Clouded Leopard success in Deramakot

 

Clouded Leopard (Jackie Lover)

Clouded Leopard (Jackie Lover)

Long a fan of big cats, in 2015 I was privileged to see African and Asian Lions, African and Asian Leopards, Snow Leopards, Tigers, Jaguars, Pumas and Cheetahs (plus a number of small cats), all while leading Naturetrek tours. Though I set out to see all of the world’s big cats in a year, technically I did not. On the one hand, Cheetahs and Pumas (which I did see) are not in the big cat subfamily, the Pantherinae. On the other, the Clouded Leopards (now split into two species, one on the mainland of Asia and one in Borneo and Sumatra), once regarded as the biggest small cats, are today known to be close relatives of big cats such as Tigers, Leopards and Jaguars. Aware of this, I helped to devise our fantastic ‘Borneo by Night’ tour to Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the hope of seeing a Bornean (Sunda) Clouded Leopard in 2015. Despite a month in the Bornean jungle, 100 hours in the forest by night, dozens of Sunda Leopard Cats and a Flat-headed Cat (not to mention four species of civet, Western Tarsiers, Philippine Slow Lorises and Bornean Pygmy Elephants) we could not find a Bornean Clouded Leopard.

We did not give up and, in 2016, I returned to Tabin (for ‘Borneo by Night’) where, in addition to many more Sunda Leopard Cats, we had a superb encounter with a Marbled Cat in a tree. It sat, as Marbled Cats do, on a horizontal branch, and then leaped to the trunk of an adjacent tree with a nonchalance which would reduce a ninja to tears of jealousy.

Our remarkable ‘Borneo by Night’ holiday is still justly popular. This year our group, expertly led by Mohammad Johari and Terry Reis, briefly saw a Sun Bear, in addition to the tour’s regular cast of Island Palm Civets, Bornean Striped Palm Civets, Malay Civets, Black Flying Squirrels, Bornean Orang-utans and Bearded Pigs. However, it still hasn’t found a Bornean Clouded Leopard.

So in April I led the first departure of a new tour to Borneo’s Deramakot Forest Reserve. Deramakot has entered the mammal-watching psyche in the past couple of years with a string of Bornean Clouded Leopard sightings. Make no mistake: the cat is still very hard work here and seeing it requires long, sweaty nights driving along forest tracks. But it would have been rude not to try. After three happy days along the Kinabatangan River, watching Silvered and Red Langurs, Bornean Orang-utans, Small-clawed Otters and a giant Saltwater Crocodile devouring the carcass of a Sambar, we made our way to Deramakot. As the reserve is managed for sustainable forestry it has a well-maintained private road running right through it, with smaller tracks branching off to the sides. It offers unrivalled scope for watching the nocturnal mammals of Borneo’s lowland forests. Compared to Tabin, where they are scarce, Thomas’ Flying Squirrels are easily seen in Deramakot; Bornean Striped Palm Civets, Philippine Slow Lorises, Sambar and Malay Civets are commonly seen too. We even struck lucky with two Binturongs in a fruiting fig tree, a single Bornean Pygmy Elephant by day, two Bornean Yellow Muntjac and two lovely Banded Civets.

Clouded Leopard (Jackie Lover)

Clouded Leopard (Jackie Lover)

Then one night at eleven o’clock, on her own terms, a female Bornean Clouded Leopard strode along the road towards our specially designed night safari vehicle. Of course the whole group was jubilant, but for me this gorgeous cat was the reward for four years of planning and some 200 hours of searching the forests of Borneo by night. As she walked by our vehicle (a metre away) we could see that our cat was either heavily pregnant or already suckling kittens; so — who knows? — when you book your own place on this exceptional tour you may yet see her progeny — bold, proud and beautiful — pacing calmly along a forest road in Deramakot.

As for me, I’ve now seen four of Borneo’s five stunning cat species while leading Naturetrek’s groundbreaking tours. How difficult can Bay Cat be?

Our next 15-day Borneo’s Deramakot Forest Reserve holiday departs Monday 16th October 2017. Please call Dan Free on 01962 733051 or email dan@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.