Tuesday, November 29, 2011

postheadericon Amazing first results from Crocker Range

With the last camera trap finally in place, the fun phase has begun… time to check the cameras. And what a start; in addition to the usual crowd of pigs, muntjac, mousedeer, malay civet and the like, we’ve been getting a number of amazing results, including some species that we rarely ever encounter, and even a first for the project…. 

This is a wild cat project after all, so I'll start with the stars of the show.  After more than six months of cam trapping in Sepilok and the surrounding oil palm plantation, without even a hint of a clouded leopard, you can imagine how excited we all were last week when we returned to the house after a camping trip to check the cameras and a perfectly composed (see right) clouded leopard photo appeared on our screen. Since then we’ve picked up several more, and we now have 5 photo events from 4 camera sites. Careful scrutiny of the photos shows that they all belong to a single male, spread over 23km2!!  It’s still early days, but the reasonable encounter rate and the lack of any other individuals, hints at a low population density, which is not altogether surprising. It’s hard to say at this stage whether we’ll have enough data to conduct a density analysis – so fingers crossed the photos keep rolling in. We’ve also got confirmation of marbled cat (only 1 photo to date), and leopard cat (from 3 sites), but alas no Bay cat so far. Come on bay cat, where are you? 

Our extensive surveying of six forest sites in Sabah, over four years, resulted in a measly 3 banded linsang Prionodon linsang photographs.  Although little known, it’s generally thought that this little carnivore species is semi-arboreal, perhaps also skulking around in dense bushy vegetation, waiting to pounce on small mammals and other prey. So it’s not altogether surprising that these guys rarely show up in camera trap surveys. However, despite having only checked about half of our cameras so far we’ve already recorded linsang at 3 different ridgeline sites.  Amazing! Perhaps the lack of a contiguous canopy at these heights forces them to move more frequently along the ground? Who knows – anyway it’s great to see these guys on camera. 

Another great result is that of the Endangered Hose’s civet Diplogalehosei. This rarely detected Bornean endemic is thought to be associated with mossy forests at higher altitudes, although a handful of (questionable?) sightings in relatively low forest suggests that they may be more adaptable than previously thought. So far we’ve detected Hose’s civet at three relatively high level sites (867 -1280m), establishing the first confirmed record of this civet in Crocker Range!! Let’s hope these guys keep getting snapped, so that we can start piecing together some information regarding their ecology. Perhaps Crocker would be the perfect place to start some in depth studies of this beastie… any takers? 

Last, but certainly not least, is a personal favorite of mine, a tiny, brightly orange coloured carnivore with a white head – the Malay weasel Mustela nudipes.  Although thought to be relatively common throughout its range (southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra), and found in a range of habitats (we even recorded some in an oil palm plantation), it is yet another Bornean carnivore that is rarely camera trapped.  Why then are we recording them relatively frequently (3 different sites so far) in Crocker?  Although listed as Least Concern by the IUCN it has never been studied. 

Clearly a great start… I can’t wait to see what the remaining unchecked cameras reveal!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

postheadericon Yep, its pretty Steep! Research starts in Crocker Range

One month into our latest survey and I’m pleased to report that things are progressing very well.  After a number of meetings with Sabah Parks, the State authority who manage the Crocker Range National Park, we settled into our new home in the village of Ulu Senagang, nestled just within the park boundaries and walled in by high ridgelines. 

As usual, our first task was to begin planning where we will deploy the camera traps within the park, decisions which are ultimately based on maximizing the chances of capturing cloudeds and other wild cats on camera, as well by the logistics of physically getting there. Our plan is to spread 36 camera stations over 150km2 – no easy task even on relatively even forest, let alone a mountain range. From talking to Sabah Parks employees and local people it quickly became apparent that the Park is rarely accessed (at least on official/legal business) and thus established trails are therefore few and far between, particularly on the scale that we’ll be operating.  

Our strategy, then, was to determine ridgeline formations from basic topographic maps, features which aid our movement and which we have demonstrated are used extensively by wild cats, transfer the spatial info onto our GPS units, and then follow the routes deep into the park, setting up cameras as we go. At this stage we had little idea of what the travel routes would be like, how open the forest would be, and thus how far we could reasonably expect to move each day. 

So, loaded up with several days of food, camping gear, camera trapping gear and our trusty GPS the team headed up out of the village and climbed to the first of several ridgelines that would take us northwest, and into the park. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, this was no gentle introduction to Crocker’s forests, and after a slippery and relentless 400m ascent, and with burning muscles, we eventually reached the relatively even terrain of the ridgeline. Once there we were pleased by how relatively clear the forest was, and although the trekking was at times pretty tough, we moved swiftly and set eight camera stations and covered a distance of over 24km in 4 days. 

Great!  Well, kind of…  Our rapid movement through the forest is largely because the routes we have been following are also being used by local poachers from surrounding villages, hence the relative openness. One month in, we have now covered over 150km of routes, and on all occasions, regardless of how deep into the forest we have travelled, we have always found signs of people, their camps, and snares and their shot gun cartridges.  Clearly the use of the forest by poachers here, in terms of area, is extensive. What is less clear is how many people and how much poaching is occurring.  We have found some great camera sites and are very optimistic of getting some wild cat photo captures, but the threat of camera theft by the poachers is very much playing on my mind.  In the next few weeks we will begin checking our cameras… stay tuned for (eventual (-: )updates