The first Borneo Carnivore Symposium (BCS) was concluded on a high note this week as worldwide experts determined species priorities for the Bornean nations of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia.
“Coming together with scientists, conservationists and Government agencies is the first step to ensuring that we all are on the same page in our efforts to ensure the survival of all our carnivores,” said Dr. Laurentius Ambu, the Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD).
The Symposium saw almost 200 delegates from 15 countries participating in the presentations and discussions of this diverse range of carnivore species which include cats such as the enigmatic Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi); civets such as the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga) which is locally known as the Tangalunga; Sunda Stink Badger (Mydaus javanensis) which is more commonly known as the Malay Badger or Teledu; and the ever playful otters.
“One of our goals was to establish a knowledge base for the priority areas and threats faced by these unique species, three of which only occur here in Borneo,” said Laurentius who was also the Organising Chairperson for the BCS.
As with many other species of wildlife, the carnivores too need adequate forest range which cover a variety of different types of forest that support different communities of both wildlife and plant life diversity.
“In Borneo we are fortunate that we still have these types of conditions, however we must work to ensure that this type of mosaic of forest types remain intact and if developed for other uses such as agriculture like oil palm, it is done so with proper landscape planning to ensure species survival,” shared Laurentius.
According to Dr. William Duckworth of the International Union for Conservation of Nature/ Species Survival Commission’s (IUCN/SSC) Small Carnivore Specialist Group, the Symposium also will be used to upgrade some of the carnivores on the IUCN/SSC Red List of Threatened Species.
“The IUCN/SSC Red List is important for determining the status of species and at this Symposium, we have for example compiled enough data to remove the status of species listed as Data Deficient to a higher category such as under threat, which in turn helps scientists, conservationists and Governmental agencies to focus on them,” explained Duckworth.
Borneo Ferret Badger (Melogale everetti)
One such species likely to receive such status following the BCS is the Borneo Ferret Badger (Melogale everetti), which has only been found on highland areas such as Sabah’s Crocker Range.
“We really do not know much about the Borneo Ferret Badger even about its habitat, but the fact that all confirmed records only come from high elevation areas of Sabah’s Crocker Range and Kinabalu National Parks,” said Duckworth.
However, the Sabah Museum according to Andreas Wilting of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), has a surprisingly large collection of this species collected in the 1960s!
“I was surprised to find that the Sabah Museum had a collection of 57 specimens which were recorded to be obtained from Tuaran, Tambunan and Penampang,” said Wilting who was also the Organising Vice-Chair for the BCS.
According to Duckworth, this means that the Borneo Ferret Badger has the smallest known distribution range among all tropical Asian carnivores. Because of this and data compiled from the BCS, it will be upgraded to be listed as threaten on the IUCN Red List.
Borneo Bay Cat (Catopuma badia)
The first recorded specimen of the Borneo Bay Cat (Catopuma badia), another unique species for Borneo, was identified and described in 1855 by Alfred Russell Wallace.
“Wallace obtained his specimen in the vicinity of Kuching and since then only a dozen further specimens of this extremely elusive Cat were recorded,” shared Dr. Christine Breitenmoser-Wuersten, Co-Chair IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group.
Most of these specimens were recorded in Kuching (which in the Malay language means Cat) and Baram region of Sarawak with one specimen coming from the upper Mahakam River in Kalimantan.
“After the last specimen was obtained in Kuching in 1928, it was never recorded again by collectors until a live specimen was brought to the Sarawak Museum in 1992 after it was seized at the Kalimantan Sarawak border from poachers who had captured and caged it for several months,” said Breitenmoser-Wuersten.
This amazing find effectively brought a species thought to be extinct “back to life” and since then it is known as being the most elusive of all five Bornean Cats species.
“It took another 10 years before it was finally photographed in the wild in the Mulu National Park region in 2002 by researchers,” according to Breitenmoser-Wuersten.
Sabah’s first records of the Bay Cat were captured on a camera trap in Danum Valley by Oxford University’s WildCRU on 28th of November in 2006.
Hairy-nosed Otter (Lutra sumatrana)
After 100 years of perceived absence from Sabah, it was only in July of last year that the “rediscovery” of the Hairy-nosed Otter (Lutra sumatrana) in Deramakot Forest Reserve in Sabah was announced by the IZW, SWD and Sabah Forestry Department research collaboration.
“Even over the whole island of Borneo the last record – a road-kill from Brunei – was 1997. Therefore it was unknown to scientists if this species can be still found on Borneo,” said Dr. Nicole Duplaix Acting-Chair of the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group.
Otters are important indicators of the environmental health of the wetlands they inhabit and Borneo has three of the four Asian otter species.
“At this Symposium, we finally put to rest whether the Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) ever occurred in Borneo and based on thorough examination we have decided it is highly unlikely that it did. Therefore it will be removed from the Bornean list leaving three confirmed otter species occurring here,” explained Duplaix.
Otter Civet (Cynogale bennettii)
The Otter Civet (Cynogale bennettii) is a most unusual species of civet which looks like a cross between an otter and a badger but it is however a civet!
“Nature always has surprises for us and the Otter Civet is certainly one of these here surprises,” said Dr. Jerrold L. Belant, Chair of the IUCN /SSC Small Carnivore Specialist Group.
The Otter Civet is also thought to be one of the rarest of all civet species in the whole of South East Asia and is listed as being endangered on the IUCN/SSC Red List.
“This extremely unique civet represents a group of species such as the Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps) and the three otter species that are tied to wetlands. Loss of such habitat type or increased pollution into such areas means that these species will not survive,” elaborated Belant.
The Symposium was organised by the SWD, IUCN/Species Survival Commission’s Cat, Small Carnivore & Otter Specialist Groups and the IZW from Germany and held at the Palace Hotel in Kota Kinabalu and the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort in Tuaran over the span of a week.
Funding and support was provided by a dedicated group of partners and sponsors; Benta Wawasan Sdn.Bhd., British Ecological Society, Chester Zoo / North England Zoological Society, The Clouded Leopard Project, Columbus Zoo, Mississippi State University, Flora Blossom Sdn. Bhd., Houston Zoo, Karl Mayer Foundation, KTS Plantation Sdn. Bhd., Malaysia Airlines, Nashville Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Shared Earth Foundation, The UsitawiNetwork, Wild Cat Club, WWF – Germany, WWF – Malaysia.
Joint Press Release from Sabah Wildlife Department, International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research