2008-2018 The Cats of Kalimantan: 10 Years of Camera Trapping Research by Borneo Nature Foundation

Camera Trap Blog

Written by Dr. Susan Cheyne (BNF Co-director)

It started in late 2007 with a question: did clouded leopards live in peat-swamp forest? There was some anecdotal evidence: BNF forestry coordinator Santiano’s father said he had seen clouded leopards while collecting jelutong rubber in the forest. It was on this evidence that BNF co-director, Dr Susan Cheyne, in collaboration with WildCRU, University of Oxford, brought 20 camera traps to Sabangau in May 2008.

The first photo of a leopard cat | BNF | CIMTROP

It was a nervous start: we were all learning about setting up cameras, trying to work out the best places to set up the cameras, how to protect them from the rain, floods, humidity and wildlife. We went through a few designs before we settled on ones we were happy with.

It took 5 weeks before we got our first cat:  a leopard cat. This was really exciting, but we wanted the clouded leopard. Happily, after 8 weeks, in July 2008 we were rewarded by the first ever photo of a clouded leopard in peat-swamp forest and in Sabangau.

Since 2008 we have had a permanent survey operating in Sabangau. We have carried out short surveys (3-6 months) in 6 sites across Central and East Kalimantan, and we have established another long-term camera trap survey in the Rungan Landscape. Throughout this time, we have increased our knowledge of camera traps, techniques, data analysis, and biodiversity presence. We are now experts on setting camera traps and analysing these data and understanding cats in Indonesian Borneo.

The first photo of a clouded leopard | BNF | CIMTROP

There have been many wonderful moments when we have caught images of rare animals e.g. Sunda pangolins, and funny moments when pig-tailed macaques take selfies and play with the cameras. We have had set-backs: cameras not surviving in the tropical environment, the expense of replacing camera and lost data, but we carry on because each photo and video is providing more information about the amazing animals in these forests.

Of particular mention is Adul, BNF Camera Trap Coordinator. Adul has helped lead this research since the early days. He is invaluable in selecting locations for cameras, developing new ideas for research, helping students, training other researchers, managing the data and helping launch the Indonesian Forum Macan (Clouded Leopard Forum) to really promote sharing of carnivore information between sites in Indonesia.

Adul, BNF Camera Trap Coordinator setting up the camera trap
Photo by Chris Owen | BNF | CIMTROP

BNF is fortunate to collaborate with many other projects working on camera traps so we can share our knowledge and help improve techniques, so we can learn more about the cats and other mammals of Kalimantan. We are also grateful to our many supporters especially Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, The Clouded Leopard Project, Panthera Small Cat Action Fund and Mohammad bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

In 2018 we will start another long-term camera trap project in the mountains and continue our efforts in Sabangau and Rungan. 10 years is a long time to carry out a research project, but we are learning more every day, and the more we learn, the more informed we are to help conserve these animals.