The world's least known cat has been caught on camera in a previously unsurveyed rainforest by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Imperial College London.
Until now, the bay cat (Pardofelis badia) had been recorded on camera traps just a handful of times in its Borneo forest home and was only photographed in the wild for the first time in 2003. But more images of this animal have been captured than ever before, together with evidence of four other wild cat species, in a heavily logged area of forest where they were not expected to thrive.
This is only one of four forest areas in all of Borneo – the third largest island in the world - which has so far been reported to have all five species, including the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) and marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata).
ZSL and Imperial College London PhD researcher Oliver Wearn says: "We discovered that randomly placed cameras have a big influence on the species recorded. 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 quadrats 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."
Camera traps have transformed how information is collected for many species of mammals and birds, including some of the most charismatic species in existence, like tigers. Many of these species are exceedingly good at spotting, and avoiding, conservationists who spend time in the field seeking them. Camera traps, on the other hand, sit silently in the forest often working for months on end come rain or shine.
Oliver Wearn added: "The cameras record multiple sightings, sometimes of species which we might be very lucky to see even after spending years in an area. 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."
All five cat species mentioned are charismatic and important components of the forest ecosystems, and predators of a wide range of other animals. They are also highly-threatened: four of the five species are listed as threatened with global extinction on the IUCN Red List. Almost nothing is known about the habits of the mysterious bay cat, but it is thought to be at risk of extinction due to widespread loss of its habitat on Borneo.
Dr Robert Ewers from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, leads the SAFE tropical forest conservation project in Borneo, where the bay cats were seen. He says: "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. 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," Dr Ewers added.
ZSL and Imperial College London conservationists will continue to study the effects of logging on wildlife populations, looking more broadly than just the highly charismatic cats, towards other mammal species, both large and small. More detailed work aims to gather the information palm oil producers need to make their plantations more mammal-friendly, and assess whether saving patches of forest within such areas might be a viable option for saving Borneo's mammals.
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Interviews: Available with Oliver Wearn or Dr Robert Ewers on request
Link to paper in PLOS ONE: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.007759
High resolution images: https://zslondon.sharefile.com/d/s5edd514d9b04f648
HD B-roll of bay cat Pardofelis badia: https://zslondon.sharefile.com/d/s01c1feea60b40a49
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our groundbreaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two Zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit http://www.zsl.org
Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.
Imperial College London leads the SAFE Project where this study was conducted. SAFE is a large consortium of more than 140 researchers around the world investigating the effects of logging and deforestation on rainforest ecology and biodiversity. It is funded by the Sime Darby Foundation. For more information visit http://www.safeproject.net
IUCN Red List of threatened species
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on plants and animals that have been globally evaluated using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. This system is designed to determine the relative risk of extinction, and the main purpose of the IUCN Red List is to catalogue and highlight those plants and animals that are facing a higher risk of global extinction (i.e. those listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable). The IUCN Red List also includes information on plants and animals that are categorized as Extinct or Extinct in the Wild; on taxa that cannot be evaluated because of insufficient information (i.e., are Data Deficient); and on plants and animals that are either close to meeting the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened were it not for an ongoing taxon-specific conservation programme (i.e., are Near Threatened). For more information visit http://www.iucnredlist.org/about
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