New Cat Discovered on Borneo and Sumatra

The island clouded leopard, Neofelis diardi on the prowl.

Image: WWF.

According to genetic research, clouded leopards found on Sumatra and Borneo are a new species. Until now it had been thought they belonged to the same species that is found on mainland southeast Asia. But genetic data indicate that the two species diverged 1.4 million years ago, and have remained separate since.

"Genetic research results clearly indicate that the clouded leopards of Borneo should be considered a separate species," said Stephen O'Brien, head of the Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity.

"DNA tests highlighted around 40 differences between the two species."

This genetic disparity between these species was discovered by scientists at the US National Cancer Institute near Washington DC. The genetic difference between the two clouded leopard species is equivalent to, or greater than, comparable measures among other Panthera species (lion, tiger, leopard, and jaguar).

Additional evidence came from morphometric examination of pellage patterns: Island leopards have grey and dark fur with small "clouds" with many distinct spots in them, and twin stripes along their backs, whereas mainland leopards and are lighter in color and have large cloud markings on their skin with fewer, fainter, spots within their cloud markings (see figure, below).

"The moment we started comparing the skins of the mainland clouded leopard and the leopard found on Borneo, it was clear we were comparing two different species," said Andrew Kitchener from the National Museums of Scotland. Because of their distinct skull structure, the two species are considered sufficiently different from other cats to be the only members of their genus.

"It's incredible that no-one has ever noticed these differences."

The mainland clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa (left) has been separated from its island cousin, Neofelis diardi (right) for about 1.4 million years, research suggests.

Image: WWF.

The World Wildlife Fund manages a large conservation operation on Borneo. They estimate there are between 5,000 and 11,000 clouded leopards on the island, with an additional 3,000 to 7,000 on Sumatra. Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, all of which maintain territory on these islands, earlier signed an agreement to protect the "Heart of Borneo"; 200,000 square kilometers of rainforest in the middle of the island thought to be high in biodiversity.

The Clouded Leopard has a stocky build and, proportionately, the longest canine teeth (2 inches) of any living feline. At lengths between 60 to 110 centimeters (2 feet to 3 feet 6 inches) and weighing between 11 and 20 kilograms (25 to 44 lb), Clouded leopards are the biggest predators on Borneo and one of Asia's largest cats. The clouded leopard is listed as endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act, as an Appendix I endangered species by CITES, and vulnerable by IUCN. The biggest threat to the cats is habitat destruction.


BBC News.

AP News.

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this borneo place is kinda unexplored yet or what ...?
i thought NatGeo combed the area in the 70s ...
guess they missed the cats ...
kewl cat there ...

Nice marking, but the cat in your picture looks distinctly beleaguered. Perhaps one too many nature photgraphers that day? ;-)

By David Harmon (not verified) on 18 Mar 2007 #permalink

Please excuse the gratuitous self-promotion, but do have a look at an article I published on the same subject here. The Indonesian species was first named in 1823 and later sunk into synonymy and down-graded to a subspecies.. what we're seeing there is another example of lazy, uncritical taxonomic lumping. Still, I suppose it's remarkable that no cat worker had made the case for species status earlier... plus, science is all about going on the evidence you have at the time..