Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Elusive Marbled Cats Secretly Photographed in Sabah, Borneo


A secret photo shoot deep in the forests of Malaysian Borneo is helping researchers determine just how many marbled cats — rare, tree-climbing felines — live in the region, according to a new study.

Marbled cats (Pardofelis marmorata) are extremely elusive creatures. To get a better idea of the cats' stomping grounds, the researchers placed camera traps in eight forests and two palm oil plantations in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, they said.

After four months of secret, motion-triggered infrared photography, the researchers found that marbled cats are most numerous in the lowlands where the forest is undisturbed. However, they did find a few cats in selectively logged areas.


"We show that marbled cats can still survive in logged forests," said study lead researcher Andrew Hearn, a doctoral candidate at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

"This lends further weight to the argument that such disturbed forests are important to the conservation of biodiversity and should be preserved wherever possible."

Little is known about the cats, which are named for their marble-patterned fur. They live in dense tropical forests, and are rarely seen, except for the odd camera-trap sighting.

Perhaps that's because the species is listed as "near threatened," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list, largely due to habitat loss and poaching.

In the new study, the researchers used the surreptitiously taken photos to identify individual cats and estimate the species' population density and distribution. They found that the lowland Danum Valley Conservation Area had about 19.5 cats per 39 square miles (100 square kilometers).

Tawau Hills Park had fewer — about seven cats per 39 square miles. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which was selectively logged from 1969 to 1989, had an estimated density of about 10 cats per 39 square miles.

These estimates provide "tentative evidence" that undisturbed, lowland hill forests have the highest densities of marbled cats, Hearn said. Other areas, including disturbed lowlands and undisturbed highlands, had lower densities of the cats, he said.

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