Leopard cats and roads

The leopard cat is second on the list of “endangered animals killed on the road” in Peninsular Malaysia in the first nine months of 2017. Fourteen leopard cats succumbed during that period according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in a statement that was reported by Channel News Asia.

Sunda leopard cat roadkill adjacent to oil palm plantation in Borneo. Photo by Koh Lian Pin.

Other species killed include Malayan tapir, elephant, binturong and leopard.

Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) has since put up warning signs for motorists, is in talks with driving schools to improve drivers’ awareness, and are avocating more wildlife-friendly viaduct crossings to be built at road developments.

Based on a recently published study (Laton et al.), most leopard cat roadkills seem to be on tarmac roads adjacent to areas where there are secondary forest and plantations.

One reason for this is that leopard cats, like many carnivorans, seem to be fond of roads near forested areas. Perhaps this is because it is easier to travel, find, and catch prey along roads. However, this put them right in harms way, and many end up as roadkill.

Road mortality is not just a problem for the leopard cat but also wildlife in general. But it is an issue that can only be effectively solved with multiple decision makers. Signs in Singapore and Malaysia show that this is coming together. Hopefully, with sound science-based decisions for policy planning and roadkill mitigation, wildlife roadkills would not exacerbate the ongoing biodiversity crisis in Southeast Asia.

Laton, M.Z., Mohammed, A.A., Yunus, H. 2017. Roadkill incidents of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in the exterior wildlife reserved: A selected plantation area case. Journal of Entomological and Zoology Studies 5(4): 1507-1513.

The leopard cat is now 2!

It’s true, the IUCN Cat Specialist Group now recognise 2 species of leopard cats:

  1. Mainland leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis (Kerr, 1792)
  2. Sunda leopard cat, Prionailurus javanensis (Desmarest, 1816)

Distribution of tentative subspecies of mainland leopard cat and Sunda leopard cat. Borders between subspecies are speculative. From Kitchener et al. (2017).

This split is mainly because of evidence from molecular studies, morphological differences and biogeographic separation.

There was already some suggestion that there could be 2 species of leopard cats since the molecular study by Tamada et al. (2008). However, it looks like the findings by Patel et al. (2017) [which I wrote about in the previous post] who found a “deep split” between mainland and Sunda animals, solidified the decision by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. This despite Patel et al. (2017) choosing to regard the leopard cat as one species.

With this change, a re-appraisal of the biology of both species, including reassessments for the IUCN Red List, is probably necessary. What is interesting too is the question of how similar are the two species ecologically? We may need to re-examine studies in the past that regarded the two as the same. Despite this, the mainland leopard cat still remains the most widely distributed small wild cat in Asia.

Although both species are regarded as being of “low conservation concern”, there remains some research priorities recommended by specialist group for these two species of leopard cats in terms of phylogeography and morphology.

Our data indicate those in Singapore to be the mainland species. So do I have to change the name of this site to “Through the Eyes of the (Mainland) Leopard Cat”?

 

Kitchener, A.C., et al. (2017) A revised taxonomy of the Felidae. The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Cat News Special Issue 11. 80 pp.

Leopard cat publication update 2015 to 2017

Some leopard cat publications were out in the last two years, and I try to keep track of as many as possible. Some quick thoughts and summary:

Nakanishi & Izawa took a look at the importance of frogs in the diet of the leopard cats from Iriomote Island, Japan. I must say that the Japanese are the gold standard in leopard cat species biology work with the population on Iriomote Island. They examined the stomach contents and compared the results to scat analysis, which is traditionally more frequently used as it is less invasive. Frogs appeared to be important, but under represented compared to scat studies.

Meanwhile. Srivathsa et al. were one of the first to use camera traps to estimate leopard cat population density in India. The density in in forests there appear to be similar to Sabah, but below what we have on Pulau Tekong, Singapore.

Going back about 5,000 years ago, it seems that leopard cats had some close interaction or relationship with Neolithic people in China. The authors (Vigne et al.) use the term “domestic”, but I’ll hesitate to do so in the strict sense of the word.

And finally, a molecular phylogeography of the leopard cat sampled across its global distribution. Rather important that this is done, and the coverage is quite admirable. I cannot say the results are unexpected though (see image below).

Distribution of leopard cat subspecies suggested by Patel et al. (2017). Image from paper.

Arjun Srivathsa, Ravishankar Parameshwaran, Sushma Sharma, K. Ullas Karanth. (2015) Estimating population sizes of leopard cats in the Western Ghats using camera surveys. Journal of Mammalogy 96(4): 742-750. doi: 10.1093/jmammal/gyv079

Nakanishi, N. & Izawa, M. (2016) Importance of frogs in the diet of the Iriomote cat based on stomach content analysis. Mammal Research 61: 35. doi:10.1007/s13364-015-0246-9

Riddhi P. Patel, Saskia Wutke, Dorina Lenz, Shomita Mukherjee, Uma Ramakrishnan, Géraldine Veron, Jörns Fickel, Andreas Wilting, Daniel W. Förster. (2017) Genetic Structure and Phylogeography of the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) Inferred from Mitochondrial Genomes. J Hered 2017 esx017. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esx017

Vigne J-D, Evin A, Cucchi T, Dai L, Yu C, Hu S, et al. (2016) Earliest “Domestic” Cats in China Identified as Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). PLoS ONE 11(1): e0147295. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0147295

New publication: Density, spatiotemporal use and diet of the leopard cat in a human-modified succession forest of Singapore

Our publication on Density, spatiotemporal use and diet of the leopard cat in a human-modified succession forest of Singapore is out in Mammal Research.

I will not reproduce the abstract here, but a TLDR summary is that leopard cat population density and occurrence is higher in oil palm areas next to secondary forest compared to within secondary forest on the island of Pulau Tekong, Singapore. In the oil palm areas, they were completely nocturnal and ate more rats compared to elsewhere on the island, where they had more diurnal activity and hunted more birds, insects and lizards. These finding suggest that leopard cats are oil palm adapters that take advantage of the rich prey resource in the oil palm area.

Some thoughts:

  1. Am glad that this came out between the education manager job that I was initially assigned with at the natural history museum, the massive museum move, and sperm whale carcass salvage operation that took place. I also feel incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to work on something that I had always wanted to do. Most of this fell in place because of the people who made it possible. Majority of this work was done on an island that is out of bounds to the public, and I am hoping to have the privilege to be back for some follow up work.
  2. Being relatively early and inexperienced in the research and publishing circuit, I went with the kitchen sink approach for the manuscript. Eventually, a weaker component eventually got the axe with the almost unequivocal agreement of 4 reviewers. So the lesson learnt is that telling a succinct story with the best data is something I need to work on.
  3. In this study we almost quantified the obvious—someone has to do that—to answer basic ecology questions. One finding was that Pulau Tekong has the highest population density of leopard cats of any study done till date (89.4 ind./100 km2). However, leopard cats in Singapore remain nationally critically endangered. Not surprising because Singapore is tiny, and the suitable habitats for the species are limited and fragmented. These will be crucial in ensuring the long term survival of the species here.
  4. We recorded leopard cats on reclaimed land for the first time in the world. This is novel habitat created from the sea by filling it with sand. Secondary succession took over and leopard cats colonised it. Pretty neat (but marine habitat destruction in land creation). As the reclaimed part was separated from the original island by a channel, I remember telling my survey team, “we are just going to put up cameras and do transects to prove they [leopard cats] are not here…”. Happy to be proven wrong by data and these resilient little beasts.

Leopard cat on RL

Publication updates and leopard cat featured in a children’s book

Some updates and news regarding leopard cats in Singapore:

Our first international peer-reviewed publication from the leopard cat study has been accepted in Mammal Research. Look out for it soon.

Meanwhile, I was asked to contribute some sighting records to Singapore Biodiversity Records of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum earlier this year:

1. Chua, M.A.H. 2015. Leopard cat in Western Catchment Area. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 6. [PDF]
2. Chua, M.A.H. 2015. Leopard cat in Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 20. [PDF]

Was pleasant surprised when I was informed that the leopard cat is featured in a children’s book, Timmy and Tammy Discover Singapore’s Wildlife Wonders by Hwee Goh. Had worked with the author to facilitate another section of the book about the natural history museum, and was glad when she informed me that she was featuring the leopard cat. The book is available in book stores now, and is a good introduction to wildlife in Singapore for children.

SWW - leopard cat

Page excerpt from Timmy & Tammy Discover Singapore’s Wildlife Wonders by Hwee Goh.