Tuesday, September 28, 2010

postheadericon Kinabatangan's clouded leopards reveal themselves

Sunda clouded leopards recently photographed in the 
Kinabatangan Wildife Sanctaury
After a rather slow start, the number of wild cat photo captures from the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and surrounding forests are starting to mount up.  Our focal species, the Sunda clouded leopard, appears to have been particularly busy along Sabah’s largest river since I last wrote, and we have now collected nine photo captures, of five separate events. Careful observation of the photos (see left) reveals that so far we have recorded 1 male, and two females.

A sliver of forest adjacent to the Kinabatangan river. Such narrow 
strips of riparian forest may act as corridors for threatened 
species such as Bornean felids, and provide essential linkages 
for otherwise fragmented blocks of forest
The female clouded leopards were snapped close to the banks of Danau Tongog, a beautiful oxbow lake to the west of our study area. Both individuals were photographed approximately 1 km apart, walking along a well-worn forest trail that encircles the lake, which is frequently used by staff and tourists of the nearby community-run tourist facility, the Tongog Ecocamp. These photo-captures lend further support to our theory that existing trails, even those regularly frequented by people, are one of the best locations to detect Sunda clouded leopards with camera traps.

One of these females, CLF1, was also photographed moving through a relatively narrow band (ca. 100 m wide) of riparian forest in Lot 5, which is sandwiched between the river and the surrounding oil palm plantations. This location is close to where we previously observed a flat-headed cat whilst spotlighting (detailed in Hearn et al 2010), and thus provides some of the first evidence that such riparian  forest buffers may be utilised by Bornean felids, and may thus provide essential connectivity between otherwise isolated forest fragments along the Kinabatangan.  The potential role of forest corridors as a tool for Bornean carnivore conservation is something that we aim to explore further during our new project, the Kinabatangan Carnivore Programme.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

postheadericon Two more cat photos!!

Our second flat-headed cat photo. Frustratingly, the other camera failed to
pick up the cat.

Great news... we’ve got two more wild cat photos from the Kinabatangan!  We’re still busy surveying the forest and cutting trails in the second of our two sub areas, and so we’ve only found the time to check the cameras once so far, but members of our team (volunteers from Cardiff University) checked one of the camera sites yesterday and discovered two more cat photos... a leopard cat and yet another flat-headed cat!
Interestingly, both of the new cat photos were from the very same site that we had previously photo-captured the flat-headed – an area of riverine forest, close to the main river, in one of the of the region’s larger forest fragments: Lot 5.  This bodes well for our planned radio-tracking project (more on this later) as this could well be an excellent site to deploy a live trap. The photo is not ideal, so it is difficult to determine the sex or whether if it is the same individual as the previous photo.  

Alas, no Sunda clouded leopard so far, but as I say we’ve only checked the camera once so far, so fingers crossed.

A leopard cat.  This adaptable species is thought to respond well to habitat disturbance,
 and unlike the other 4 Bornean felids can be found residing in oil palm plantations.
It's a little surprising then, that this is our first photo of this species - but again it is early days. 
The Bornean wild cat Team. Right to left: Andy (tingi) Harrison
(volunteer from Cardiff Univ.), Gilmoore (Gil) Bolongon, Saya (me), and Jasmi (Jasz) Joroh. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

postheadericon First wild cat photo from Kinabatangan!

Our first wild cat photo- capture - a flat-headed cat
Three years of intensive camera trapping in our previous five Sabah field sites resulted in photographic captures of leopard cat (1000+), Sunda Clouded leopard (300+), marbled cat (100+), and bay cat (30). Over the same period we obtained just a single photograph of the elusive flat-headed cat, which was snapped just a few hundred metres from the Danum Valley Field Centre buildings! Indeed, throughout the historical range of this species (Peninsular Thailand and Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra) the flatty is infrequently recorded, raising concern as to its current status.

So with this in mind, we were particularly delighted, whilst checking our freshly deployed cameras in the Kinabatangan, to discover our first cat photo.... yep, a flat-headed cat! He/she was photographed close to the main Kinabatangan river, in a stretch of riparian forest.  Hopefully this is the first of many felid photos to come! 

So far we've also captured several images of sun bears.
Friday, August 20, 2010

postheadericon First survey underway... The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

To kick off our new programme we are starting with an intense camera trap survey of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS), a protected, but highly fragmented and degraded collection of forest patches along Sabah’s mighty Kinabatangan river. Managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department, the LKWS is one of the few remaining examples of lowland forest in Sabah, and consists of a range of lowland forest formations, including permanently inundated and seasonally flooded swamp forests, riparian and lowland Dipterocarp forest. However, much of the region’s forests have been cleared for oil palm development and the remaining forests of the LKWS are now highly fragmented. 

Nevertheless, as a Wildlife Sanctuary the area is a focal point for conservation in Sabah, and contains important populations of numerous threatened species; a recent study of the potential distrbution of the flat-headed cat (Wilting et al, 2010) and some recent observations (Hearn et al, 2010) suggest that the LKWS is an important area for the conservation of this felid. 

Our focal aim will be to determine the density of Sunda clouded leopards in this unique habitat, but the cameras will also provide vital information regarding the other members of the Bornean felid guild, as well as other wildlife.  Additional key questions that we’ll attempt to answer are: how do clouded leopard and other wild felids persist in this fragmented habitat; can they move between non-contiguous forest blocks, and how effective are the existing riparian corridors at facilitating the movement of animals?  Following our model that we’ve developed over the last four years, we will spend approximately six months surveying the region’s forests patches, cutting trails and setting camera at a total of 70 sites.  

Our team have now arrived at our new home from home, the Danau Girang Field Centre, which is located in the Lot 6 of the LKWS.  The centre is jointly managed by Cardiff University and the Sabah Wildlife Department, both of whom are providing us with exceptional logistical support.  Wish us luck!! 
Monday, May 3, 2010

postheadericon Evolution of a project...

After more than three years of hard work the ‘Bornean Wild Cats & Clouded Leopard Project’ is sadly drawing to a close. The Parangs (local style machete) have been placed back in their sheaths, the camera traps removed from the forest, and we’re now busy translating the hard won data into tangible conservation science.

But alas this is not the end of our project; Borneo’s wild cats remain threatened, and there is still much to learn about them in order to help develop appropriate management and conservation actions. Rather this is the closing of the first chapter, and the beginning of the next, for the project is evolving into the: ‘Bornean Clouded Leopard Programme’.

The Global Canopy Programme have now handed the reins over to the WildCRU, at the University of Oxford, who, having previously been the scientific advisor to the project, will now be the lead partner in our new programme. Please check back here soon for details of our new programme.

So at the dawning of our new endeavour we’d like take a step back and offer a big thank you to all those that have supported the project and shared our desire to help begin shedding light on this unique, but little known guild of Bornean felids.

We thank the many organisations that have provided financial support, and in particular, we thank the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, who provided the core funding to our previous work in Sabah. We thank our research assistants and the volunteers that helped us with the often challenging fieldwork. A big thank you to the host country organisations that have supported us and given us permission to carry out the project, including the Yayasan Sabah, Sabah Wildlife Department, DVMC, Economic Planning Unit, and of course our project partners at the ITBC, Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Sincere thanks go to our project counterpart, Dr Henry Bernard, and the Royal Society SEARRP’s Dr Glen Reynolds, who both provided invaluable logistical and technical assistance, and also a friendly ear.

Lastly we offer a big thank you to the Global Canopy Programme’s Andrew Mitchell and Katherine Secoy, both for doing a sterling job at managing the project and for seeing the potential in two eager Conservation Biologists, desperate to start a wild cat conservation project in Borneo.
(Photos: Top: A leopard cat photographed at the Danum Valley Field Station - one of the projects very first cat photos - we now have well over a thousand! Bottom: Andy, Katherine Secoy and Jo, overlooking the Danum Valley canopy.)
Sunday, January 17, 2010

postheadericon Identifying individual cloudys...

Great news from the field… we’ve discovered yet another male Sunda clouded leopard, which means that we can now identify at least six males and two females from our study area in Tabin. I say ‘at least’ because for some of these guys we only have photographs of one side of the animal, which means that we cannot be 100% sure that some of the photographs are not from the same individual.

The photo above is a collage of all of our cloudys we’ve discovered so far in Tabin. As with other felids each clouded leopard has a distinct coat pattern which we can use to tell individuals apart. Clouded leopards share many features of their coat pattern, but close inspection of the size and shape of individual’s clouds and spots will reveal key differences. Surprisingly, we’re finding that there may be less variability in the coat morphology of Tabin’s clouded leopards (see photo). Could this be the result of reduced gene pool?  We've also noticed that coat and tail morphology may differ between male and female clouded leopards, but that's a story for another day...

To aid in the ID’ing of these beasties we use ‘Photoshop’ to produce a tightly cropped image of both left and right sides (if we have them) of each animal. If needed, we can use the programme to sharpen the image or increase contrast etc. This reference collection can then be used to identify new cloudy photos as and when they come in.