Zoology

Bornean Clouded Leopard

Content Cover Image

Neofelis diardi. Source: William Jardine's The Natural History of The Feline, Rimau-Dahan. 1837

The Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), or Sundaland clouded leopard, is a medium-sized wildcat found on Borneo, Sumatra and the Batu Islands in the Malay Archipelago  Its coat is marked with irregularly-shaped, dark-edged ovals which are said to be shaped like clouds, hence its common name. Though scientists have known of its existence since the early 19th century, it was positively identified as being a distinct species in its own right in 2006, having long been believed to be a subspecies of the mainland Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). WWF quoted Dr. Stephen O'Brien of the U.S. National Cancer Institute as saying, "Genetic research results clearly indicate that the clouded leopard of Borneo should be considered a separate species".

caption Bornean clouded leopard. Lower Kinabatangan River basin.

 

Conservation Status

 

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum:--- Chordata
Class:------ Mammalia
Order:------- Carnivora
Family:-------- Felidae
Genus:--------- Neofelis
Species:--------- Neofelis diardi (G. Cuvier, 1823)

Common Names:
Bornean Clouded Leopard
Sundaland Clouded Leopard

Anatomy and morphology

The Bornean Clouded Leopard has a stocky build, with a body mass of around 12 to 25 kilograms. It is the largest felid in Borneo. The clouded leopard hunts mainly terrestrially and uses its climbing skills to hide from dangers. With short and flexible legs, large paws, and keen claws, this big cat is extremely sure-footed. The canine teeth are typically about two inches long, which, in proportion to the skull length, are longer than those of any other extant feline. Its tail can grow to be as long as its body, aiding balance.

Distribution

The Bornean Clouded Leopard's range is Borneo and Sumatra in the Malay Archipelago. The species was previously found in Java, but has not been recorded there since Neolithic times, based upon archaelogical recoveries. Sabah, on the island of Borneo is one of the last strongholds of the occurrence of this endangered species; in particular, lowland tropical forests at altitudes of less than 2000 meters are considered the prime distribution loci.

The first documentary film of the species in Malaysia was produced in June, 2009.

Ecology and life history

Habitat

The preferred habitat for N. diardi is lowland tropical forest and subtropical forest at altitudes up to about 2000 metres (6500 feet).

Behaviour

The habits of the Bornean Clouded Leopard are largely unknown because of the animal's secretive nature. It is assumed that it is generally a solitary creature.
 

Etymology and taxonomic history

Despite its name, the Bornean Clouded Leopard is not closely related to the leopard. The species was named Neofelis diardi in honor of French naturalist and explorer Pierre-Médard Diard; in the 19th century Felis diardii designated the Clouded Leopard/Bornean Clouded Leopard, colloquially Diard's Cat. The local names, Macan Dahan in Indonesian and Harimau Dahan in Malay (also reported historically in Sumatra), mean "tree branch tiger".

The species was long regarded as a subspecies of the Clouded Leopard, named N. nebulosa diardi. In December 2006, two articles in the journal Current Biology detailed a strong case for reclassifying and redefining two distinct species of Clouded Leopard: N. nebulosa from mainland Asia and N. diardi from the Malay archipelago, except Peninsular Malaysia. A United Kingdom study led by Andrew C. Kitchener detailed geographical variations in the Clouded Leopard, indicating a split of two species. The results of a morphometric analysis of the pelages of fifty-seven Clouded Leopards sampled throughout the genus-wide geographical range concluded that there were two distinct morphological groups, differing primarily in the size of their cloud markings.

Another study led by Valerie A. Buckley-Beason cited molecular evidence for the species-level distinction of the Clouded Leopard, although the study only used DNA samples from the Bornean population and mainland Asia and not from the Sumatran population. The genetics study found differences in the molecular genetic analyses (mtDNA, nuclear DNA sequences, microsatellite variation, and cytogenetic differences) of the different species of Clouded Leopard. Among the molecular disparities between the two species were thirty-six fixed mitochondrial and nuclear nucleotide differences and 20 microsatellite loci with nonoverlapping allele-size ranges. The study stated that the degree of differentiation was similar to the differences between the five Panthera species, thus concluding that N. diardi is a separate species from N. nebulosa.

Wilting et al. provided further evidence that sub-species should also be considered. They estimated that since the middle to late Pleistocene, Bornean and Sumatran clouded leopards were most likely isolated from each other and unable to move freely between islands. They suggest further studies to clarify this point due to the small sample sizes studied. The following classification is suggested : Bornean clouded leopard N. diardi borneensis and Sumatran clouded leopard N. diardi diardi, referring to their origin.

 

Sampling locations and suggested new classification of clouded leopards. The new classification is based on this molecular analysis and data obtained from Buckley-Beason et al. Numbers before the slash indicate the number of samples from this study, those after the slash indicate the number of samples that were included in the mtDNA analysis obtained from Buckley-Beason et al. [Source : Frontiers in Zoology]

Evolutionary history

The genetic analysis of N. nebulosa and N. diardi suggest the two species diverged approximately 1.4 million years ago, after the animals utilised a now submerged land bridge to reach Borneo and Sumatra from mainland Asia.

Conservation

caption Massive habitat destruction for palm oil plantations, Kinabatangan River basin, Sabah, Borneo. @ C.Michael Hogan The Bornean Clouded Leopard's elusive behaviour impedes scientific study, hence exact figures of its population are not available. However, recent studies and filming (Dr Robert Martin) estimate the population to be between 5000 and 11,000 of these great cats left on Borneo, and 3000 to 7000 on Sumatra. In the countries of its native range, hunting of the Clouded Leopard is prohibited. However, these bans are very poorly enforced.

A recent study conducted in 2006, focusing on classifying tracks found in Sabah (northeastern Borneo), placed an estimate on the population: 1500 to 3200 cats in Sabah, with only 275–585 of them in substantial sized protected reserves.

Encroachment upon and complete destruction of the Bornean Clouded Leopard's natural habitat, primarily by logging and the creation of rubber and palm oil plantations, continues to threaten the entirety of the wild fauna of Borneo. The current IUCN Red Data category of "Vulnerable" might underestimate the threat these cats are facing

References

  • V.A.Buckley-Beason, Johnson, W.E., Nash, W.G., Stanyon, R., Menninger, J.C., Driscoll, C.A., Howard, J., Bush, M., Page, J.E., Roelke, M.E., Stone, G., Martelli, P., Wen, C., Ling, L.; Duraisingam, R.K., Lam, V.P., O'Brien, S.J. 2006. Molecular Evidence for Species-Level Distinctions in Clouded Leopards. Current Biology 16 (23): 2371–2376.
  • Hearn, A., Sanderson, J., Ross, J., Wilting, A. and Sunarto, S. 2008. Neofelis diardi. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Kitchener, A.C., Beaumont, M.A. and Richardson, D. 2006. Geographical Variation in the Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, Reveals Two Species. Current Biology 16 (23): 2377–2383.
  • Wilting A., Buckley-Beason, V. A., Feldhaar, H., Gadau, J., O’Brien, S. J. and Linsenmair, S. E. 2007. Clouded leopard phylogeny revisited: support for species and subspecies recognition. Frontiers in Zoology 4: 15.
Glossary

Citation

Welch, T. (2013). Bornean Clouded Leopard. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbed1e7896bb431f68fdc7

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