Sunday, 26 April 2015

A pilgrimage

I have an ambivalent attitude towards zoos, especially zoos in the developing world. Too often they are for entertainment alone, with no interest in research, education or conservation; and much too often their standards of husbandry are so low as to give animals no opportunity to express natural behaviour. Modern zoos, as will be discussed here once I return to the UK, should give animals enclosures and diets which keep them healthy and free of stress; what's more, the fact of keeping a species in captivity should contribute to its conservation, and the conservation of its habitat, in the wild.

For all these reasons I was in two minds about visiting Lok Kawi Wildlife Park this morning. I went because I wanted to meet the female Sunda clouded leopard who lives there, whose picture I first saw in Quentin Phillipps' talk on the species at Birdfair in 2013. I wanted to watch her at close quarters and learn what I could about her kind.

So I went to Lok Kawi and for the most part found the enclosures clean, quite spacious and designed to allow the animals access to the resources they use in the wild. The animals generally look healthy too. Just about the worst enclosure is that inhabited by the Sunda clouded leopard. It is small and featureless and she has no privacy from the eyes of visitors. It is also completely roofed so she is unable to spend any time in the sun, should she so wish. The lack of light means no plants can grow either.

Despite this, she is startlingly beautiful. Her coat is not the gold of an Asian clouded leopard's. Rather the ground colour is a soft grey, reminiscent of the much longer coat of a snow leopard. According to the scant information available, the coat of this beautiful island endemic is variable, perhaps much more so than in the mainland species.

Asian clouded leopard by Anne-Marie Kalus

Sunda clouded leopard at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park,
Kota Kinabalu

The zoo opens at 9:30am so by the time I got there my clouded friend had gone to sleep for the day. However, while I watched she yawned and rolled and once jumped into the bare branches of her enclosure. This was immediately before a rainstorm began, though I have no idea whether the two events were related.

The zoo has a fair collection of other Malaysian and Bornean wildlife, mostly housed in quite large enclosures. Animals here include banteng, Malayan tigers, Bornean pygmy elephants, a breeding group of proboscis monkeys, Bornean orangutans, and an imprinted rhinoceros hornbill who flirts most unseemingly with passers-by.

Male banteng

Female banteng

Malayan tiger: note the solidly orange face and throat
when compared to tigers in India

Tigress in Tadoba, India, by Doug Bain

But enough of zoo animals. The question on everyone's mind is whether my first Sunda Clouded Leopard Quest group saw one in the wild in Tabin. To find out you'll have to check back here tomorrow.

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