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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Borneo Underwater


I hadn't planned on any more posts from Borneo, but feel I would be remiss not to comment on our dive trip to Kapalai. This region (Sipidan, Kapali, Mabul) is world renowned among divers for being a great destination. It didn't disappoint! While we weren't there too long, we did get a chance to have some great dives and also have just as much fun snorkeling. The dive resort we visited was incredible. We took a speedboat about one hour from a coastal town into the Celebes Sea. Zipping across the waves we finally approached a really bizarre sight. With no land at all nearby, an island of bungalows connected by wooden jetties and built in traditional Malay style arose from the sea - Kapalai Dive Resort. Turns out, Kapalai is a sand bar that is surrounded by coral reef with no other sort of land connection. At low tide, a strip of sand bar is exposed, but most of the time the resort is perched hovering above the impossibly turquoise water, surrounded below and on all sides by an endless assortment of reef fish. From our bungalow's deck we could even watch sea turtles foraging. At night we could actually hear them breathing as they surfaced while we lie in bed. This place was a splurge, but it was worth every penny! (And don't fear...no CLP funds were expended for any portion of our Borneo trip!)

As I was snorkeling on our last morning I couldn't help but ruminate on the comparison between Borneo's marine and rainforest ecosystems. In the rainforest, you hear wildlife everywhere: buzzing cicadas; the chirps, squawks, and melodies of hundreds of birds; the haunting call of the gibbons; and constant cacophony of dripping water and falling leaves. However, to see this wildlife takes lots of patience and luck as most of it is hidden far from view high up in the canopy. In contrast, life on the coral reef is almost obscenely obvious. It is in-your-face with something new and amazing to observe with each stroke of the fin. Untold types of soft and hard corals and anemones surround you, impassive schools of pelagic fish swarm, a cuttlefish makes a curious approach, and every size and description of reef fish in singles, pairs, and small schools swirl about - some with purpose, others seemingly aimless wanderers. But in contrast to the rainforest, there is virtually no sound amid all the colorful chaos. Save for the sound of parrotfish munching through their coral cafeteria, all of this action occurs in silence. We really appreciate the opportunity to be welcomed into both worlds!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On the Track of Wild Cats
Andy and Jo are also conducting camera trapping studies, but we observed another facet of their research - using telemetry to track radio-collared cats through the forest. Andy, Jo, and their team are currently following the movements of five collared leopard cats. This is a daunting task as Danum's topography consists of steep ridgelines and sharply falling valleys - causing collar signals to bounce around and sometimes vanish even if a cat is nearby. The best locations for gaining a signal are up high, so we accompanied the team to several spectacular locations with views of repeating ridges of rainforest stretching far into the distance. From these elevated perches the faint beeping of a leopard cat's signal could sometimes be heard. If so, the team would enter the signal's bearing on their GPS unit and off we'd go, trying to get another signal in a different location in order for the bearing lines to cross and allow a fix on the cat's position. The team also took us in search of the signal from a female clouded leopard they captured and collared last fall. They lost her signal in March, but haven't given up hope that they may find her once again. The collar could have failed or she may have just moved on to an area beyond the reach of Andy and Jo's antenna.



Although we couldn't see the clouded leopard or other cats we stalked, it was a thrill knowing we were sharing the same forest with the cats that mean so much to us and we work so hard to protect. This experience has really reinforced our gratitude for the support we receive from all of you to ensure the survival of clouded leopards and other cats that share their forest homes.

We have also been very pleased to witness the extreme dedication of the CLP-supported scientists first-hand. Their professional approach and commitment to learning more about Borneo's cats to enhance conservation efforts is especially amazing given the challenging field conditions of the region (leech photos to come!) I'm really looking forward to sharing many of the photos of these dedicated researchers in action so check back here next week!

One Week, Three Wild Cats!

When we left for Borneo, I jokingly told my co-workers at the Zoo that I wouldn't return until I saw a clouded leopard. That didn't happen, but I guess we'll come back anyway since we actually saw two other cats that are much less frequently sighted. Cloudies are actually spotted here on a fairly regular basis. Most all of the long-term researchers and their field staff have had the good fortune to see one or more. We did manage to see three leopard cats during two night drives with Andreas - not a very special event as they are quite common - but still a thrill! We were lucky enough, however, to see the next best thing to a cloudie - a marbled cat. This small cat is marked very similarly to a cloudie and shares the same luxurious and long tail. While on a night drive with Andy and Jo in Danum an eagle-eyed (owl-eyed?) guide spotted a small, fuzzy lump on a branch right next to the road. It was a young female marbled cat curled on an exposed branch right next to the road about 40' up. She was sleeping so we didn't even catch her eyeshine in the spotlight, the usual way of finding night creatures. As we approached she lifted her head and watched us, totally unconcerned. Eventually she moved a bit, hopping to an adjacent branch and even playing with her tail! We actually finally left her there after observing and photographing her for an hour. I can't wait to share the photos! Between this amazing observation and that of the flat-headed cat along the Kinabatangan River we have been incredibly lucky. This good fortune has provided extra encouragement for continuing to pursue efforts on behalf of the conservation of the little-known cats of Southeast Asia.


We're heading off to a dive resort for the next few days to cool off, relax, and celebrate our successful trip. We will be returning home to the U.S. with lots of ideas for furthering our efforts and continuing to expand our partnerships in felid conservation in Borneo. I'll fill you in more in the next several weeks. Goodbye from Borneo! (But don't forget to check back for expanded coverage and photos next week.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In the Field

We've spent the last week visiting the research project sites of Andreas Wilting in Deramakot Forest Reserve and Andy Hearn and Jo Ross in the Danum Valley. We've learned a great deal about the management of Sabah's forest resources and the ecology of Sabah's forest wildlife. It's been especially encouraging to learn that in both of these regions, even where some logging has occurred, scientists are finding preliminary evidence of healthy carnivore populations. Both of these studies aim to compare felid populations in areas where different logging practices have been employed at different times; ranging from traditional timber harvests occurring several decades previously to ongoing reduced-impact logging operations. The data that emerge from these studies will be crucial for the development of the long-term management of Sabah's forests in ways that benefit both people and wildlife. We are extremely grateful to Andreas, Andy, and Jo for giving us this insight into forest research and conservation in Borneo.


Wild Cats Caught on Camera
While visiting research sites supported by the CLP, we have observed many of the methodologies employed to study wild cats. With Andreas and his field assistant Azlan we checked all 18 pairs of the camera traps he has set up in the forest. This entailed two full days of bouncing many miles by truck over rocky, rutted, and sometimes virtually non-existent forest "roads" and hiking through the jungle to his remote camera sites. The images from the cameras revealed a wide range of creatures passing on the trails - including macaques (monkeys) and pheasants during the day to three deer species, bearded pigs, and several types of civets at night. Most exciting were the many images of the small, richly spotted leopard cats that are abundant in the forest and the lone image of a flat-headed cat captured in an unexpected location along a logging road.Opening each camera and loading the images from the memory card to our portable viewer was exciting. All 36 times we eagerly anticipated the revelation of images giving us a glimpse into the secret lives of the forest's wildlife! Both Andreas' and Andy and Jo's projects have chronicled an amazing array of wildlife. These images will be compared to determine the numbers of individuals living in their study areas and help them determine their ranging patterns. We'll profile all of their study objectives in the coming weeks on the website and include lots of photos of their projects in action.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kinabatangan River
We've just completed our visit to the Kinabatangan River region of Sabah. We were hosted by the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP), an organization working on biodiversity conservation issues in the area for ten years. They do an amazing amount of good work, with projects ranging from orangutan and elephant field research to community outreach and student education. The situation in the region is quite dire: oil palm plantations completely surround the small, degraded portions of forest that remain. Despite the small area and poor quality of forest, there is an amazing array and large amounts of wildlife. We were very impressed with the impact they have made getting the local communities to transition to practices that are more sustainable for the forest as well as raising awareness about the need for conservation. KOCP hires all of its staff (50 people) from the small community of Sukau, so they are closely connected to the community. They have also helped community members develop a homestay program so they can reap some of the benefits from tourists. We stayed in one such home with a local family and enjoyed great food and friendly hosts. We hope to be able to partner with this organization to help them develop education resources that include cats as the region is home to at least three of the five Borneo felids. We also hope to help them develop some assessment tools to assist them in measuring the educational impact of their programs.
Borneo Wildlife Bonanza

We spent four days along the Kinabatangan River and saw a huge array of wildlife. The primate population there is astounding! The trees along the river's edge teemed with large troops of proboscis monkeys, a species endemic to Borneo. They crash through the trees, making huge, reckless leaps as they fling themselves to adjacent branches. It is an amazing sight! We also observed countless macaques as well as some langurs. The highlight, however, was observing wild orangutans. We followed a mother and her baby through the forest for several hours until she made her night nest. This is just one of the animals that KOCP has studied for the last ten years so the have a huge amount of data on feeding ecology and other behavior.


The bird life of the region is also impressive. We observed four species of hornbills in great numbers as well as water birds. The river also holds many reptiles and we were fortunate to see a viper, mangrove snake, and many water monitor lizards and small crocodiles. The region is also home to a population of 200 elephants but they were further up river so we were not able to observe them.





Next we will be visiting study sites in Dermakot and the Danum Valley so more wildlife awaits!
Flat-headed Cat Spotted!
We didn't dare to hope that we would actually spot one of Borneo's elusive wild cats during our short visit, but last night we were extremely lucky. We went on a night spot-lighting outing on the river and after traveling about two hours up river from Sukau we saw the glimmer of eyeshine reflected in our light. We saw a small shape moving in and out of the shadows at the river's edge. To our surprise and delight it was a flat-headed cat! This species is seldom seen and few photographs exist that weren't taken by camera trap. We followed the cat as it ambled along the mud created by low-tide. The cat paid us no attention whatsoever and didn't deviate from his pace as he padded down the bank. We were able to get some good photographs as well as some video. We don't have the ability to post the photos right now, but I'll add them here when we return so check back for a rare look at this unusual little cat. This was a good time to be out looking since the river was low, exposing the amphibians and other water creatures the flat-headed cat feeds on.

Now we only have four more of the Borneo wild cats species to spot (marbled cat, leopard cat, bay cat, and clouded leopard). Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Birds, Bats, but Few Cats
Paul and I spent the day exploring two of Singapore's famous wildlife parks: the Jurong Bird Park and the Singapore Zoo. The Zoo had a couple of cats, but the closest we got to any Asian species were a couple of white tigers...very unsatisfying! However, that's not to say we didn't have a great day. The Bird Park has an amazing collection of Asian hornbills - 18 species - including a Great Hornbill that they fly in their show and feature in their keeper talk. What a stunning bird! They also had some wonderful raptors in their show, all free-flown. I have also never seen more Victoria crowned pigeons or flamingos (hundreds) in one place. They also had some amazing birds of paradise.


The favorite part of our day, however, was our visit to the Singapore Zoo. It was like walking through a lush rainforest with animals magically appearing, posed just so. As zoo people, Paul and I were blown away by how visible and active all the animals were, despite the sweltering conditions. We got great views of pygmy hippos, "free-ranging" orangutans (able to climb in the overhead canopy - very cool), huge fruit bats just inches away in the canopy, an AWAKE sloth, tree kangaroo, and much more. They also had a wonderful working elephant show.



But the highlight of our zoo visit was an encounter with native wildlife. As we were coming down the path we found a monitor lizard locked in battle with a frog. It was amazing! The frog was all puffed up full of air so the monitor couldn't swallow it. Instead, it kept just bashing it around, occasionally loosing its grip and then grabbing again as the frog made a break for it. It went on and on. Finally the tussle migrated into the long grass so I can't report on the outcome. I'm betting on the monitor, but he sure had to work for it.

The other wildlife institution in Singapore is the Night Safari. It's a separate part of the zoo, open only at night with a tram ride and nocturnal animal show. They also have a tropical trail with cloudies, fishing cats, and other Asian species. We're really looking forward to that, but won't visit until we return to Singpore after Borneo. We leave for Kota Kinabalu tomorrow afternoon. Next report: Borneo!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Singapore...Hungry for More!
Okay, this is more like it. We've been in Singapore for just a few hours and have already indulged in Malay and East Indian food with a side of mango milk ice. I'm in heaven! A little background for some of you: people who know me have heard me talk endlessly about my anticipation of the meals awaiting us in Asia. When traveling, a lot of people like to learn about the culture by sightseeing, shopping, through music or reading history. For me, it's all about the FOOD! I like to taste my way through cultures and have always found Asia very much to my liking. And, thank goodness, Singapore didn't let me down. I had highly anticipating visiting due to the cultural smorgasbord offered here. (If you don't believe me, just ask my culinary-travel muse, Anthony Bourdain.) Chinese, Malay, Indian...you name it, most of the East Asian cultures are well represented in cuisine. We made a beeline to a famous "hawker" court where there must have been close to one hundred different food stalls, not to mention the dozen or so satay stalls barbecuing outside. HEAVEN! I could spend a lifetime eating this food...it is that good. I've already enjoyed mango served three ways and the trip has just begun.

You might think I would move to Asia for clouded leopards. I would, but they would be second, right after the food!

Tomorrow we're visiting the Jurong Bird Park and the Singapore Zoo. Hopefully some cats await! (They even have a cloudie on the cover of the brochure!)
Hong Kong
We've completed the first leg of our Asian adventure - a stopover in Hong Kong. We spent two days running around the city and really enjoyed it. Sadly, I have no felid observations or news to report except for the sighting of a snoozing domestic cat outside a Buddhist temple. The only wildlife-related news to report is that we visited the bird market and goldfish market. Both of these markets surprised us with the level of care that seemed to be given to the creatures for sale. Everything was extremely clean with people tending for them constantly.

The biggest challenge of the trip so far has been the heat and humidity. Hong Kong was about 33 degrees C. For our American friends that translates to about 857 degrees Fahrenheit. Did I mention the 90% humidity? Not a good situation for woefully un-acclimated pansies from the Pacific Northwest. A walk around the block transforms us into boneless pools of perspiration. Our condition is further aggravated by observations of all the lovely, perky, perspiration-free Asians around us. Nothing screams "tourist" better than a sweaty American!

Next up...Singapore!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Borneo Bound
My husband Paul and I are off first thing in the morning for our Asian adventure! Our ultimate destination is the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. On the way, we will be stopping in Hong Kong and Singapore for a few days each. This trip is part vacation, part CLP fact-finding and project observation. We will be spending time visiting two field projects supported by CLP grants. First up will be Andreas Wilting's cat study in Dermakot. After that we'll visit Andy Hearn and Jo Ross' field project in the Danum Valley. We will also be meeting with folks from the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project in Sukau. They have an established community education effort and are interested in partnership possibilities with us, using CLP conservation education materials. We are very interested in having a stronger presence in Borneo and believe this might be a great way to get involved. We will also be talking about the possibility of providing education materials as an adjunct to Andreas' and Andy and Jo's projects. It should be a productive trip and if we are lucky we should see some great wildlife along the way. I will do my best to post some updates from our trip, but Internet access will be pretty spotty. I'll do what I can, so keep checking back!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wildlife Conservation Expo

The Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) will be hosting their annual Wildlife Conservation Expo on Saturday, October 4 from 10am-6pm at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco, CA. The Clouded Leopard Project will be an exhibitor at the conference, promoting our conservation efforts and raising funds through merchandise sales. If you are in the Bay Area you shouldn't miss this great event. There are a large number of conservationists that give fascinating presentations about their work as well as many booths representing a wide variety of conservation causes. For details on the event, check out www.wildnet.org. We are very appreciative that WCN has invited us to participate for the third time. Stop by our booth and say hello!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jim Sanderson Interview
Mongabay.com has posted an interview with small cat researcher, Jim Sanderson. Jim is a great crusader for the little-known small cats, especially those in South America and Southeast Asia. While I think Jim misrepresents AZA zoos' philosophy and rationale for not exhibiting some of the small cat species, the article is a great overview of small cat research and conservation issues.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leopard or Not?
Hi everyone, my name is Corinne and I'm a Seasonal Animal Care Technician at Point Defiance. I've worked at PDZA with Karen for 4 years now and I've definitely fallen in love with clouded leopards. I was reading a newsletter put out by the Snow Leopard Trust which briefly stated that snow leopards are not true leopards. I've heard this said about Cloudies as well, and I set out to research why this is. I started by looking up the definition of a leopard. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a leopard as, "a large strong cat of southern Asia and Africa that is adept at climbing and is usually tawny or buff with black spots arranged in rosettes." I was a little disappointed with this definition because clouded and snow leopards are both found in Asia, are both adept at climbing and have black spots arranged in rosettes. So I went on to look up cat morphology. San Diego Zoo's website, www.sandiegozoo.org, had fact sheets on all three of these cats.


Leopard, Wildlife Conservation Society



Snow Leopard, International Snow Leopard Trust



Clouded Leopard

Clouded leopards are generally smaller in size with larger, uneven rosettes. Snow Leopards are known for their thick fur coat that keeps them warm in freezing climates. Leopards are unique in that they have eight subspecies. I also found quite a few similarities; all three of these cats are considered agile, are endangered, and they are among the top predators in their various habitats. Finally I read an article, "The Evolution of Cats," by Stephen J. O'Brien and Warren E. Johnson about the genetic connections between wild cats. Leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards are all grouped in the Panthera lineage which also includes lions and tigers. Clouded leopards are unique in Panthera because they lack the ability to roar due to the bone structure in their throat. By studying the clouded leopard's genome, scientists have found that clouded leopards and snow leopards are actually more closely related, while true leopards are linked more closely with jaguars. We really have to look beyond the spots to understand the connections between these wild cats.