Unveiling population densities of the elusive Sunda clouded leopard
David Macdonald writes that WildCRU graduate student, Iding Haidir has taken an important step to ensuring that while clouded leopards may be out of sight, they should not be out of mind.
Whilst the charismatic mega-fauna of the Sunda Islands of western Indonesia, such as the Sumatran tiger, rhino and orangutan, attract considerable conservation effort, the Sumatran clouded leopard has too often been overlooked. Iding Haidir, a forester with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and, in 2010, a student in the WildCRU’s Recanati-Kaplan Postgraduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice is now a D.Phil. student in the final months of his doctorate at WildCRU. He has been analysing a huge sample of camera-trap images from Kerinci Seblat National Park Forest, Sumatra’s largest national park, specifically to assess clouded leopard density and related human activities.
Just to appreciate the physical work involved in such studies: although, led by Iding, we secured data on 28,404 camera-trap nights, the reward was only 114 independent photographs of clouded leopards – enough for us to identify 18 individuals, but not enough for us to analyse the data separately for males and females. Nevertheless, the team could calculate the population density of clouded leopards for our four study areas: 0.8–2.4 adult individuals/100 km2.
Clouded leopards were not the only species caught on camera in the protected area. There were all too many people as well, with the evidence suggesting they were poaching ungulates and collecting forest products and fishing. These activities do not threaten clouded leopards directly, but Iding raises the spectre that prey depletion could impact them indirectly. He also emphasises that the colossal amount of work required to study such elusive species makes it especially important for researchers throughout Indonesia and Malaysia to collaborate.
Haidir, I., Macdonald, D., & Linkie, M. (2020). Sunda clouded leopard Neofelis diardi densities and human activities in the humid evergreen rainforests of Sumatra. Oryx, 1-8. doi:10.1017/S0030605319001005