Sunday, January 23, 2011

Clouded leopards in Borneo a unique subspecies

KOTA KINABALU: Using genetic and morphological analyses, an international team of researchers led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin (IZW), in cooperation with the Sabah Wildlife Department recently demonstrated that the Bornean clouded leopards need to be classified as a unique subspecies (Neofelis diardi borneensis), distinct from its relatives in Sumatra.

In 2006 clouded leopards have drawn international attention, when scientists found that the clouded leopard actually comprises two species living with distinct distributions.

Clouded leopards from Borneo and Sumatra are genetically and morphologically distinct from their relatives on the mainland (Neofelis nebulosa) and thus form a separate species, the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi).

Following up on these findings, a team of researchers led by Andreas Wilting of the IZW investigated in more detail the differences between the spatially distinct populations of the Sunda clouded leopard on Borneo and Sumatra.

Wilting explains: “Due to the long isolation of Sumatran and Bornean clouded leopards we suspect both populations to be different in their genetic and morphological characters and this proves to be true and based on the observed significant distinct characteristics, the researchers have now formally described two subspecies of the Sunda clouded leopard,one occurring exclusively in Sumatra, the other being endemic to Borneo.”

The Sunda clouded leopard is the largest carnivore on Borneo and it was only last year that the first film of a wild Sunda clouded leopard taken in Deramakot Forests Reserve, in Sabah, was released by the IZW, SWD and the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD). This new finding separating Bornean and Sumatran clouded leopards adds another dimension to this discovery as it highlights that Sunda clouded leopards in Bornean forests are unique.

“Their distinctiveness makes them one of the highest priority populations for conservation and ratchets up the need for conservation actions.” said state wildlife director Dr Laurentius Ambu.

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