November 5, 2013
Borneo’s Rare Bay Cat Caught On Camera
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Using camera traps, ecologists in Borneo have captured images of the elusive bay cat (Pardofelis badia) in a heavily logged forest – an indication that threatened species can survive amidst intense human activity.
According to the ecology team’s report in the journal PLOS ONE, their cameras were able to capture more images of this animal than ever before, along with evidence of four other wild cat species, in an area of forest where these animals were not expected to succeed.
"We discovered that randomly placed cameras have a big influence on the species recorded,” said study author Oliver Wearn, a researcher with the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College London. “This is something I was taught in school – I remember doing a project on which plant species were most abundant on our playing field, and being taught to fling (plastic sampling squares) over my shoulder in a random direction before seeing what plants lay within it, rather than placing it somewhere that looked like a good place to put it – the same principle applies here."
The cats were spotted in one of four forest areas on the Indonesian island of Borneo – the third largest island in the world. In addition to the bay cat, the study team also saw the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) and marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata).
Camera traps have revolutionized the field of ecology because they can collect information on many species of mammals and birds. Many of these species are very good at detecting and avoiding scientists in the field looking for them.
"The cameras record multiple sightings, sometimes of species which we might be very lucky to see even after spending years in an area,” Wearn said. “For example, I've seen the clouded leopard just twice in three years of fieldwork, whilst my cameras recorded 14 video sequences of this enigmatic cat in just eight months."
These cat species are considered highly-threatened – with four of five classified as threatened with global extinction on the IUCN Red List, an internationally-recognized conservation standard. Hardly anything is known about the behavior of the bay cat, but it is believed to be threatened by widespread loss of habitat.
"We were completely surprised to see so many bay cats at these sites in Borneo where natural forests have been so heavily logged for the timber trade,” said Robert Ewers, who leads the SAFE tropical forest conservation project in Borneo, where the bay cats were spotted. “Conservationists used to assume that very few wild animals can live in logged forest, but we now know this land can be home for many endangered species.”
"Our study today shows solid evidence that even large carnivores, such as these magnificent bay cats, can survive in commercially logged forests," added Ewers, a researcher in the Department of Life Sciences at ICL.
The study researchers said they will continue to look at the effects of logging on wildlife populations large and small. They plan to collect data that palm oil producers need to make their plantations more mammal-friendly, and evaluate whether saving sections of forest within such areas might be a way to save Borneo's mammals.