Friday, September 30, 2011

Clouded Leopard Awareness Education in Thailand

I recently received a report from FREELAND Foundation about their community outreach work supported by the CLP and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. These carnivore-based awareness programs are presented in communities around the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai World Heritage Site in Northeastern Thailand. They have especially targeted areas bordering the parks known to be ‘poacher origin hotspots’ where high numbers of poachers are known to reside.

The objectives of the awareness activities are:
  • To increase awareness and understanding of the importance of carnivore and nature conservation among communities living near carnivore habitat.
  • To reduce poaching, forest encroachment, and human-wildlife conflict immediately and in the long term by reaching at risk families through child education.
  • To inspire children to study science and ecology and become Thailand's future conservation leaders.
During the school visits presenters discussed the wild cat species found in Thailand, the threats they face and their conservation efforts. FREELAND’s mobile outreach team conducted 28 awareness activities in 2010 to youth camps, school visits and villages. The activities reached nearly 3,000 people, of which 2,350 were in schools and communities adjacent to Thap Lan and in the corridor area where the park joins neighboring Khao Yai National Park.

Outreach activities varied by grade level but consisted of multi-media presentations and lectures, game-based interactions, plays, and music. For secondary school students, a more complicated introduction to ecology was delivered, with drama-type activities organized to give students an independent creative role in communication of key conservation
themes, such as the impacts of poaching. The Clouded Leopard's Secret bilingual storybooks were distributed to all schools after the activities and presenters utilized clouded leopard and tiger teaching resources such as costumes and skull replicas provided by Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to engage and teach the students. Evaluation of the educational effectiveness of the programs demonstrated an improvement in the students’ awareness and understanding of the conservation messages presented.

We're very pleased to support the great work of FREELAND in increasing awareness of carnivores where it matters most!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Education Activities in Thailand
Check out this great video of the outreach activities conducted by the Freeland Foundation and featuring many of the educational resources provided to them by the CLP and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Clouded Leopard vs. Marauding Monkey!
I just received a fun story from the Fernando, the project manager at the breeding program at Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand. I'll let him share it with you:

"I'm writing you because I want to tell you a cool story that happened at the breeding center the past month. I was there as every morning but, I noticed that something was different. Some of the residents were hidden in their nestboxes and I could see LaiThai climbing to the highest part of the fence.  That was a little weird because they usually stay on the nest boards or logs, not on the vertical fence. Then I realized that a male long tailed macaque was over the top of the fence. Most of the cats in that row of enclosures were hidden, but only one remained brave defending his territory: LaiThai.

After half an hour of growling and with the extra help of SenLek, finally the long tailed macaque was scared away from the breeding center.  Thanks to the courage of the youngest male at the center. It was really interesting to see the agonistic behavior between both species. I'm sorry that the pictures are not as good as they could be, but I think you will enjoy them anyway."
We are lucky that in the U.S. we don't have to worry about hazards like this (and cobras and pythons) that are a normal part of life in Thailand!
LaiThai checking out the threat.

LaiThai's close encounter.

 SenLek and LaiThail working together to scare off the macaque.

LaiThai the victorious!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Welcome to new Thailand Consortium Manager Dr. Fernando Najera!

The Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium recently welcomed a new project manager, Dr. Fernando Najera.  Fernando is a veterinarian, receiving his degree in 2001. After dedicating five years to the medicine of cats and dogs, in 2006 he began to work for wild animals. He has been a veterinarian for two zoological institutions in Spain and lived in Ecuador for almost one year where he served as a vet for two different wildlife rescue centers and helped fight the illegal wildlife trade. In Borneo he collaborated with The Bornean Clouded Leopard Programme in conducting research in the field and now serves as the veterinary advisor for the project. While in Borneo he fell in love with the Sunda Clouded Leopard’s ecology and biology. After working on other projects in Costa Rica and in zoos in the United States, Fernando moved to Thailand where he’s now happily working for the clouded leopard in the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium and gets to enjoy the clouded leopards on a daily basis!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Clouded Leopard Field Volunteers Needed

Researchers from Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit are seeking field volunteers to assist with camera trapping in Sabah, Borneo. The work will take place from September - December in the Crocker Range National Park, an area of rugged terrain and challenging climate. It's a great opportunity to assist in groundbreaking research on the elusive Sunda clouded leopard. Check here for information on requirements and applications details.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Borneo Carnivore Education Workshop
I didn’t get a chance to do any more postings while we were traveling due to our remote locations and lack of Internet access. So now that we’re back, over the next week I will be catching up with reports on some of the activities we were involved in and information we gathered.

One of the primary reasons that Maureen and I traveled to Borneo was to conduct an education workshop to initiate a collaborative carnivore education strategy for Sabah. We wanted to bring together the major players in environmental education in Sabah and discuss ways to augment their current educational programming to also include messaging and activities on carnivores. This would also be the venue for delivering our carnivore education kits to our partner organizations.

 Canopy walkway at the RDC

The workshop was held on June 28 at the Rainforest Discovery Center outside of Sandakan. This is a beautiful facility on the edge of the Kapili-Sepilok Forest Reserve that is managed by the Sabah Department of Forestry. The RDC provides extensive environmental education programming and has an amazing network of trails and rainforest boardwalks allowing visitors a peak into the canopy. We really enjoyed touring this facility and were even lucky enough to spot a flock of endemic Borneo bristleheads and see giant flying squirrels on a later visit!

  Workshop icebreaker

Twenty people attended the workshop including RDC staff members; educators from the non-profit group, Hutan; a member of the Sabah Wildlife Department who conducts education at the zoo in Kota Kinabalu; staff from the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center; and several field researchers. The group worked together great, tackling tasks such as identifying key carnivore conservation education issues, prioritizing audiences, and beginning the development of key education strategies. The meeting ended with a plan in place for each of the organizations to institute carnivore messaging in ways appropriate and achievable for within their current structure.


In addition, Maureen and I went over the contents of the carnivore education kits and demonstrated several of the activities. Participants were very pleased with the kits and are eager to use them in their programs. We appreciate the Point Defiance AAZK Chapter and the donors of the CLP for making it possible to provide these teaching resources.


I’m hopeful that this meeting was just a first step in a long-term collaboration to benefit carnivore education in Borneo. Our role is to facilitate a partnership in which we can all continue to share resources and utilize the expertise and programming of the members of our diverse groups. I’m encouraged by our progress so far and hope it will benefit some of the endangered wildlife of Sabah. Much thanks goes to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and the CLP for supporting this workshop.


We have an intern!
A new body has recently begun lurching around Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium; it seems the Clouded Leopard Project has a new intern. James Gaines is a recent graduate from the nearby University of Puget Sound and started working for us in mid-June. So far he has been busy scouring the world, updating our database with the latest information, and preparing to update our website, bibliography, and clouded leopard locator. He will also be helping the Clouded Leopard Project and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium with its community outreach as well as learning the ropes of day to day zoo work.

James holds a bachelor's in Biology and is interested in conservation and science writing. He currently maintains a small natural history blog at Hopefully this internship should allow James a unique opportunity to hone his writing skills while also training him for future conservation or zoo work. Originally from Texas, James lives in Tacoma, Washington.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cat Superheros

We took advantage of the gathering of cat researchers to a group shot of the attendees who have been supported by the work of the Clouded Leopard Project and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. From left to right: Andrew Hearn, Gilmore Bolongon, David MacDonald, Susan Cheyne, Andreas Wilting, Joanna Ross, me, Jennifer McCarthy, Maureen O'Keefe (CLP), and Azlan Mohamed. It's so great to be able to hang out with these guys and learn even more about their work!
Cats and Civets and Otters, Oh My!
Ever heard of a Hose's civet? How about a Borneo ferret badger or collared mongoose?? These are a few of the 24 carnivore species at the center of attention of this week's conference in Borneo. Yesterday, each species was profiled in terms of research history, distribution, and threats and the overwhelming outcome was that our knowledge of most of these creatures is abysmal.

One of the primary goals of the conference is to gather all existing and historical records on known locations of Borneo's carnivores into a single database that can then be used to create models predicting the distribution of each species. Prior to the conference, researchers completed questionnaires detailing locations of specimens from camera traps, actual sightings, road kills, etc. In addition, collection locations were amassed from specimens in natural history museums as well as from historical research publications. These data were then combined with maps of Borneo's climate, topography, and human activities and habitat alteration. The result is a Habitat Suitability Index map that serves as a very rough predictive model of where the species may occur which can drive further research and conservation planning.

Here's what the Sunda clouded leopard HSI looks like. The colors represent the probability that the species will occur in the area with dark red being the highest, the warm tones intermediate, and the blue tones being low probability.

However, it is extremely important to note that there are several factors that influence these maps and limit their predictive power. First, the records used for modelling use actual location data, the maps are strongly biased toward Sabah, the Malaysian state in the far north of Borneo as that is where most research efforts have been undertaken. Therefore, that weights the habitat there more strongly and may inaccurately indicate too low of a liklihood of a species occuring in regions that have been little studied. There are also issues with maps being out of date, especially in terms of habitat alteration. Therefore, it may show a high probability of a species occuring in an area that has been transformed into a palm oil plantation. However, these maps are an important first step in being able to determine the gaps in research efforts and point out how species distribution may relate to protected areas and influence conservation planning.

I was very impressed by the technical expertise and determination required to collate all this information for each species. It was also amazing to hear the feedback from the researchers assembled as they relayed their experiences encountering (or not encountering!) these fascinating species that have so far mostly flown under the radar of wildlife conservation attention.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Southeast Asian Wildlife Trade Report
The Symposium began this morning with a pretty depressing, albeit critical update on the status of Southeast Asian carnivores in the wildlife trade by Chris Shepherd, regional director of TRAFFIC, an organization focused on monitoring the market of wildlife. Despite all the efforts to address this issue, Chris reported that the Asian trade now is bigger than ever and has reached crisis proportions where we may be near the tipping point of large scale species loss. This loss is driven by an insatiable appetite for wildlife and wildlife products in Asia, particularly China, although the U.S. is another major market for smugglers of illegal wildlife products.

The reasons for trade Chris profiled are the usual suspects: skins, trophies, medicinal uses, and meat. Some scary new statistics:  a recent one-day survey in a notorious wildlife market on the border of Thailand and Myanmar netted a count of 120 clouded leopard skins! A survey of restaurants in peninsular Malaysia resulted in 900 found to be serving wild meat, including bear, civets, and tiger. And hundreds of thousands of civets are exported from Vietnam to China each year.

In the case of carnivores such as civets, many species targeted are almost certain to be depleted before research has even made a dent in studying them. There is little baseline data on populations so the impact of trade is virtually unknown. So why is trade in these species escalating without any appreciable way to stop it?

First, while tiger and clouded leopard trade may draw attention, small carnivores have no real flagship species to draw support and don't attract the attention of conservation donors. Small carnivores are also a low priority for wildlife law enforcement, and most people know little about this group of animals including researchers, enforcement agencies, and the public in general. There are tools of wildlife laws, CITES treaties, and the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, but these tools cannot be successful without prioritizing study of impacts and enforcement. In addition, the laws protecting these species vary considerably; on the island of Borneo there are four different sets of laws with little cooperation and collaboration among the governments.

Chris summarized his presentation by making the following recommendations:
  • Initiate long-term monitoring of the status of small carnivores
  • Measure the impact of trade and hunting on these species
  • Increase enforcement efforts and support for these efforts
  • Assess and amend national legislation to provide better protection
  • Standarize laws and enforcement procedures
  • Address hunting issues when conducting conservation planning
  • Identify funding strategies to support small carnivore conservation efforts
  • Develop materials to raise the profile of small carnivores and concern for their conservation
It's quite an ambitious list and time is running out, but hopefully this meeting will be an important step in giving these species the attention and priority needed for their conservation on Borneo.
Borneo Carnivore Symposium, Day One
Maureen and I made it to Borneo and have had a great first day at the Symposium. Last night was the icebreaker and it was fun to start getting reacquainted with some of the folks we've met and have been working with over the last few years. With such a far-flung cat conservation network, it's wonderful to have an opportunity to come together every once in a while like this. There are nearly 200 people from 15 countries attending the meeting which is supported by both the CLP and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The meeting is focused on the 24 species of carnivores inhabiting the island of Borneo, including the five cat species (Sunda clouded leopard, flat-headed cat, bay cat, marbled cat, and leopard cat), civets, mongoose, and otters.

Today was a very full day of interesting introductory papers. We began with a comprehensive overview of the Asian wildlife trade which I will detail in more depth next. Then the rest of the day was devoted to a review of carnivore research methodology. The methods discussed were: community surveys, transects, conservation genetics, live trapping, telemetry, camera trapping, and landscape modeling. Each discussion focused on determining the best methodology for answering a particular study question, the pros and cons of each method, planning for implementation, and ways to maximize the efficacy of each technique. Much current information was presented and I look forward to updating our website to reflect the status of each of these methods.

I look forward to tomorrow's program of species-specific reports. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Two Cubs Born at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium!

Exciting news: last night Chai Li delivered two healthy cubs! They've already been started on the bottle and are doing great so far. Maureen and I leave for Borneo in a couple of hours so I won't be able to share posts about them for the next three weeks. Never fear, though - just become a Facebook fan of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to follow their every move and hear about all the happenings surrounding the opening of the new Cats of the Canopy exhibit!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Borneo Bound
This week, fellow CLP Board member Maureen O'Keefe and I are heading to Borneo to attend the Borneo Carnivore Symposium in Kota Kinabulu, Sabah, Malaysia. This meeting will bring together a host of field biologists and others interested in carnivore research and conservation. We are taking advantage of this gathering to host a workshop on carnivore education after the Symposium. The CLP and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is hosting this workshop to plan the development of carnivore education in the region.

Additionally, Maureen and I will be delivering carnivore education kits to several non-profit conservation organizations. These kits will be used in their outreach programming to local communities. The kits contain a variety of carnivore and herbivore skull replicas and associated activities, a clouded leopard costume, books, coloring pages, and a carnivore card matching activity. These kits were funded by contributions to the CLP as well as a generous donation from the Point Defiance Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

Maureen and I will also be joining a small group of Symposium attendees on a post-conference trip to several protected areas to view wildlife and field study sites. After our time in Borneo we will also visit Kerinci National Park in Sumatra to deliver another kit and meet with park staff and educators there as well. We have a very full trip planned and hope it will be productive in advancing conservation efforts for clouded leopards and the other carnivores! I'll try to post a few updates from the road as online access allows.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

PDZA Clouded Leopard Exhibit Nearly Complete!
Wow, what a crazy couple of weeks it's been clouded leopard-wise at the Zoo. Just as we are in the final, hectic throes of completing our long-awaited clouded leopard exhibit, we confirmed the pregnancy of its first resident! How's that for incentive to get the job done?!

For those of you who've never had the pleasure (?) of working under a tight deadline to create an animal exhibit that meets all the needs of your animals, visitors, and staff, I'll tell you it is a crazy mix of anxiety and ingenuity, stress and satisfaction. We began the process in November 2008 with our design workshop and will hopefully get the darn thing finished within a couple of weeks. Getting us to the end of this long road was an incredible team of dedicated Point Defiance staff representing our Zoological, Operations, Education, Administrative, and Zoo Society teams. I am so fortunate to be working with truly some of the best folks in the business who despite the pressure of deadlines, glitches, and delays are always inspired by our conservation vision. You guys rock!

If you've missed my previous posts about the progression of the exhibit, you can review them here and here. But now I'd like to give you a update of our beautiful new Cats of the Canopy - one of the only clouded leopard exhibits in the country designed especially for the unique needs of these amazing, endangered cats.

This is how things looked just one week ago. Posts are in, but no work inside the exhibit. The pathway is being graded prior to pouring concrete:
What really makes this exhibit unique is the incredible height. Clouded leopards are most comfortable lounging way up in the canopy so we wanted to accomodate that need here. It's easy enough to set the support posts thirty-plus feet high, but the big challenge is adding the branching that will allow the cats to really utilize all that great space!

We had a crane for the day to set the logs in place:

First the big trunks were installed, then the limbs were hoisted up. It was pretty cool to see the terrific teamwork of biologists Paul and Andy working with operations guys Dennis and Joe. These limbs are wicked heavy, but these guys really knew what they were doing.

Joe and Dennis hooking up for the hoist:

Up it goes...

And up...
And up!

Then the logs had to be secured, forming a cat canopy walkway.

Thanks, Joe, for testing it out for the cats!

At the same time the climbing logs were going in, the Cemrock team was fabricating the cloudies' cave. This cave is designed to provide shelter and security for the cats, while still providing great viewing opportunities for visitors. This cave will have radiant heat in the ceiling, so the cats will stay cozy even on cold days.

Cemrock is also creating a large tree that will have a horizontal lounging branch running right past the window. The branch will also have a heating element to encourage them to hang out in great view.
These Cemrock guys are real artists, doing this work free form with guidance from some photos that describe the look we're going for - in this case a fallen rainforest tree.

On the other side of the exhibit is the visitor space where there will be opportunities to view videos of cubs, cats climbing (just in case they are resting when you visit), field research, wild video, and staff interacting with cats. The wood housing is for the monitor. The window will provide a peek into our "cub den" where we will house cubs that are being bottle raised.

The cub room is getting a great paint job by local artist Bob Henry:

Once the big logs were in and the crane was out of the way, mesh installation could commence:

At the same time, our horticulture team got going on plantings. Here lead horticulturist Bryon is saying goodbye to his beautiful palms as I describe what our young cloudies have in store for them (climbing, ripping, shredding, mauling...)

But right now they look beautiful!

So that brings us to the end of the day today. We still have lots to finish up over the next week or two including graphics installation, finish work behind-the-scenes, more landscape, etc. before the cats move in.

I hope you enjoyed the pictoral tour. It's pretty exciting to see it all coming together.
 I'll keep you posted on the progress and give you a peek in back next time.
Clouded Leopard Cubs on the Way!

We are thrilled to announce that one of our pairs of cats that came to us from the breeding center in Thailand is due to have cubs in mid-June. The exciting news made the front page of our local paper today. Because the pair is only 20 months old, we expected they wouldn't breed until next Spring - what a wonderful surprise! This makes Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium the third facility in the country that currently houses a breeding pair of these rare cats. Since the pair is so strongly bonded, we anticipate that they will have many more litters in the future. The Zoo also houses another young pair that we expect to breed next year. Our last litter of cubs was in 2003, so this will be a welcome return to the world of baby cloudies!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Name a Clouded Leopard!
Item ImageIf you have a little extra money to spend, here's a fun opportunity to support the great work of the National Zoo by bidding to name one of the Zoo's adorable clouded leopard cubs.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nashville Zoo Cubs
Photo: Nashville Zoo

Check out this video of the Nashville Zoo's one-month-old cubs. This is such a cute age as they start getting more mobile. These cubs represent the continuing success of the Clouded Leopard Consortium breeding program based in Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand. The three cubs are from two differenct litters born just days apart. Two cubs were born to 5-year-old Jing Jai and her mate Arun who came from Thailand in 2008. This is Jing Jai's third litter. The other cub is the first birth for 2-year old Lom Choy and her mate Luk. Lom Choy was imported from Thailand in spring 2010, and introduced to Luk, one of three cubs born to Jing Jai and Arun at Nashville Zoo in 2009.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Smithsonian Creates Camera Trap Photo Website
The Smithsonian has a new website that contains over 200,000 camera trap images from field sites all over the world. Each photo also provides details of the research project and date taken - pretty cool. There are a couple of clouded leopard photos from the Smithsonian's 2004 study in Thailand's Khao Yai National Park. Their database is searchable by species, so stop by and look for an image of your favorite animal doing its thing in the wild!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dr. JoGayle Howard, Clouded Leopard Champion
JoGayle on right with long-time friend Karen Goodrowe Beck

The conservation world has suffered a great loss this week of Dr. JoGayle Howard, reproductive physiologist with the Smithsonian Institution, who passed away Saturday morning after an incredibly brave struggle with cancer. I am lucky to have known JoGayle as a professional colleague and a friend. She leaves an incredible legacy through her remarkable dedication to conservation. Her work was instrumental in saving the black footed ferret from extinction and she was a key member of the team working to save the giant panda.

JoGayle was an amazing champion of clouded leopards, contributing significantly to our body of knowledge on their reproduction in zoos. She was the driving force behind the establishment and management of the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium that oversees the breeding program at Thailand's Khao Kheow Open Zoo. JoGayle was passionate about clouded leopards and was a personal inspiration to me in her tireless efforts to understand and improve the management of clouded leopards in zoos and protect them in the wild. If all of us could make such an impact, our world would be a much better place. She will be missed. It's hard to believe she is really gone.

JoGayle's fascinating work is featured in a new Smithsonian Channel show, Nature's Matchmakers, airing this weekend. You can view this preview.

The Washington Post ran this article yesterday with more details of her amazing professional achievements.