The montane forests of Sabah in northern Borneo are home to a dazzling array of wildlife, including the elusive Clouded Leopard. Our October group was lucky enough to come across one of these highly secretive big cats. Chris Kehoe, leader of our ‘Mount Kinabalu & the Rainforests of Borneo’ holiday, describes an unforgettable encounter with the near-mythical Clouded Leopard …
There are no ordinary days at Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley, one of the finest wildlife watching destinations in the whole of Asia. However, the morning of October 9th 2011 was truly extraordinary and will live long in the memory of all who were there.
As we returned towards our lodge for breakfast after a productive early birding session (that included fine views of three Helmeted Hornbills and a pair of Blue-headed Pittas), the Bornean Gibbons were making plenty of noise on the far side of the Segama River opposite the lodge; nothing too unusual in that, though they did sound a bit more agitated than normal!
A crackly radio message then announced that the cause of all the commotion was a Sunda Clouded Leopard, the near-mythical top carnivore in Borneo’s exceptionally rich lowland rainforest.
Details were sketchy at this stage but the three tour members present opted to skip breakfast on the off-chance it might hang around. While they set off towards the Segama Bridge I raced back to the lodge to try and get clearer details before joining them. Word soon came through that a local ranger had seen the leopard chasing a Gibbon and that it now seemed to have settled down and most importantly, was actually still visible … this was too good an opportunity to miss! I set off at a fast pace, praying that it wouldn’t move off before we arrived.
Five sweaty minutes later I turned onto a disused trail where, after another five even sweatier minutes of scrambling up a steep muddy slope, I reached the ranger who smiled and pointed upwards. Half expecting to see a dim outline in the foliage, or maybe just a tail hanging down, I was astonished to see a magnificent Clouded Leopard lounging along a thick bough, in full view, staring straight at me! Hastily setting up my scope so the ranger could have a good look, I set off to try to find the others – fortunately they were virtually right behind me. A few seconds later we were all enjoying incredible views of this gorgeous feline.
We remained there for over 90 minutes as a succession of lodge guests and several local guides came and went. Several of the guides had never seen a Clouded Leopard before despite working in Danum Valley for many years; indeed this was reportedly only the third time one had been seen in daylight during the lodge’s 16 years of operation – even sightings during the regular night drives are extremely infrequent. From time to time it shifted position slightly and nodded off, sometimes obscuring its head for a few minutes, but most of the time it simply stared at us from its high vantage point and occasionally yawned.
The rest of the tour group had opted to climb the strenuous Viewpoint Trail that morning but, thankfully, all managed to catch up with the Clouded Leopard as they returned towards the lodge for lunch. In fact it remained on its lofty bough until early afternoon when it was said to have descended and chased away the local ranger left there to keep an eye on it!
The photographs here were taken by local guide Fredoline Florence and we are extremely grateful to him for sharing them with us as they are perhaps the best photographs of a Sunda Clouded Leopard, or for that matter any Clouded Leopard, ever taken.
Contact: for further details about Naturetrek’s ‘Mount Kinabalu & the Rainforests of Borneo’ tour please visit the tour page or call Dan on 01962 733051 or email email@example.com