Saving the Bornean wildcats
Published on: Thursday, June 02, 2016
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Kota Kinabalu: An international research team led by the German IZW Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the International Union Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Special Survival Commission has published a roadmap targeted on conservation efforts for the Bornean cats and small carnivores in a special supplement of the Singapore's Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Borneo is noted for harbouring more endemic carnivores than any other island except Madagascar and about half of them are globally threatened with extinction.

The journal was published following numerous habitat conversion and fragmentation, logging, illegal hunting and fires in the Borneo rainforests threatening the survival of wildlife.

Three IUCN SSC specialist groups (the Cat Specialist Group, the Otter Specialist Group and the Small Carnivore Specialist Group), in collaboration with the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research organised the Borneo Carnivore Symposium (BCS) in 2011 in response to these threats and the paucity of knowledge about Bornean carnivores.

The lead editor of the supplement, Dr Andreas Wilting, who is also a scientist at the IZW said the goal of the BCS was to understand better the distribution and conservation needs of the Bornean cats and small carnivores and subsequently, to enable targeted conservation efforts to the carnivores that are most threatened.

"We achieved this goal through a collaborative effort of the Borneo Carnivore Consortium, a network of more than 60 national and international scientists, conservationists and naturalists working on Borneo," he said in a statement here.

The results of this symposium include 15 small carnivore and five wild cat papers which discuss among others conservation and research priorities for each of the 20 Bornean small carnivores and cats.

However, a scientist from the IUCN Dr J.W. Duckworth said the intent to model the distribution of four Bornean otters could not be realised because too few records could be traced.

"The conservation status of the carnivores which occur nowhere but Borneo and those of upper highland, extreme lowland and wetland habitats is particularly worrying.

"The BCS and this supplement were able to provide important new information which was recently used to update the Red List accounts, thereby enabling governmental agencies and other conservationists to focus efforts and resources on these threatened species," he said.

The flat-headed cat and the otter civet are two such lowland and wetland specialists, he said, adding that they are well-equipped to hunt fish with their webbed feet.

But to do so, he said these animals require natural wetlands – a habitat that is rapidly shrinking.

Last year, peatlands and lowlands in Indonesia burnt for months causing an environmental and ecological disaster and further increased the threat of extinction of these species.

Equally threatened, but restricted to the highlands are Hose's civet and the Bornean ferret badger.

Lead author of a community paper, John Mathai said in the supplement explained that these highland species are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate, but also habitat, changes.

"However, besides changes in climate and habitat and threats from illegal hunting, bushmeat trade and forest and peatland fires, the major conservation issue facing Bornean carnivores is the lack of awareness on the gravity of the problem," he said.

The Borneo Carnivore Consortium hoped this supplement will serve as a catalyst for future collaborative conservation initiatives between scientists and practitioners.

Sabah Wildlife Department Director William Baya meanwhile noted that more joint conservation efforts with the oil palm and forestry industries should be done, along with better collaboration with scientists and conservationists with locals and the authorities to protect the diversity of carnivores in the remaining rainforests of Borneo.

He believed the published roadmap will provide guidance about needed activities in key carnivore landscapes.



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