so the risk of theft would be too high to deploy cameras here, but it will provide much needed access along the Western border. Despite also posing a theft risk (although to a lesser degree) the second “Core Area” road will almost certainly be a clouded leopard hotspot and will thus be of such intrinsic value, in terms of getting photo-captures, that we will have to run the risk and have decided to place six camera pairs along its ca 10km length.
The search for abandoned logging roads is very much more a hit or miss affair, requiring plenty of guesswork and a lot of luck. We start by looking at a very course-scale topographic map of Tabin and try to guess where the old logging roads were built, typically along flat areas, ridges etc. and we then go out on foot and try to locate them. Frequently our searches come up empty handed, and we simply try to plot a course through the forest to the approximate area that we need a camera. We then search the area for the best location, set up the cameras, and then cut a 200m section of trail, centred on the cameras. We even sweep the trail clear of leaf litter and other debris, in an attempt to “persuade” the cloudies to use the trail.
Four wheeled drive vehicles and ATVs are a must for survey work in Borneo.
New team member, Jas (L) and Sajaril (R).
So how are we getting on? Well, as of the end of September we have already finished setting the first 37 camera sites – which required cutting over 60km of trail! We have been successful in finding several old logging roads, some good (e.g. one we’ve named Jalan Raya bagus = great logging road) and some not so good. We’ve found several very promising ridglines and are very optimistic. Watch this space for news of how we get on!
*A camera trap night is a unit of trapping effort. One camera trap night is equal to one camera operating for a 24hr period; so 10 cameras operating for 10 days equals 100 camera trap nights.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
10:42 AM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
Having successfully completed felid surveys of the Danum Valley, Ulu Segama and Malua Forest Reserves, and the Danum Palm plantation, we are now focusing our attention to the wild cats within the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Tabin is a large (1205.2 km2) area of predominantly logged over lowland Dipterocarp forest (logging ceased in 1989) with a central primary forest area of approximately 20.1 km2.
Map of Eastern Sabah, showing the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and commercial forest reserves to the north.
What makes Tabin particularly interesting is that it is almost* completely surrounded by a vast area of oil palm and cocoa plantations, and there are a number of human settlements in the immediate vicinity. All five species of Bornean wild cat are believed to be found in Tabin, although we know very little about the status of these felids in this reserve. Thus, Tabin serves as an ideal location in which to investigate wild cat status and use of these altered habitats.
Our base at Tabin; kindly provided by the Sabah Wildlife Department
A primary aim of our research in Tabin will be to estimate the density of the reserve’s Sunda clouded leopard population, and we will tailor our camera surveys to address this question whilst simultaneously gathering information about the other wild cats and wider mammal community. Following survey protocols developed for tigers in India we will deploy a network of camera traps over at least 120km2 of Tabin’s forest and attempt to photograph or photo-trap as many individual clouded leopards as possible within a four-month period.
An area of this size presents huge logistical challenges and so we will need to split the survey into two discrete sub-areas of around 60km2. Within each sub area we will deploy 37 pairs of camera traps, located so as to maximise the chance of a successful photo-trap. The last three years have taught us much about the best locations to place the camera traps, and we will need to draw on all of this experience as the favoured camera locations –old logging roads –are few and far between in Tabin, and so much the cameras will require extensive trail cutting and hiking in order to set and check the cameras.
We will keep you informed of our progress.... wish us luck!
* A small narrow corridor still connects Tabin to the forest reserves along the coastline.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
4:22 PM | Posted by Jo Ross | Edit Post
In May 2008 we captured our first leopard cat, an adult male, along the gravel road that leads to the Danum Valley Field Centre. LC M1, aka ‘Eddie’, was radio-tagged and tracked successfully over the next 4 months in the dense secondary forest of the Ulu Segama FR, moving a few hundreds metres each day and exhibiting a homerange of around 2km2, typical of our leopard cats. On the 13th of September 2008 we located Eddie resting close to an old logging road, but, as it would turn out, this would be the last day we would find him.
In January 2009 we captured our 5th male leopard cat, with the help of Zara, from the Felidae Conservation Fund (FCF), and Paloma, our temporary vet from Peru. LC M5 became the first leopard cat ever to be collared with a (rather expensive) GPS collar, courtesy of FCF. This collar consists of a radio transmitter, but unlike standard radio collars this collar also records its position at predefined periods using the on-board GPS receiver, storing the data on the collar itself. To access the data we need to track the cat using the on-board standard radio transmitter, wait for the collar to fall off (via a fabricated weak point in the collar material), and then manually download the data to a PC. LC M5 was located near to the trap site the following day, but thereafter we have been unable to locate him…… until this week that is!
Earlier this year we moved our camera traps into an area of oil palm plantation located around 25 km from our main forest field site. In the 7 weeks that the cameras have been running we’ve accumulated over 400 leopard cat photos. You’ll understand our absolute astonishment when, whilst reviewing the recent photos from the oil palm, we discovered photos of both Eddie and LC M5! Both cats are still in excellent physical condition and the collars appear to be undamaged. So it would appear that both these cats have upped sticks and travelled over 25 km to a completely new homerange, which explains our being unable to find them over the last few months. Sajaril has just this minute returned from the field and has great news…. he and Remmy have radiotracked both cats in the plantation. It’s fantastic to catch up with our old friends!
Monday, May 4, 2009
1:27 AM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
The Bornean bay cat Pardofelis badia is a small endangered felid found only in the forests of Borneo. Arguably the world’s least known wild cat, this species was first photographed in the wild as recently as 2002! We know very little about this cat’s ecology –such as its population size or its habitat requirements – we don’t even know what this species eats. We do know that this cat is threatened from the rapid forest loss that is underway in Borneo, and that we need to increase our knowledge of the bay cat if we are to help conserve it.
For the last two and half years Jo, myself and our colleagues have been trying to answer some of these questions with the aid of radiotracking and camera traps. Whilst we’ve had little luck in catching these elusive cats our trusty camera traps have captured an amazing 23 images of bay cats (only 32 photos of this cat in the wild have ever been taken!) and are beginning to shed some light on the secret lives of these mysterious cats. We’re learning that although these cats can be active at night they exhibit a largely diurnal (daytime) activity cycle with a peak in activity at dawn. We’ve found that the two pelage colour phases (grey and red) can be present in the same population and that, at least in the Danum region, neither phase is dominant. We’re also getting a handle on minimum population densities, and, perhaps most importantly, we’re providing evidence that these cats can persist in recovering and recently selectively logged forests, but that their densities may be reduced from that found in primary forest.
Friday, May 1, 2009
8:34 PM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
Preparations are now underway for our 4th “Mammal Field Research Techniques” training course. Aimed at encouraging local conservation biology undergraduates to conduct much-needed mammal field research in Borneo, the course provides grounding in the primary field techniques used to study mammals, such as camera trapping, radiotracking and habitat analysis. The course is conducted in collaboration with Dr Henry Bernard from the Institute for Tropical Biology & Conservation (ITBC) at the local UMS University. Following the end of the current Darwin Initiative programme the training course will be integrated into the ITBC’s Conservation Biology BSc syllabus. This May we will be working alongside ITBC staff and expanding our curriculum to include reptiles and amphibians, in a trial integration of this course and their existing field course programme.
Friday, January 23, 2009
10:42 PM | Posted by Andy Hearn | Edit Post
Last April we obtained our first (and to date only) photograph of a flat-headed cat. This is the first time this species has been photographed within the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve and this record means that the Ulu Segama is the first known forest on Borneo where there is definitive evidence of the existence of the entire 5-species Bornean felid guild. The flattie was photo-captured in an area of primary forest about 300m away from the Danum Valley Field Centre buildings. To date we have collected over a thousand leopard cat and over two hundred Sunda clouded leopard photos, which demonstrates just how rare this little cat is. The flattie’s conservation status was raised to endangered earlier this year by the IUCN: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/18148