The flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is one of the world's least known, highly threatened felids with a distribution restricted to tropical lowland rainforests in Peninsular Thailand/Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra. Throughout its geographic range large-scale anthropogenic transformation processes, including the pollution of fresh-water river systems and landscape fragmentation, raise concerns regarding its conservation status. Despite an increasing number of camera-trapping field surveys for carnivores in South-East Asia during the past two decades, few of these studies recorded the flat-headed cat.
In this study, we designed a predictive species distribution model using the Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) algorithm to reassess the potential current distribution and conservation status of the flat-headed cat. Eighty-eight independent species occurrence records were gathered from field surveys, literature records, and museum collections. These current and historical records were analysed in relation to bioclimatic variables (WorldClim), altitude (SRTM) and minimum distance to larger water resources (Digital Chart of the World). Distance to water was identified as the key predictor for the occurrence of flat-headed cats (>50% explanation). In addition, we used different land cover maps (GLC2000, GlobCover and SarVision LLC for Borneo), information on protected areas and regional human population density data to extract suitable habitats from the potential distribution predicted by the MaxEnt model. Between 54% and 68% of suitable habitat has already been converted to unsuitable land cover types (e.g. croplands, plantations), and only between 10% and 20% of suitable land cover is categorised as fully protected according to the IUCN criteria. The remaining habitats are highly fragmented and only a few larger forest patches remain.
Based on our findings, we recommend that future conservation efforts for the flat-headed cat should focus on the identified remaining key localities and be implemented through a continuous dialogue between local stakeholders, conservationists and scientists to ensure its long-term survival. The flat-headed cat can serve as a flagship species for the protection of several other endangered species associated with the threatened tropical lowland forests and surface fresh-water sources in this region.