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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Clouded Leopard Summit Begins!

Hurray! The big day arrived and we actually got through everything without a hitch. It was a wonderful, but draining first day of the workshop. I think all the stress of planning that I was trying to ignore finally emerged as complete exhaustion this evening. I really just want to collapse into bed, but I know that many of you are waiting to hear how things went. So bear with me…this post won’t be my most scintillating, but hopefully it will give you a flavor of the day.


We started off with all the ceremony befitting such an auspicious event with welcome remarks by the Vice President of the University and the Dean of the Faculty of Forest. Following that, JoGayle and I also offered our welcome – mine with a bit of a shaky voice as I struggled with the emotions of finally realizing a moment that began years ago as what I thought was just a crazy dream! Then we were underway. Our facilitator Onnie had us begin with brief introductions of ourselves. We ended up with 70 participants starting off in the morning – we had expected just over 50! Many of these folks were faculty and some students of the University who were only attending briefly. Later in the day we were reduced in number to a much more manageable 55 or so. As the primary wrangler of participants through the invitation, registration, and logistical process over the last many months, it was wonderful to finally put faces to all the names I had come to know so well. I hope I get time to get to know all these folks who are giving their time and energy to attend this meeting.

After introductions, the first order of business was for Dr. David Reed of the University of Mississippi to give an overview of the preliminary results of the data collection he undertook prior to the meeting. We had asked participants to contribute their data and complete a survey on clouded leopards and the other small cats being studied ahead of time so we could have some idea of the species’ status and threats.


After breaking for lunch and enjoying our first opportunity to meet our fellow participants, we dove into the real work of the meeting – assessment of cat populations and threats by region. We broke into 5 working groups based on our areas of expertise and based on the numbers of participants from each region. The working groups were: Borneo, Sumatra, Lao/Cambodia/Vietnam, Northern Thailand, Southern Thailand/Peninsular Malaysia. I joined the Borneo group and Karen G. joined Northern Thailand. As I am not a field biologist, I didn’t have too much to contribute to this portion of the meeting, but it was fascinating to watch the process – especially the spirited debate about estimating population status. (More on that for a future post.)


We spent all afternoon hashing out the reporting forms and noting cat habitat on our maps. This was a REALLY tedious process for all the groups, but everyone worked really hard to get the work done. It was amazing to see this information coming together in a form that will later be used to identify gaps in our knowledge about our focal species. For example, in many of the locations identified as being suitable cat habitat, there is no knowledge at all on whether or not any of the species are even present, let alone knowing what their population size is. Many other questions remain such as the stability of populations, impacts of various threats, and potential for connectivity between suitable habitat patches to accommodate increased population sizes.


Tomorrow morning we return to a single group for a plenary session to discuss the findings of each working group before re-grouping to take on the next task.

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