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Headlights in the mist

Headlights in the mist

“Shall we drink some coffee?” “No, let’s wait a bit longer”. There are those little things that cause you to be in a certain place at a certain time. A short stop because it rains and you want to put on some raingear, waiting for a second to check out some eyeshine just in case it’s something more exciting than a flying squirrel and indeed waiting a bit longer to take some coffee. All those things can be the difference between only just missing out on a species and having a spectacular sighting.

I’ve been in Borneo for more than a week now. Deramakot is a place in Borneo where a lot of rare mammals are seen. Mammals that are rare in Borneo and therefore usually also in the rest of the world. Deramakot is a selectively logged rainforest: the animals are all still there, but you can look further into the forest than usual. Good when you’re looking for different mammals and you might just stumble upon a species that only occurs on Borneo. Borneo is well stocked with endemics, not just mammals, but also birds and other animals.

However the animal that about everyone (who hasn’t seen one at least) has right at the top of their list is the Sunda Clouded Leopard: the king of the Bornean rainforest. Deramakot is a place where it is relatively more seen than in other places, but even here it’s hard work. In general it doesn’t get seen more than twice a month and then there are months that it doesn’t get seen at all. My guide hasn’t seen one since May for example. We know that one was seen on the first of October, but the group before us hasn’t seen a leopard in ten straight days of searching hard. Although nowadays quite a lot of groups report it, it is still a really really good cat to see.

By the way there is another clouded leopard, one that only occurs on the mainland. Pretty recently, in 2007, it was found that there actually were two different species. A striking difference is that the spots on a Sunda Clouded Leopard are much darker than on a Mainland Clouded Leopard. Look up a picture of them! Another fun bit of information is that clouded leopards have the longest canine teeth of all cats, kind of like a mini-sabretooth. That’s it for the background information!

The way to see a clouded leopard is the same as with many mammals. Spending a lot of time at night and hope you eventually encounter one. So that’s what we do: 7 hours a night driving down a road and shining away. Luckily, clouded leopards, like all cats, have very bright eyes and because they are large cats they should be hard to miss. Still we try to shine everywhere, they can climb in trees after all. It’s a good thing we have got coffee with us to keep us awake. However on this particular ride we also happen to have beer with us: a bit of optimism can’t hurt and if we don’t see one a beer still tastes good!

It’s around 23.00: prime cat time! Not that this cat is by any means predictable, but  relatively a lot of sightings are around this time. We have been driving for about 4 hours and we’re all a bit tired but we keep going strong. We’ll have to drink our coffee later! We stop because we see eyeshine. I can’t remember what that was because when we drive further it happens!

Torches are aimed ahead again and then we see quite a big animal standing on the side of the road. It’s much bigger than a civet, which we have seen regularly. Sambar deer, flashes through my head. It’s misty so it’s hard to see. Then the animal turns its head towards us. Eyes like headlights! Then it dawns on us: CLOUDED LEOPARD! The driver speeds up and there he looms up in the fog: Harimau the king of the jungle. This animal doesn’t skit away like others, no it stands its ground to see what dares to interrupt it’s path!

Sunda Clouded Leopard

A car loaded with people clicking away doesn’t really hold its interest so it moves along. We follow, at such a moment you feel great, this is what it’s all about! Every now and then the leopard stops and gives us a penetrating look. Awesome! Finally we get a last stand-off and then she disappears (it turns out it’s a big female) in the grass. The beers are opened and the euphoria is indescribable. Sunda Clouded Leopard in the bag!

Of course I just clicked away, ISO not too high, underexpose and then keep shooting and hope you get something sharp. Fortunately that’s the case!

Sunda Clouded Leopard

Normally that would have been it for me because filming and photographing at the same time is a bit difficult, but in this case there was also a filmer aboard! Watch a video below made by Stuart Chapman for some moving images!

Every time I rewatch it it’s a feast all over again! Borneo was especially for the cats a resounding success.

Want to see some more pictures of Borneo?

Finding the very rare Marbled Cat was a really nice experience!

Or get a glimpse of a Flat-headed Cat!

Sunda Leopard Cat is a really beautiful cat too!                                                                                          

Seeing the Bornean Ground Cuckoo at last was a big relief!

Or see more of the beautiful civets of Borneo including the rare Otter Civet!

Owls are never boring and there are some nice ones on Borneo!

And here is a tripreport!


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