The costs of living alongside oil palm plantations for a small carnivore

Kinabatangan: Six years of rigorous field-based on small carnivores within the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary have culminated in two new research publications in the past month that highlight the importance of maintaining small and degraded forests to best support the conservation of biodiversity. 

Danau Girang Field Centre’s (DGFC) Kinabatangan Small Carnivore Project (KSCP), in collaboration with the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Cardiff University, has been studying small carnivores within the sanctuary since 2013, with its main activities involving the careful capture-and-release of small carnivores, most notably the Malay civet, a generalist carnivore species. 

“During these samplings, we collected blood samples to determine the health of each individual civet,” said Dr Meaghan Evans, KSCP project leader at DGFC.

“As summarised in our publication in Conservation Physiology, these samples were analysed to determine 39 different blood markers from each Malay civet. ” 

Certain metrics, like red blood cell counts and total protein concentrations, were different between male vs. female, or young vs. adult civets.

Most interestingly, these data demonstrated that civets captured closer to oil palm plantations had markedly different blood profiles than those living in larger forests.

This highlights the potential physiological costs of carnivore persistence alongside oil palm agriculture, which may undermine the long-term population viability of this species,” added Evans. 

“Our research also involved fitting GPS collars on 21 different male Malay civets, with each animal wearing these small units for an average of 15 weeks, which allowed us to determine how and where the animals moved throughout their nightly lives,” said Evans. 

“In our Landscape Ecology publication, we paired these movement datasets with information about the type and structure of the habitats used by each animal. These adaptable small carnivores were using both the forests and the oil palm plantations within the Kinabatangan; however, not a single animal stayed just within the oil palm agriculture,” stressed Evans. 

“The amount of space each civet used throughout his collaring period was directly proportionate to how much oil palm his range contained; this pattern indicates that agriculture is likely less preferable habitat than forest. With that view, we recommended land-sparing and -sharing approaches to facilitate carnivore persistence across oil palm degraded landscapes,” concluded Evans. 

“These studies are the first of its kind for this species and provide novel insights into the otherwise lesser-known lives of animals living alongside and within oil palm plantations,” said Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of DGFC and a Professor at Cardiff University.  

“Even for the apparently flexible Malay civet, close associations with agriculture may incur physiological repercussions, thus a balance between forest protection and agricultural production needs to be considered in land planning initiatives seeking to optimise wildlife conservation,” concluded Goossens. 

The work of the KSCP was funded with research grants from Houston Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong, and Yayasan Sime Darby. 


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