I returned to Borneo in February 2017, with the specific focus of looking for the Sunda Clouded leopard. The Clouded leopard used to be a notoriously difficult cat to see in the wild. Mainly, because no one really knew where to go looking for them. Danum Valley was the only spot where they were sometimes seen, but the sightings were so rare that they didn’t justify the expense of a specialised trip.
This changed when a couple of years ago a Bornean travel company – Adventure Alternative Borneo started arranging trips to Deramakot Forest Reserve on the upper Kinabatangan river. Deramakot is managed partially for logging and partially for conservation. And it appears that the government achieved an almost perfect balance in sustainable forest use in the reserve, so much so that it received certification for good forestry practices from the international Forest Stewardship Council for five years in a row.
As a result of reduced impact logging practices, Deramakot retains a large proportion of its biodiversity. A study in 2009 recorded all five Bornean felids in the reserve. And AA Borneo has a stellar record of finding Clouded leopards on their trips.
I joined up with two fellow mammal watchers, Jo from the U.K. and Jens from Sweden and we booked a two week trip with AA Borneo’s legendary spotter, Mike Gordon. To maximize our chances of seeing as many mammal species as possible we arranged to spend 4 nights in Danum Valley, 2 nights in Sukau on Kinabatangan River and 8 nights in Deramakot.
While the main focus of the trip was on finding the Clouded leopard, we all had our own preferences for what other things each of us wanted to see. For me, of course, it was all the other cats.
Borneo is home to five felines, four of which are very difficult to see: Clouded leopard, Borneo Bay cat, Marbled cat and Flat-headed cat. The fifth is Borneo’s own Leopard cat species – Sunda Leopard cat. Although, as common as it is, I managed to have never seen one before, so it was very high on my bucket list.
Borneo bay cat is the holy grail of the wildcat world. These cats are so secretive that virtually nothing is known about them and they are almost never seen. Marbled cats, while not restricted to Borneo, are also exceptionally difficult to find. Perhaps even more so than the Clouded leopards. This leaves the Flat-headed cat. The most threatened out of Bornean felids. The IUCN classifies it as endangered, due to the rapidly disappearing riverine habitat that this cat relies on. I have seen the Flat-headed cat on my previous trip to Borneo, but my failure to photograph it put it right back on the bucket list.
Below are the trip reports for each of the areas we visited: