May 30, 2008

Scientists Find Borneo's Clouded Leopards To Be New Species

GENEVA, March 15 Kyodo

U.S. scientists have discovered that the clouded leopard found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra is an entirely new species of cat, the conservationist group WWF International announced Thursday.

The secretive rainforest animal was originally thought to be the same species as the one found in mainland Southeast Asia, based on their general physical appearance.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity in Maryland found genetic differences between the two types to be equivalent to or greater than those between lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars.

In terms of appearance, the clouded leopards in Borneo and Sumatra have small cloud markings with many distinct spots within the clouds. They are darker in color than those of the mainland, which have larger cloud markings with fewer spots within the clouds.

''For over a hundred years we have been looking at this animal and never realized it was unique,'' Stuart Chapman, international coordinator of the WWF's Heart of Borneo program, was quoted as saying.

''The fact that Borneo's top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasizes the importance of conserving one of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth,'' he said.

The news comes just a few weeks after a WWF report showed that scientists had identified at least 52 new species of animals and plants over the past year on Borneo.

WWF roughly estimates there are between 5,000 and 11,000 Bornean clouded leopards and between 3,000 to 7,000 Sumatran ones.

With the reclassification, the scientific name of the clouded leopard from the mainland remains Neofelis nebulosa, while the clouded leopard from Borneo and Sumatra is now called Neofelis diardi.

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