In Borneo, the marbled cat and leopard cat are active at different times to minimize competition

A study aimed at improving the conservation of species on the island of Borneo found that the marbled cat and leopard cat are active at different times. These are similar small wild cat species. They found, with the use of camera traps, that leopard cats are ‘strongly nocturnal’ meaning that they are active at night pretty well exclusively, while the similar-sized marbled cat is active during daytime. A clear separation of the time during which they are hunting.

The scientists call this “temporal niche partitioning”; technical language which simply means that the cats have different ‘shift patterns’. “Temporal” means time. “Partitioning” means to separate. The scientists looked at other species but I’m going to focus on these two cats for obvious reasons.

Asiatic leopard cat
Asiatic leopard cat camera-trapped in Tangkulap Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Photo: A. Mohamed & A. Wilting/IZW, SFD, SWD.
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The scientists worked in the protected areas in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo: Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA), the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS), and Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR).

They found that omnivore wild species have a relatively wide breadth of prey items. They are more likely to overlap in their activities as competition for food is reduced due to greater availability. But in the case of the two wild cat species they studied, the leopard cat and the marbled cat, they are as we know hyper-carnivores and therefore they depend upon very specific prey animals with resulting greater competition for those animals. This has led to these cats operating at different times in the interests of mutual survival.

Marbled Cat Facts For Kids
Marbled Cat Facts For Kids. Credits:

That is my interpretation. I have greatly reduced, as usual, this lengthy scientific report because it is written for scientists not laypeople and cat lovers. If you want to read the report you can click on this link (external links sometimes go wrong please note).

From a conservation standpoint, my understanding of Borneo is that the island is being decimated through deforestation. It is a massive island, the world’s third-largest. Many species live within the forest and they are losing their home. This is deforestation for wood for commercial enterprises. Personally, I find it shocking and shortsighted. But I’m not on the ground trying to make a living in Borneo. I’m an outsider so it is easy to criticise.

Here is a series of maps showing the severe deforestation in Borneo since 1950 and projections for the future:

Deforestation Borneo
Deforestation Borneo. Image: public domain.

These cats are very secretive. Another similar wild cat from the area, the aptly named Borneo Bay cat is rare and hardly ever seen, living as it is in this massive forest which is shrinking rapidly. I’m not convinced that studying the “shift patterns”, as I have described it, of wild species in Borneo is that useful. The scientists say that it is useful in conservation. I think it misses the point. The point is that the forest is being removed because of commercial activity. If you want to protect and conserve the species you stop cutting down their home! It seems simple to me.

The study: Temporal activity patterns suggesting niche partitioning of sympatric carnivores in Borneo, Malaysia.

The scientists: Miyabi Nakabayashi, Tomoko Kanamori, Aoi Matsukawa, Joseph Tangah, Augustine Tuuga, Peter T. Malim, Henry Bernard, Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Ikki Matsuda & Goro Hanya.


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