Iding Hadir, David W. Macdonald & Matthew Linkie

The Sumatran clouded leopard Neofelis diardi diardi, a sub species of the Sunda clouded leopard Neofelis diardi, is an elusive medium-sized wild cat (11–20 kg) whose population and conservation status are often overlooked. In Sumatra, conservation efforts have mostly focused on the Island’s larger and more charismatic mammal species. According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry regulations, there are four priority species in Sumatra: the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, orangutan and elephant. Unfortunately, the clouded leopard is not on this list.

Top: A male clouded leopard photographed by a camera trap in cloud forest (>1500 m above sea level) within Kerinci Seblat National Park in 2006, by a tiger population monitoring team. Photo: Matthew Linkie/FFI/ DICE/TNKS. Bottom-left: A male clouded leopard photographed in 2015 in a selectively logged forest that stopped operating in the early 2000s. Photo: Iding Haidir/ WildCRU/FFI/ TNKS. Bottom-right: A photo of a male clouded leopard was captured in the same study area as the top photograph in 2014. Photo: Iding Haidir/WildCRU/FFI/TNKS.

In mid February 2007, my colleagues and I were camera trapping in North Bengkulu, a lowland forest area in south-western Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra’s largest national park and the second largest in Indonesia. I was part of a Sumatran tiger population monitoring project deploying camera traps to study the conservation status of Kerinci Seblat’s tigers and their prey. While there, I decided that one day I would research clouded leopards, by gathering ecological data and investigating the species’ conservation status and population dynamics. My plan was to conduct intensive camera trapping surveys over specific areas within Kerinci Seblat National Park and its surrounding forests. In 2014, I was finally able to start work on this idea.

Left: A male clouded leopard was accidentally snared by a tiger trap in North Bengkulu, striking evidence of clouded leopard suffering from tiger poaching. Photo: TPCU/FFI/TNKS. Right: A mural portraying a clouded leopard with a message reading: “NOT TO BE HUNTED, BUT TO BE PROTECTED”, from a 2012 mural competition led by Iding Haidir and held in Bangko, the capital city of the District of Merangin, Jambi Province. Photo: Iding Haidir.

Prior to our research, studies of the clouded leopard in Sumatra were mostly conducted as part of tiger-centric conservation projects. Our research focused specifically on assessing clouded leopard density and human activities in four areas that were last studied over a decade ago. Our initial aim was to provide up-to-date estimates of clouded leopard density by adding the species’ sex ratio and anthropogenic disturbance into the analyses. However, despite 28,404 camera-trap nights we were unable to obtain sufficient data on both male and female individuals. In 114 independent photographs we were able to identify only 18 individuals. Nevertheless, we were able to update density estimates for the four areas, with 0.8–2.4 individual clouded leopards per 100 km2, similar to that of some other areas within the species’ range. Our field strategy of a large camera-trapping effort over a small area did not help us overcome the main challenge of obtaining photographs of more female clouded leopards (of the 18 individuals only four were females).

The first GPS collared male Sumatran clouded leopard in 2016. The collar only worked for a few weeks before it stopped transmitting its locations through satellite receiver. Photo: ZSL/BKSDA Jambi/WildCRU.

Our camera traps also photographed bird, tiger and ungulate poachers, collectors of non-timber forest products and fishers. These records confirm the presence of Sumatra’s top predator but also add another threat to the existing pressures that clouded leopards, their prey, and their habitats face. Although our patrol team has recorded a few instances of clouded leopard illegal hunting and trade, their population has not been directly threatened by poaching. However, prey depletion and habitat alteration continue to affect the species’ population and ranges.

Improvements in field techniques and statistical methods for mammal research offers a great opportunity to investigate the ecology, and improve the conservation, of understudied tropical species. With the publication of this article, we call on our peers, colleagues and stakeholders who hold data on the clouded leopard, especially for Sumatra and Kalimantan, to share and analyse the data collaboratively, for greater Sunda clouded leopard conservation benefits and conservation interventions throughout its range, both in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The article Sunda clouded leopard densities and human activities in the humid evergreen rainforests of Sumatra is available in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

Iding Haidir is a forester by training but has been involved in wildlife conservation from early in his career. Iding is currently finishing a DPhil in Zoology (Wildlife Conservation) at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Iding also works for the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry as a Forest Ecosystem Specialist at Kerinci Seblat National Park.