The end of 2015 marks the completion of the second year for Project Harimau Selamanya. The year 2015 has been more productive and eventful than we could have ever imagined when we started off! In the space of a year, we have continued deepening collaboration with state and federal government partners. Our field team has also strengthened their fieldwork and wildlife detection skills through professional training and field practice. Best of all, our camera trap efforts have paid off with important data to help with the conservation of Kenyir’s forests! All these were made possible with Perhilitan and the state government’s commitment to project collaboration, as well as the generous funding from Panthera and Woodland Park Zoo.
2015 saw a vibrant field team in Harimau Selamanya headed by Reuben, Wai Yee, Sri and Junn Kitt and staffed by our fantastic field assistants Puyee, Baki, Donos, Maslan, Landur and Rahmat. We were also joined by enthusiastic and conservation-driven research assistants Akmal, Zatul and Shu Woan.
Leopards, found from the frozen forests of Russia to the scorching sands of the Kalahari Desert, are the most widely distributed large cat on earth. Their iconic spotted coat has been admired and coveted by humans for millennia. However, in just one region in their vast range, mysteriously the leopards are almost all entirely “black” or melanistic – the Malay Peninsula. This dark colouration sometimes hides the spotted pattern which all leopards have; the spots just don’t stand out clearly in melanistic individuals.
“This is a completely unique phenomenon for leopards, and represents perhaps the only known example of a mammal with almost an entire population completely composed of the melanistic form of the species” says Laurie Hedges, lead author of a study who just published a population density estimate on these animals in the Journal of WildlifeManagement.
Melanism is a trait which can be found across many mammal species, and especially in big felids. Though theories, ranging from the explosion of Mount Toba in Sumatra to competition with tigers, have been put forward to explain how this unique melanistic population has come about, scientists are still puzzled…
It’s been an intense roller coaster adventure for Project Pteropus so far! Sadly, we still haven’t been successful in getting much funding, as none of our grant applications last year were accepted. Donors either feel that flying foxes aren’t a priority, Peninsular Malaysia isn’t a priority, or both 😦
Still, this hasn’t stopped us from accomplishing many things last year. Thanks to kind monthly donations from Marinescape of New Zealand – our sole donor – we were still able to carry out some fieldwork.
Much of last year was spent on recces, observations, and testing things out at Kampung Juara. We collected lots of bat droppings, fruits, flowers and seeds. We hiked several jungle trails and observed different trees and what they drop onto the forest floor. We talked to local people in the village, and asked them about their experiences, knowledge and opinions. We counted lots and lots of bats. And we did it all every single month, until the monsoon arrived around November, forcing us to take a break for a few months.
Most of the time, it was just Reuben and Sheema doing much of the work. But we were joined by many, many helpful volunteers who lent a hand, and this project would not have been possible if they hadn’t been willing to come along on our field trips and donate their time and energy! Esteban Brenes-Mora, our Costa Rican volunteer for 6 months, was an especially invaluable asset and is now sorely missed. And we would never have survived without help from Harimau Selamanya members Jasdev, Laurie and Wai Yee, plus our resident botanist Lahiru also made it over to help us identify plants. Huge thanks also to Lim Wee Siong, Anna Deasey, Khatijah Haji Hussin, Kim McConkey, Noraisah Majri, Mahfuzatul Izyan, and Joanne Tong. We’re also super grateful for all the help and support we’ve received from the lovely folk over at the Juara Turtle Project – Charlie, Izzati and Rahim are awesome people doing awesome work, so please check them out! They even donated the services of their volunteer Liz Moleski, who was kind enough to help out when Sheema got struck down by Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease (HFMD – the one that kids get, not cows!) and Reuben had to do a solo sampling trip. Last but not least, Project Pteropus benefited immensely from field visits and input from supportive supervisors Pierre-Michel Forget and Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz. All of these people helped to keep our project afloat and stop it from floundering 🙂