KOTA KINABALU: Lack of forest connectivity in Sabah is threatening the Sunda clouded leopard population.
Studies conducted by researchers from Oxford University’s WildCRU and Cardiff University, US Forest Service, Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre found that the patched forests were also hampering gene flow.
Dr Andrew Hearn from WildCRU, who led the study, said that Sabah was a stronghold for the species of medium-sized wild cat, native to Borneo and Sumatra.
“Yet these rarely seen wild cats are found at very low population densities, typically as few as one to five for every 100sq km of forest,” he said in a statement.
Such rarity, he said, coupled with the fact that their forest home is shrinking and becoming increasingly isolated, might expose these beautiful wild cats to the negative effects of population isolation as they struggle to disperse across the landscape.
Dr Hearn said their research found that the core areas of Sunda clouded leopard habitat comprised large and unfragmented forest blocks.
The research was conducted using movement data from clouded leopards satellite-collared in Kinabatangan to produce predictions of their population density, genetic diversity and population connectivity across the state of Sabah.
Dr Benoit Goossens, Danau Girang Field Centre and Reader director at Cardiff University, said their research, despite being based on computer simulations, used accurate data collected during several years of field research in Sabah.
“We mapped patterns of population connectivity for the species across Sabah and conclude that several forest patches in Sabah may be isolated from one another for the Sunda clouded leopard, jeopardising dispersal of individuals and limiting gene flow,” he said.
“We also identified the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Tawau Hills Park as patches of habitat, predicted to have extant clouded leopard populations but isolated from other populations,” he added.
Dr Goossens said conservation efforts should be made to explore ways to increase connectivity between these areas and the main central forest.
These recommendations were included in the Sunda clouded leopard action plan that was soft-launched by state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew recently.