Saving the cats of the swamps (large and small)


Written by Susan M. Cheyne (BNF’s co-director)

I love cats, ever since my family got a kitten when I was 8 years old. But at that time, I had no idea that there actually 33 species of wild cats around the world. Many people know about lions and tigers, but fewer people know about hard to find species like the clouded leopard, and fewer still know about the small cats.


Clouded leopard

I thought of myself as a primatologist until 2008, when an idea was born to investigate the cats of Kalimantan. I knew nothing about the 5 species of cats which live on Borneo, so I had to learn. I had to learn about the threats facing these cats, I had to learn about how to use camera traps and I had to learn about the biology and behaviours of these cats. That last part was the most difficult because we know very little about these Bornean cats.  The first thing I had to learn was the names of the cats: clouded leopard, marbled cat, flat-headed cat, bay cat and leopard cat.

Nothing was known about these cats in peat-swamp forest, so this was a great opportunity to learn more, to help increase conservation efforts and understanding of the habitat requirements of these cats. Setting up camera traps, new technology for the BNF team, was quite scary. What if we did not get any cats or if we set up the cameras incorrectly? It was a tense wait from the first weeks in May 2008 until we caught the first cat on camera: a leopard cat on 21st May 2008, only 2 weeks after we set up the cameras! Then the jackpot: finally, we got our first evidence of clouded leopards in the Sabangau forest on 3rd July 2008!

Since 2008 we have expanded our camera trap work to 8 different forests in Borneo and established the role of camera trap coordinator. Adul has been leading the camera trap work in the field since 2008 and is now an expert on fieldcraft for choosing where to place cameras, how to manage the data and understand the patterns we see.

After 10 years of continuous work, we know much more than we did at the start about these 5 amazing cats. BNF has contributed to 27 publications, several media stories and 5 international and national conferences on cat conservation. What we have also learned is that more work needs to be done, both to learn about wild cat distribution, behaviour and diet, but how best we can work to protect their habitat and ensure these cats will survive for many years to come.


Leopard cat