Race to protect Borneo carnivores

A male Sunda clouded leopard, photographed at around 1,300m above sea level in Crocker Range Park in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, in 2011. The species is listed as vulnerable. Creatures sighted using camera traps include (from left) an otter civet in Sab
A male Sunda clouded leopard, photographed at around 1,300m above sea level in Crocker Range Park in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, in 2011. The species is listed as vulnerable.PHOTO: A.J. HEARN, J. ROSS AND D.W. MACDONALD
A male Sunda clouded leopard, photographed at around 1,300m above sea level in Crocker Range Park in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, in 2011. The species is listed as vulnerable. Creatures sighted using camera traps include (from left) an otter civet in Sab
Creatures sighted using camera traps include an otter civet in Sabangau peat-swamp forest in Central Kalimantan in 2009 (above). Many of the animals are shy and elusive, and information about them remains scarce.PHOTO: SUSAN M. CHEYNE/OUTROP
A male Sunda clouded leopard, photographed at around 1,300m above sea level in Crocker Range Park in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, in 2011. The species is listed as vulnerable. Creatures sighted using camera traps include (from left) an otter civet in Sab
Creatures sighted using camera traps include a flat-headed cat in Sabah's Tangkulap Forest Reserve in 2009 (above). Many of the animals are shy and elusive, and information about them remains scarce.PHOTO: MOHAMED & WILTING/IZW
A male Sunda clouded leopard, photographed at around 1,300m above sea level in Crocker Range Park in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, in 2011. The species is listed as vulnerable. Creatures sighted using camera traps include (from left) an otter civet in Sab
Creatures sighted using camera traps include a bay cat in Sabah's Danum Valley Conservation Area in 2008 (above). Many of the animals are shy and elusive, and information about them remains scarce.PHOTO: SFD, SWD, A.J. HEARN AND J. ROSS

Experts put together road map highlighting threats, action needed to conserve species

The island of Borneo is home to 25 carnivores - of which about half are globally threatened with extinction. But little is known about these animals, so planning conservation efforts for them is a challenge.

To address this, a group of international and local Bornean experts have put together a road map for the conservation of the cats and small carnivores of Borneo.

It consists of a total of 24 research papers, which were published in May in a special supplement in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

These papers, including 15 on small carnivores and five on wild cats, cover a wide range of issues such as key areas for protection, main threats to the species and action needed to mitigate threats.

"To protect these species, we first need to understand them, at least in terms of basic ecology and distribution," said Mr John Mathai, a wildlife ecologist from Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, who co-wrote several of the papers.

"Without this basic knowledge, it is difficult, and in some cases even impossible, to apply targeted conservation efforts."

Not knowing the distribution of these species, for example, would make it hard for scientists to recommend areas to be prioritised for protection, Mr Mathai explained.

Information about these species remains scarce because many of the animals are shy and elusive, he added.

The number of encounters with species such as the Hose's civet and Bornean ferret badger remain low, although technologies such as camera traps have been used widely over the past decade.

Of the 25 species, five are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered: the hairy-nosed otter, otter civet, bay cat, flat-headed cat and Bornean ferret badger.

Another six are listed as vulnerable: the smooth-coated otter, Asian small-clawed otter, binturong, Hose's civet, Sunda clouded leopard and sun bear.

The conservation status of endemic Borneo carnivores that live in upper highland, extreme lowland and wetland habitats is especially worrying.

The flat-headed cat and the otter civet, for instance, are well equipped to hunt fish with their webbed feet but can do so only in natural wetland habitats, which are shrinking rapidly, said Dr Andreas Wilting. He is a scientist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, and the lead editor of the supplement.

"Last year, peatlands and lowlands in Indonesia were burning for months, an environmental and ecological disaster, increasing the threat of extinction for these species," he added.

Despite the worrying situation, researchers have been coming together to discuss how these species can be conserved, and the special supplement is a start.

It is the work of more than 60 international and national scientists, conservationists and naturalists who formed the Borneo Carnivore Consortium.

This was after a symposium was organised in 2011 to discuss the distribution and conservation needs of Bornean cats and small carnivores.

Mr Mathai hopes the supplement will be useful for scientists, practitioners and governmental authorities. "Traditionally, and even today, more funds, effort and resources are allocated to the more charismatic species such as Bornean orang utans and Asian elephants," he said.

"Little emphasis has been given to the smaller, not-so-charismatic species including some of the most threatened small carnivores."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'Race to protect Borneo carnivores'. Print Edition | Subscribe