Scientists have recently captured a glimpse of a mysterious bay cat species (a.k.a. the Bornean marbled cat) in a Malaysian province, on the island of Borneo.
A number of images of the creature in motion were snapped in the tropical forests of Sabah, one of the 13 member states of Malaysia. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Imperial College London launched a collaborative effort to understand the influence of logging practices on wildlife throughout the region. The results of the researchers’ scientific endeavors were published in the latest issue of the journal PLoS One.
Catching Sight of the Mysterious Bornean Creature
Bay cat adults can weigh as much as three to four kilograms, with their body lengths spanning up to 60 centimeters; this length excludes their long, black-tipped tail, which has a white streak stretching all the way along its underside. These very timid creatures are an auburn color, with a small head and two dark stripes that originate from each corner of
Dr. Robert Ewers, of the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, is lead of the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) project, covering thousands of hectares of land, to which the creatures belong. Ewers claims to have been surprised to have seen many bay cats localized to areas of forestry that have been heavily logged, primarily for the region’s timber trade:
“Conservationists used to assume that relatively few wild animals can live in logged forests, but we now know this land can be home for many endangered species… Our study today shows solid evidence that even top carnivores, such as these magnificent bay cats, can survive in commercially logged forests.”
The cameras provide a much better chance of detecting bay cats, along with several other mammals, which typically evade human attempts to track their movements. ZSL and Imperial College London researcher, Oliver Wearn, provides an example of how these motion-activated cameras have improved sightings substantially:
“I’ve seen the clouded leopard just twice in three years of fieldwork, whilst my cameras recorded 14 video sequences of this enigmatic cat in just eight months.”
The bay cat is one of five cat species native to Borneo; the other cats include the Sundra clouded leopard, leopard cat, flat-headed cat and marbled cat. All of the afore-mentioned creatures are endangered, with the exception of the leopard cat.
Bay Cat Habitat
Information pertaining to the bay cat (Pardofelis badia) remains sparse, with very few sightings of the creature in its natural habitat. The cat is endemic to Borneo and reported to dwell within a wide array of habitats, from swamp forests to dipterocarp and hilly forest areas.
Although bay cats are often seen clambering through the foliage of dense tropical rainforests, they have also been witnessed around coastal regions and limestone outcrops. In addition, several documented witness accounts, between the years of 2003 and 2005, seem to tie Pardofelis badia to rivers and mangroves.
Numerous sightings had been reported, during the 1990s, centering primarily around the Kapuas River in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, as well as the Gunung Palung National Park. However, it was not until 2003 that the first photograph of one of these striking animals was snapped.
From an ecological and behavioral perspective, Pardofelis badia has proven elusive. Researchers have proposed a number of theories to explain the limited number of sightings. Since bay cats are notoriously secretive and nocturnal animals, their presence has largely gone unnoticed.
Meanwhile, other respected researchers speculate that their small population numbers are to blame. Indeed, the bay cat has been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Back in 2002, based upon the auspices that the species’ population would spiral downward, by as much as 20 percent by 2020, the IUCN elected to place bay cats on the Red List.
The bay cat is argued to be susceptible to a number of major threats. One of the chief problems seems to involve destruction of their environment, resulting from mass deforestation across Borneo. The island was once densely populated with rainforests. Starting midway through the 20th century, the region experienced unparalleled levels of deforestation, with much of the forestry substituted for agricultural land and plantations.
Illegal trade in wildlife also remains rife throughout much of the region. Although the establishment of a range of wildlife reserves has been proposed, there are only a handful in Borneo today.
Ultimately, the research team plans to continue investigating the impact of habitat destruction on the region’s wildlife, and hope their study may provide useful information for regional palm oil producers. The research group suggests that the plantations be manufactured as more “mammal-friendly” institutions, whilst the authorities focus their efforts on protecting small areas of forestry.
Hopefully, these changes might elevate the number of sightings of Pardofelis badia, allowing scientists to understand a little more about how these mysterious Bornean creatures work.
By James Fenner