Thursday, May 21, 2009

postheadericon Mystery of missing leopard cats solved!

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

postheadericon First insights into the world’s least-known wild cat

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

postheadericon Preparations for field course

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.