Thursday, September 17, 2009

postheadericon Felid survey of Tabin Wildlife Reserve underway

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.