Several days ago whilst hiking up a hill in Danum Valley to check on one of my camera traps, I had a chance encounter with one of Borneo’s most beautiful creatures: a Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata), the first I have ever seen. I was about to ford a creek at the bottom of a small gulley and noticed something moving in the undergrowth on the opposite bank. The cat was so perfectly camouflaged that I didn’t realize I was staring directly at it until it moved again. About half a metre in length with a tail at least as long again, it was beautifully patterned with dark and tan blotches. It had seen me already (of course) and was slowly slinking away up the stream bank.
As luck would have it I had just left my camera in a hide a few hundred meters down the trail so taking a photo was out of the question. Without thinking I raised my hand to my lips and squeaked out a simple rodent alarm call. The cat stopped in its tracks and turned around, staring at me. Unbelievably it then began stalking back down the stream bank towards me until it reached a point on the opposite bank less than 4 meters from where I stood. We locked eyes for a few seconds, the cat trying to decide exactly what was going on, and me just trying to savor as much of the experience as I could while keeping my heart rate at a reasonable level. A moment later it turned and sulked away, uttering a low growl as it went, and disappeared quickly among the underbrush.
I glanced at my watch: 10:30 AM sharp. Bright sunny day and blue sky. While we normally think of the shy wild rainforest cats as strictly nocturnal, or even crepuscular creatures, it seems that the Marbled Cat is often active during the middle of the day. My good friend Dr. Jedediah Brodie, who has done a enormous amount of camera trapping in Borneo for his research on mammal ecology, thinks that this cat may use daylight hours as a means of avoiding confrontations with the apex carnivore of Borneo rainforests, the Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi diardi), which is more active at night and early morning. Although confusingly similar in coloration, the Clouded Leopard is several times larger than the Marbled Cat and wherever present would occupy the role of top predator without dispute.
As if just to prove a point, twenty minutes later and another 500 meters ahead on the trail I crouched down to examine the catch on my camera trap which had been running for the past two weeks, and a possible reason for the Marbled Cat’s diurnal habits became clear – a Clouded Leopard had been on the prowl just the night before:
With five species of wild cats, Borneo is exceptionally rich in felid species even were it not an island. In addition to the Marbled Cat and Clouded Leopard, Borneo is also home to the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps), and arguably the least known of all the world’s cat species, the rare endemic Bay Cat (Catopuma badia). All except for the Leopard Cat, which survives well in disturbed habitats, are under threat due to habitat loss and poaching, making them the focus of long-term studies and conservation efforts.