Bornean Bay Cat

Screenshot of Bay Cat story of LIveScience

Screenshot of Bay Cat story on LiveScience

Some of you may have read the Live Science article about the Bay Cat photo that was published last week. If not, you can check it out here. I am really excited that the photograph was published by a media outlet with such a large readership. It even made the front page of yahoo!! Even more importantly, I am ecstatic because the Bay Cat is getting more attention. As an endangered feline it needs all the help it can get.

I do want to elaborate on the article — they have word limits, I do not :). I wanted to discuss the tremendous importance of working with the biologists studying this wild cat to make a photograph of this incredibly elusive feline.

But first some background…

As always before an assignment, I read as much about the Bay Cat before I went into the field. The research allows me to put myself in a better position to either encounter the animal or place the camera traps in the right locations.

As soon as I started reading about this cat, I knew that getting a photograph of it was going to be tough. There was so little known about it. In fact, by 2004 only 12 specimens had ever been found, and direct sightings (known to the outside world) could be counted on one hand. Nothing, besides educated guesses, is known about their predation, social organization, reproduction, and development.

And this isn’t even the case just on a global level, but even on Borneo, which the Bay Cat is endemic to (only found there). Less than 30 percent of people that live in the rainforest who were interviewed in a study could identify the Bay Cat.

The percentage of people able to name the species of Borneo's wild cat - Copyright and All Permission belong to Andrew Hearn

The percentage of people able to name the species of Borneo’s wild cat (Ross et al. 2010)

I left for Sabah, the most northern Malaysian state in Borneo, in February with high hopes and expectations (what can I say, being naive and optimistic is just the way I am). I would have five weeks to get the first ever high resolution picture of a wild Bay Cat. Luckily for me, I would not have to go at this endeavor alone, nor would I have ever had any chance of success without the help of Andrew Hearn and his team.

Andy is the expert on felids in Borneo. He knows everything there is to know about the five species of cats found on the island. In fact, most of the stuff I had read about the species was written by Andy. He has been doing his PhD research on the wild cats here for the last seven years and has seen all of them in person. Like I said, Andy is THE expert.

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) researcher Andrew Hearn checking camera trap, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) researcher Andrew Hearn checking camera trap, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Andy had gotten one or two pictures of the Bay Cat in some of his previous research sites, but none of the cats ever showed up at the same camera set twice. There seemed to be no predictable behavior for this animal. Not a good thing when you only have four digital SLR camera traps and a huge rainforest to put them in. Then, the luck seemed to change our way, at Andy’s latest research site he had gotten four pictures of the same cat at the same camera location. We knew where we had to place our cameras.

Two of them went right along the cats travel path, another 60 feet down the trail and another near a nice buttress root — I figured we may as well go for a pretty picture 🙂

After three weeks we checked the cameras. Besides finding the cameras covered with mold (due to the extreme humidity) there were no cats on the cameras. A very disappointing start, but at least we had gotten a few pictures of the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga).

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

My confidence diminished, my optimism grew slim. A nice punch in the face came when Andy pulled the pictures of this research cameras, next to my SLR camera traps, showing how the Bay Cat had used a different trail this time walking right by my set-up, but also avoiding the camera further down the trail.

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I could hear myself saying “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. This wasn’t the time to give up. We had the cameras in great locations, we just had to hope the cat would return before I had to leave.

Five weeks had almost passed and I was leaving in a few days. We hiked up the hill to check and pack up the cameras. Still, no Bay Cat, but at least we were able to get photographs of both the Marbled Cat and Sunda Clouded Leopard.

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

I returned home excited for having pictures of these species but also disappointed for not having gotten a picture of the Bay Cat. I felt like the ship had sailed on that opportunity. Little did I know that I would return to Borneo to work with Andy once again a few months later. Returning in November we once again placed the cameras in or near areas where Andy had gotten a Bay Cat photograph before using his research trail cameras. This had to be the time, it just had to.

Again things proved difficult. The rain was unrelenting making set-up quit difficult. “Just got to get on with it” is something Andy would always say when he encountered a difficult situation and I admire that about him, but it is also something I have tried taking to heart for myself. Even with the rains, difficult terrain, fire ants, leeches, horse flies, we just had to get on with it. Finally, after six days, all the cameras were in place.

Then, Andy and Gilmore Bolongon (Andy’s former research assistant and now a masters student) had to return to their principal research location on the Kinabatanagan River. I would meet up with them in ten days, right after doing the first camera check.

Arriving at the first camera after an exhausting first part of the hike I was hopeful, yet cautious. Scrolling through the pictures, reality struck, no Bay Cat picture.

Two more cameras await three more miles up the mountain. Not knowing what pictures await me up there is both a driving force, and a barrier. It would almost be easier not knowing if there was a Bay Cat picture, then knowing for sure that there were none. I am way too curious of a person not to know, so I kept hiking.

I arrived at the second camera, only feet from the third camera. Again, no Bay Cat picture.

The third camera didn’t hold much promise due to its proximity with the unsuccessful second camera trap. It was located on a very faint game trail off of the main trail. My hopes were low. The scream I let out once I saw what was on the camera must have scared all the animals away in a two mile radius. If that didn’t do it, the dance I did after that would have. I was exhilarated. As soon as I could, I let Andy and Gil know. This Bay Cat picture exists because of the teamwork between all three of us.

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Andy has eighty camera set-ups in this research site (160 in total, but there are always two per site to get both sides of the animal). Without them we would have had no clue where a good spot would have been to get the high-resolution picture. Even more importantly, with all of Andy’s research there will finally be some light shed on the biology of the wild cats here.

His research is looking at population size, density, habitat preference, habitat use, and prey base. With this information, it will be possible to draw up a conservation plan to protect this endangered species, as well as the other felids on Borneo. You can read more about his incredibly important (and fascinating might I say!!!) research here: http://borneanwildcat.blogspot.com/

Panthera, the world’s leading cat conservation organization, is partially funding Andy’s research. By donating to them you are directly helping them implement steps into conserving our wild feline friends. If you have a chance visit their webpage.

 

References:

Hearn, A., Sanderson, J., Ross, J., Wilting, A. & Sunarto, S. 2008b. Pardofelis badia. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
Ross et al 2010. Framework for Bornean wild cat action plan
Sunquist, M., Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the World, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 48–51

 

Free Nature Wallpaper for Download – Crimson Sunbird

This male Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) would routinely feed on the flower nectar of this ornamental tree planted in Tawau Hills Park, in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Like clockwork, he would show up at 6:15am and feed for fifteen minutes. It was amazing seeing this brightly colored bird quickly fly from flower to flower, feeding on the nectar they provided. Another amazing treat to get to witness.

As always, just click on the image for the wallpaper sized image or use this link Crimson Sunbird Male on Flower.

Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) male on flower, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) male on flower, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Aptos Pumas Mating Pair

Like most other felines, pumas live a rather solitary life. The only prolonged periods of time multiple animals spend time together is the 15 month period (on average) cubs spend with their mother.Though undoubtedly there are instances where cougars run into each other (like at a kill, for example when these two females with cubs met) but those encounters seem to be avoided by communication through various olfactory, visual, and auditory signs. Those same signs however can also be clues left by a female to signal a male she is sexually receptive. Researchers believe that urine marks and vocalizing are the primary ways a female advertises her ‘availability’. This vocalization is what is referred to as caterwauling and it is quite an impressive sound. Have a listen:

Audio of Female Cougar in Heat

That would get my attention as well, though I wouldn’t want to necessarily go towards the sound.

Female mountain lions have an estrus of four to twelve days with an average of seven to eight days (data from captive studies). This is a rather short period of time for a male to find a female when you occupy as large of home ranges as they do, so it makes sense to create an obvious ‘hey, I am right here!’ kind of signal. Once they do find each other a breeding pair will stay together for one to sixteen days with one to four days being most typical. After the business is done the male will leave again (I know, I know, typical male behavior….).

So, is this meet up of two mountain lions a mating pair in the pictures below. The mountain lion front and center is our resident female, Artemis (named so after the Greek goddess of the hunt, based on her forehead mark resembling Artemis’s bow — can you tell my girlfriend came up with that one??) but if you look carefully on the right there is another puma, a rather large puma, sitting off to the side.

Mountain Lions in Aptos, California Taken: July 13th, 2011 @ 5:34pm

Mountain Lions in Aptos, California Taken: July 13th, 2011 @ 5:34pm

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Is it a male? What do you think? If it is indeed a male and breeding was successful then we may have kittens starting around about October 15th of this year….time will tell!

Bibliography:

Ross, P.I. and M.G. Jalkotzy. 1992. Characteristics of a hunted population of cougars in southwestern Alberta. Journal of Wildlife Managment. 56:417-426

Mehrer, C.F. 1975. Some aspects of reproduction in captive mountain lions Felis concolor, bobcats Lynx rufus, and lynx Lynx canadensis. Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Dakote, Grand Forks.

Rabb, G.B. 1959. Reproductive and vocal behavior in captive mountain lions.

Seidensticker, J.C., M.G. Hornocker, W.V. Wiles, and J.P. Messick. 1973. Mountain Lion social organization in the Idaho Primitive Area. Wildlife Monogram 35: 1-60

Audio Courtesy of Felidae Conservation Fund.

Once in a lifetime California Condor experience

If you spend enough time outdoors eventually you get lucky to have ‘once in a lifetime’ wildlife experiences. We all remember these distinct events clearly and I know I won’t forget any of them for the rest of my life. This last weekend I was lucky enough to once again have one of these completely breath taking encounters.

Jeff Swanson, a good friend of mine and amazing landscape photographer, and I made the trek to Pinnacles National Monument to try and find some California Red-legged Frogs that JK let us know we could find there (thanks again Jake). Since we wanted to be at Bear Gulch Reservoir by sunrise that meant getting up at 3:00am. It was amazing to be the only people at the reservoir, it was completely tranquil and quiet (except beautiful bird calls of course!).

Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Monument

Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Monument

Since we didn’t have much luck finding adult frogs (we did find tadpoles which were awesome) and the light was getting harsher we decided to go for a little hike. First we encountered this amazing valley scene:

Bear Gulch, Pinnacles National Monument

Bear Gulch, Pinnacles National Monument

and then as we were higher up the trail we saw what I was hoping for the whole time while hiking, California Condors!

There were a couple of them perched in a tree so I left my gear with Jeff and went into stalking mode. I was still quite a bit away but got some images with the 100-400 telephoto lens when one of the birds flew right at me and landed on the rocks fifteen feet away from Jeff. I got back there as quickly and quietly as I could, hoping to be fast enough to get some shots but also not too fast to scare the bird away. The juvenile condor then decided it wanted a closer look at Jeff and I so he started hopping even closer (if you have ever seen a condor hop, you know how funny yet powerful it looks). My heart was pounding and my body was shaking from the excitement. I decided to grab some portrait shots while I had the chance, knowing that this was a rare event.

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

After having taken about 50 images, he decided to come even closer and was within 5 feet of us. I used my landscape camera and lens to get wide-angle views of him. Here is a shot as he seems to check us out.

California Condor in Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor in Pinnacles National Monument

Just to give you an idea how close he is:

California Condor and me photographing it - Copyright Jeff Swanson

California Condor and me photographing it – Copyright Jeff Swanson

Finally, after about 20-30 minutes he decided to take off again. It was absolutely impressive as he spread his 9 foot wings to glide off.

California Condor flying in Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor flying in Pinnacles National Monument

Jeff and I were sitting there for another 10 minutes saying how crazy that really was. What an experience!

Note: I keep using the term he, this is based on his tag that is attached to his wing. It looks like he is a three year old male (his pinkish throat pouch would seem to confirm this as well) born on April 23, 2008. All California Condors are tagged, even the wild born chicks are caught and fitted with a radio transmitter so if you see a bird without a number it is very very unlikely that it is a California Condor. You can find out about each condor’s life on the Condor Spotter site.

What was one of your most memorable wildlife experiences?