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Sumatra
The Indonesian Wildcat Conservation Project paw
Clouded Leopard Education Projects
The Indonesian Wildcat Conservation Project

Principal Investigators:

Jennifer McCarthy, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Todd Fuller, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Newsletter 1 - McCarthy Field Report (pdf)

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Erosion evident along coffee fields on the border of BBSNP.
Indonesia supports one of the highest levels of mammal biodiversity of any nation in the world, yet in recent decades its forests have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Millions of hectares of land have been converted for acacia and palm oil plantations, coffee fields, or in illegal logging operations. The remaining habitat is often highly fragmented by roads and developments, and protected areas are increasingly turning into islands of isolated forest in the midst of a sea of agriculture and development. In Sumatra alone, over 50% of the forested land has been cleared since 1987, making habitat degradation the single greatest threat to wildlife in the region. Owing to their habitat specificity and sensitivity to human disturbance, felids are among the most effected by habitat loss, with some facing extirpation, or even extinction, before effective conservation initiatives can be implemented. This issue is especially relevant in Sumatra as six felid species occur sympatrically: the Sumatran tiger (Panthera sumatrae), the Sundaland clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), the Asiatic golden cat (Catopuma temminckii), the marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), the flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), and the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). Although there are several ongoing studies focused on the Sumatran tiger, there have been no field studies on the other five species, and their status and life history in Sumatra remain an enigma.

To address the lack of information on the small and medium-sized felids of Sumatra, the Indonesian Wildcat Conservation Project (IWCCP) began in the spring of 2008. The goal of the project is to provide the first focused information on the status and ecology of these felids in Sumatra, with efforts concentrated on the clouded leopard, the golden cat and the marbled cat. The study is multifaceted, combining live trapping, camera trapping and landowner surveys to provide a maximum amount of information on these illusive felids. Fieldwork began in October 2008 in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and will continue for roughly three years. Information from this study will provide management officials with basic knowledge on the status of these species in Sumatra, and the tools to develop more effective conservation initiatives and management plans.

Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP)
pristine forest
Pristine forest inside BBSNP.

BBSNP is located in southern Sumatra, spanning the provinces of Lampung, Bengkulu and South Sumatra. It was founded as a wildlife sanctuary in 1935, and was designated a national park in 1982. Stretching over 3,568 km², the park contains some of last intact lowland forest in Sumatra and is home to numerous endangered species, including: the Sumatran elephant, the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran striped rabbit and the Sumatran rhino. In recent years, the park has been inundated by illegal logging, agricultural encroachment and poaching, losing nearly 20% of its forests in the past two decades. Despite this loss, a wide variety species continue to thrive within the park and it remains an important sanctuary for Sumatran wildlife.

The study site for this project is located in a remote region of the park, outside the small city of Liwa. The base camp is situated among the coffee plantations that border the protected area, yet it is only a short hike to some of the most pristine forest in the entire park.

Live Trapping

Live-trapping efforts in Liwa began in December of 2008, with 23 traps spread throughout the study area. Trapped animals are anesthetized by the staff veterinarian and then fitted with either a VHF or GPS collar, depending on the size of the animal. These collars allow the researchers to track the movementsof the animal for up to two years, giving an unprecedented insight into the lives of these cats. The data will provide valuable information on the habitat use, activity patterns and movements of these species in Sumatra; information that will help managers to prioritize conservation efforts and implement effective management strategies for the species.

So far, the project has had some very exciting results. After only 13 days of trapping, a young female golden cat was captured. She is the first golden cat collared in Indonesia and only the third collared golden cat in the world. Kapemie, as she was quickly dubbed by the field assistants, was anesthetized and fitted with a SirTrack VHF collar. Body measurements were recorded and biological samples collected for future analysis. The researchers have been following her movements since her capture and this information will offer the first insight into the species habitat requirements and movements in Sumatra.

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A sedated Kapemie being measured (above) and (below) fitted with a VHF collar.

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A cage trap, one of the methods used for live-capture.

Camera Trapping

Camera trapping throughout BBSNP will begin during the summer of 2009. Camera trapping is a valuable monitoring method that allows the identification of individual animals within the study area and the estimation of the population density. Specially designed digital cameras are placed in pairs throughout the study area and record a photograph of both sides of any animal that walks in front of the camera. Once the pictures are recovered from the field, researchers identify individual cats based on their unique spot patterns and any identifying characteristics. Capture-recapture methods are used to generate estimates of population size and density. These data will be compared to historical camera trapping results in the park, to assess the population trend of small and medium-sized felids in BBSNP over the past 10 years. The project also plans to facilitate the development of a camera trapping protocol and training for the park staff, so that population monitoring of clouded leopards, marbled cats and golden cats in BBSNP can continue in the future.

Landowner Surveys

Beginning in February 2009, the IWCCP collaborated with faculty at the Forestry Department at the University of Lampung (UniLa) to administer landowner surveys. The surveys are designed to assess the level and nature of conflict between villagers and the small to medium-sized felids. Although there have been previous studies on human-tiger conflict, this is the first of its kind for the smaller felids in Sumatra. Surveys will be conducted over the next two years at numerous villages along the park border and within enclaves into the park. The surveys are administered by a combined team of IWCCP researchers and undergraduate students from UniLa.

The results of the initial surveys have been surprising and extremely valuable. While reports of conflict with tigers are quite frequent, villagers rarely report conflict with the smaller felids to park staff. However, IWCCP surveys indicated that conflict was in fact occurring fairly frequently. Many landowners reported depredation of chickens and other small livestock by clouded leopards, marbled cats, golden cats and leopard cats. There have even been indications of retribution killing of these species. This information is very important, because it was previously thought that conflict with humans was not a large source of mortality for the smaller felid species. Instead, this data indicates that it is a crucial consideration, and that conflict mitigation and education will play a significant role in the preservation of the species in Sumatra.


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Jenni discussing survey protocol with the students from the University of Lampung.

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Apita administering surveys in the village of Sukaraja.

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Fandi showing pictures of different felid species to a villager in Sukaraja.

The Team

Jennifer McCarthy is a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is the IWCCP project leader. Jenni has worked with several wild cat species, but the wild felids of Sumatra sparked her interest several years ago and she was excited to get the chance to work on their conservation for her dissertation project. Untung Wijayanto is the IWCCP project manager and arranges all logistical issues. He has worked extensively with the wildlife of Sumatra, running projects on everything from tigers to orangutans. Dr. Kamal Riza is the staff veterinarian for the project. He is originally from Bali, and has worked with a wide variety of both domestic and wild animals. Agus, Nedy, Budi and Kyle are the dedicated assistants for the project and toil tirelessly through the jungles to check traps and track collared animals. Apita and Fandi are undergraduate researchers from the Department of Forestry at the University of Lampung and have worked extensively with the survey team.

team

Support

The IWCCP relies on the continued support of organizations and individuals. To date, funding has been provided by the Small Cat Conservation Alliance, The Cat Action Treasury, John and Cathie Martyny, The Panthera Foundation, Mary Benson, Kevin Stonner, Joy Cole and Lisa McCarthy. Additional support was provided by The Smithsonian National Zoo, The Wildlife Conservation Society – Indonesia Program, The Staff of Taman Nasional Bukit Barisan Selatan, Indonesian Department of Forestry, The Conservation Science Initiative, The Bird and Exotic Clinic of Seattle and Dr. Kim Berger.