Friday, July 15, 2011

postheadericon Volunteer field assistants needed for a Clouded leopard survey of the Crocker Range National Park

Borneo’s Clouded Leopards Need You!

We are now busy preparing for what is arguably going to be the most exciting, yet toughest of our challenges to date, an intensive, clouded leopard focused camera trap survey of the mountainous Crocker Range National Park

To help us in our endeavour we are now offering volunteer placements for individuals to help us in the field starting September 2011. If you fancy experiencing the ‘real’ Bornean rainforest, learning new skills and helping us learn about the elusive Sunda clouded leopard, then read on...


Our work is focused on providing basic, yet scientifically sound information regarding the Sunda clouded leopard and other threatened felids in Sabah to help guide viable conservation strategies for these species. As such, one of the core questions that we are attempting to answer is:

What is the distribution and conservation status of Sunda clouded leopards and other felids throughout Sabah, and what factors affect their presence and abundance? 

To help address this question we have developed a research approach primarily constructed around multiple 6-month camera trap surveys designed to estimate clouded leopard densities and felid community structure in areas of forest exposed to different forest management strategies.  Few data exist regarding Bornean felid communities in higher altitude areas, and so from September onwards we will be deploying our camera traps in the hill Dipterocarp and lower montane forests of Sabah’s Crocker Range National Park.


We are looking for volunteers to start as early as the beginning of September 2011, but positions will be available throughout the survey – ending in February 2012.  You must be available to work on the project for a minimum of 1 month, although we will consider taking on candidates for shorter periods if they already have sufficient experience. Get in touch if you are interested and we’ll take it from there.


The Crocker Range National Park is located in the west coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. At approximately 75km in length and 15km in width, it is the largest protected area in Sabah, comprising an area of 139,919ha, which is about twice the size of Singapore!  Altitude across the park varies from around 100m to 2050m at the peak of Mt. Alab, and consequently the park is swathed in a dense blanket of primary hill Dipterocarp and lower montane forest, See the Sabah Park's website for further details. 


Volunteers will assist with all aspects of the project (see earlier posts on the blog for an idea of what we get up to), including, but not restricted to: mapping and creation of forest trails and incorporation of spatial data into a GIS, deploying and checking camera traps over an approximate area of 150km2 of forest, questionnaire surveys of local people, and photographic data management. 


We are ideally looking for candidates with (or currently undertaking) at least a first degree in an appropriate Natural Science, although this is by no means a prerequisite and we will happily consider keen individuals with a demonstrated interested in wildlife conservation.  Above all else candidates should have a high level of fitness and a willingness to work in a challenging environment.  The work will involve long and arduous hikes over difficult terrain, and will frequently necessitate camping for up to 6 nights at a time at remote locations, deep in the National Park. Volunteers must be able to carry 50+ litre rucksacks weighing upwards of 15kg. The ideal candidates will have some experience of the activities described above, although this is not essential as full training will be provided.  


We will not ask for any contribution towards project costs but you must be able to cover both your own transport costs to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and your subsistence costs (i.e., food and accommodation costs at field sites).  Contact me for more details of estimated costs. 

Further questions

For further information and to apply please email me

Thursday, July 14, 2011

postheadericon Are clouded leopards locally extinct in Sepilok?

The usual suspects... A female leopard cat and her kitten, photographed close to
 the border with an oil palm plantation.  Leopard cats were the only species of 
 wild cat recorded in this forest.

Rather worryingly our camera trap survey of the Kabili-Sepliok Forest Reserve has failed to detect the Sunda clouded leopard.  Is this a true reflection of the localised extinction of these felids in this small and relatively isolated forest block or simply our failure to detect what is actually there?
Camera trapping is undoubtedly a powerful research tool and can quickly produce indisputable evidence of a species’ presence in an area. Proving beyond doubt the absence of a species, however, is a rather more difficult affair, and the lack of any camera trap images obtained during a survey does not necessarily prove its absence.  This is particularly true of difficult to detect species such as clouded leopards.

Stray dogs were found at multiple sites across the whole of the forest. 
Could their presence be one causal factor in the absence of clouded leopards?  
Nevertheless, this was a relatively intensive survey involving a high density of 35 paired cameras sites coupled with an additional 14 sites at which video camera traps were operational. This effort resulted in over 39,000 images and video sequences, including the similarly difficult to detect sun bear. Given this effort, in my opinion, we probably would have detected clouded leopard had they been present, and thus I am strongly inclined to conclude that they are no longer found in Sepliok.  That is not to say that there are not any transient individuals moving through the area from time to time, but it seems unlikely to me that there is a resident population of animals living there.

Although unwelcome news, this is not altogether surprising given the fact that the forests in Sepliok have been reduced to about the size of a single clouded leopard’s home range – ca 40 km2.  Although unwelcome, this finding is another piece in the puzzle to understand what factors control the distribution of this felid on Borneo.

Whilst it's not great news for Sepliok's Sunda clouded leopards, a number of Bornean carnivores were detected in this forest, including leopard cats, sun bears, common and banded palm civets, and yellow throated martens (see video sequence above). Potential prey species including mouse deer, yellow muntjac, sambar deer and bearded pigs were present in apparently good numbers.

Our team will now conduct an extensive questionnaire survey of the Sabah Wildlife and Forestry Department officers working in this area, in an attempt to determine when this species was reliably last seen.  Meanwhile, we have recently moved our camera traps to an area of oil palm plantation immediately to the west of Sepilok, to investigate what species are using this highly modified habitat.