Sunday, February 22, 2009

Clouded Leopard Conservation Summit Wrap Up

Now that I've finally had a chance to catch up on tasks resulting from our recent Clouded Leopard and Small Felid Conservation Summit I wanted to provide a final wrap-up post. We are still compiling all of the information gathered at the meeting and will be issuing a final report in approximately six weeks.
I can tell you that we definitely met several of our objectives for the Summit. One of the most important was getting all of the people together who are working independently on felid issues throughout the region. It was wonderful to see the information sharing and connecting that took place. Many of the field researchers left with plans in place for future collaboration on projects and research methods that will have long-term benefits for increasing our knowledge about these cats.

During the meeting, participants divided into regional working groups to identify critical issues and develop action steps to address them. There were two overriding actions identified by all groups. One was the need for more studies to address the significant gaps in knowledge that still exist about these species in the wild. Because we are so data deficient on these cats - in some cases not even knowing where each species can even be found - major work in the field is still needed. The other glaring issue identified is the need for educational intervention to increase awareness about cats and their conservation needs for audiences throughout Southeast Asia. This includes audiences from the community level all the way up to those in positions of authority in regional and national governments who have the ability to tighten and enforce laws as well as promote field work and educational programming.

We are excited about the Clouded Leopard Project’s future role in addressing these issues. We plan to develop a comprehensive wild cat curriculum in partnership with educators from the region. Because of the generous support we received for the meeting, we have funds remaining to help us begin instituting this effort.

We will post the complete Summit report on the website when it is available and will also continue to keep all of our supporters apprised of our ongoing efforts on behalf of clouded leopards and the other endangered cats of Southeast Asia.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Incredible Nat

I would be remiss if I didn't officially acknowledge our extreme gratitude to the amazing (incredible, astounding, remarkable, wonderful, marvelous...) Nattaphol Sisuruk (Nat). Nat was the detail man for the entire Clouded Leopard Conservation Summit and subsequent field trip to Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary. He eagerly took care of our every need, always with a flash of his infectious grin. He was lots of fun to hang out with and he performed essential hand-holding for us with the zillions of Summit tasks we had to attend to. One example: he arranged for a driver to take me to exchange a bunch of travelers' checks and translated the transaction for nearly an hour at the bank!
This photo totally sums up Nat's good and generous nature:

Nat came to the Zoo with us and we were glad he had a chance to meet the cubs. I think he enjoyed it!

Thanks for everything Nat. We owe you big time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Khao Kheow Cubs
If you thought the photos of the Thai cubs were cute, check them out in all their 10-week-old adorable action!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thailand Clouded Leopard Breeding Program
I recently mentioned our visit to the cubs at Thailand's Khao Kheow Open Zoo and thought I would tell you a little bit more about the breeding program that produced them. This project was begun in 2002 and now represents the largest and most genetically valuable zoo population of clouded leopards in the world. The program has produced 38 cubs in 17 litters. This is quite an achievement given the huge challenges in developing compatible pairs of clouded leopards. The program has Thai zoo keeper staff providing care for the animals under the supervision of Rick Passarro, an experienced clouded leopard keeper from the U.S. Rick is relieved each year by Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Biologist Andy Goldfarb. In fact, he leaves for Thailand in a couple of weeks to give Rick a couple of month's break - essential for someone with a job that requires attendion 24/7! The breeding program is managed by a consortium made up of the Thailand Zoological Park Organization, Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Smithsonian's National Zoo, Nashville Zoo, and the Thailand Department of National Parks. During our visit, Point Defiance was official added as a formal member of the consortium. This is an exciting development because we have provided significant staff and funding resources to the project over the last several years. We also hope to augment that support by assisting Zoo staff in the production of educational materials relating to clouded leopards as well as assistance with keeper training. We hope to have many years of productive partnership in the future!
Signing the new agreement adding Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The press even attended!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Clouded Leopard Summit Press

On the last day of the Clouded Leopard and Small Felid Conservation Summit we held a press conference that was well attended by representatives from many Bangkok media outlets including 4 television stations, 1 radio station, and 6 print publications. Most of these stories were produced in Thai, but here are links to 2 in English:

We also had some coverage on the World Zoo Today website
and an article in our local paper the Tacoma Weekly.

Clouded Leopard Cubs At Khao Kheow Open Zoo

After discussing clouded leopards for the last two weeks, a portion of our group finally got to actually see some in person! We stopped by the Zoo, south of Bangkok to visit the clouded leopard breeding program managed by the Smithsonian's National Zoo in partnership with the Thailand Zoological Park Organization. First up, a visit with the program's newest cubs - one male and two females about 10 weeks old. This is the perfect age to interact with these hand-reared cubs. They are getting more active and agile, are very friendly and curious, and are of course devastatingly adorable. Look carefully and you can also see that their baby blue eyes are in transition to their adult amber color. A big thank you goes out to Rick Passarro, the program's manager, who patiently let us maul his babies. It's been a long time since Karen and I had our hands on clouded leopard cubs so we made up for lost time!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Off to the Field
The morning after the Clouded Leopard Summit, a group of about 25 participants and Kasetsart University Forestry staff members set off on our post-workshop field trip to Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary. Phu Khieo is notable for many reasons, one of which is that it was the site of the first-ever radio collar tracking study of clouded leopards. This Sanctuary is the current site of a number of field studies as well as the site of a KU field course. Therefore, our KU hosts had a great deal of knowledge about its wildlife and ecology giving us a real insider’s perspective of the Sanctuary. In Thailand, National Parks are more highly developed for tourism; Phu Khieo sees very few visitors and those that do come require special permits. Instead, the primary purpose of Wildlife Sanctuaries is for the protection of wildlife so they are usual quite a bit more pristine than the National Parks.

So, after a fairly claustrophobic seven-hour van journey surrounded by a mountain of luggage constantly threatening to decapitate those of us in the back seat, we arrived for a couple of days of hiking and wildlife viewing. I was especially pleased to be able to do some birding – both Dr. Naris and Dr. Ronglarp are experts at identifying species, even by call. Given the wide array of birds in the Sanctuary (and in my field guide!) this was a huge help as I would never have been able to figure them out before they flew off. I made some great additions to my life list, including an orange-breasted trogon and scarlet minivet. We also learned quite a bit about some of the medicinal and culinary plants in the forest. Our group split up to take several hikes about which we compared notes afterward. Our group was lucky enough to spot a rarely-blooming relative of the giant rafflesia flower of Borneo. However, it was no contest which group was the “winner:” Bill experienced a leech “attack” and had the gruesome blood stain to prove it, much to the appreciation of the rest of his group.(This really isn’t leech season as it is now dry, so his interactive wildlife viewing scored even more points.) Our ranger was amazing at finding wildlife sign for us, including quite a few tracks of porcupines, civets, leopard cats, and possibly a clouded leopard. After our hike the ranger and Dr. Ronglarp gave us a tour of the small museum that houses quite a few specimens. They showed us a number of plaster casts of tracks of a wide variety of mammals in Phu Khieo, from the giant gaur (a wild type of cattle) to the tiny leopard cat. We also saw a cast of a track from what was likely the last Sumatran rhino living in Thailand, taken in 1992.
While at the museum, the Superintendant of the Sanctuary rode up on her bicycle to say “hi.” This is astounding for two reasons: one, she is the first female Superintendant of any of Thailand’s Wildlife Sanctuaries, and two, she rode up on her bicycle to say “hi!.” Can you imagine if the head of Yellowstone or Yosemite rolled up to chat with a group of foreign visitors? I was especially pleased to see her wearing her stylish Clouded Leopard Project hat that I gave her when we met our first day.
We learned quite a bit about the various projects in the Sanctuary while we were there. The Department of Parks has done significant work restoring the region, including the reintroduction of rare species such as the Siamese fireback pheasant and the hog deer. We were lucky enough to see a few hog deer, both during a hike and during a night spot-lighting outing. They are fairly small deer – quite a bit smaller than a sambar (largest deer in Thailand and very tame around the headquarters) but a bit larger than the barking deer. Hog deer had been eliminated in the park but reintroduced in the 1980s and now have a stable population. Around the Sanctuary’s headquarters is a large expanse of grassland that was created especially for the deer. This area is burned annually to limit forest encroachment and provide habitat for not only the deer, but a rich variety of other species that utilize the grasslands for foraging or hunting.

We learned that the Queen of Thailand participated in the hog deer release and to accommodate her visit they built a whole set of facilities, including a beautiful lodge called, appropriately enough, The Queen’s House. The Queen stayed there over twenty years ago during her visit and has not returned since. However, the house is keep immaculate for her and no one else is allowed to use it or stay there. If I were the Queen, I would be back for frequent visits as this is her view:
Like all wild places in Thailand, Phu Khieo is not immune to the threat of poaching. The Sanctuary serves as a training facility for ranger staff throughout the country, teaching rangers to locate and apprehend poachers illegally harvesting wood and wildlife from the forest. Hopefully with their continued vigilance, Phu Kheio will remain a haven for the rapidly disappearing wildlife of Southeast Asia.