Lack of forest connectivity in Sabah threatens the vulnerable Sunda clouded leopard. (NSTP/COURTESY OF DANAU GIRANG FIELD CENTRE)

KOTA KINABALU: Lack of forest connectivity in Sabah threatens the vulnerable Sunda clouded leopard.

Even though Sabah is a stronghold of the species, Dr Andrew Hearn of Oxford University’s wildlife research unit said it is found at very low population densities.

There are only one to five animals for every 100sq km of forest.

“Such rarity, coupled with the fact that their forest home is shrinking and becoming increasingly isolated may expose these beautiful cats to the negative effects of population isolation, as individual animals struggle to disperse across the landscape,” he said in a joint statement.

Hearn, led a study published last week in the journal, Landscape Ecology, with researchers from Cardiff University, the United States Forest Service, Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

The work was supported by Yayasan Sime Darby, Robertson Foundation, Recanati-Kaplan Foundation, Clouded Leopard Project, Dr Holly Reed Wildlife Conservation Fund, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Houston Zoo and Panthera.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said: “We mapped patterns of population connectivity for the species across Sabah and concluded that several forest patches may be isolated from one another, jeopardising dispersal of individuals and limiting gene flow.

“We also identified the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Tawau Hills Park as patches of habitat predicted to have extant clouded leopard populations, but predicted to be isolated from other populations.”

Goossens said effort should be made to explore mechanisms such as establishing riparian corridors, identification or creation of high conservation value forest areas within plantation landscapes to increase connectivity.

Those recommendations were included in the Sunda Clouded Leopard Action Plan for Sabah soft-launched by Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Christina Liew.

“Hopefully, it will be tabled at the next state cabinet meeting after Chinese New Year,” he said.

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