Monday, January 08, 2018

Matador Network: Searching for wild cats in Borneo and scaring away poachers

Standing on the rickety suspension bridge over the Segama River, I am enveloped in the lush greenery of the ancient tropical rainforest. The heat is palpable, and the moisture-laden air is buzzing with a cacophony of insect calls. Thick clouds of mist drift lazily over the treetops and a rumbling sound growing in the distance warns of an approaching downpour.

This is Borneo’s Danum Valley, home to one of the oldest rainforests on Earth. Estimated to be 140 million years old, this forest has a distinctly primeval feeling to it. I almost expect a raging Tyrannosaurus rex to burst out of the mist.

But I am here to look for much less sinister creatures. Danum Valley is home to all five species of Borneo’s wild cats: the almost-never-seen Borneo bay cat, the elusive Sunda clouded leopard and marbled cat, the endangered flat-headed cat, and Borneo’s own species of leopard cat — the Sunda leopard cat.

Most of these cats are nocturnal hunters, concealed deep in the jungle during the daylight hours. But the jungle is teaming with life at any time of the day.

I return to the Field Centre — the research facility where I am staying, and discover a group of maroon langurs lounging in the low branches of the trees and occasionally sprinting across the lawn. It is a rare sight to see these handsome canopy-dwelling primates at such close range. They wouldn’t be as cheeky in the presence of a clouded leopard, but lucky for them, and not as much for me, no cats are lurking in the shadows.

Searching the jungle at night

When the darkness falls, our guide Mike leads us on a night drive. Standing in the back of a pickup truck, we follow the beam of Mike’s spotlight, as it dances across the solid wall of jungle. Soon we spot a three-striped palm civet munching on fruit high up in the canopy. Next, Mike points out a slow loris looking down at us with its cartoonishly large eyes.