The clouded leopard of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra is its own unique species, according to genetic test results announced yesterday by WWF, the international conservation organization (Indonesia map showing Borneo and Sumatra). Until now the cat was believed to be of the same species as the mainland clouded leopard.
The differences aren't all in the genes, either—the two species have different fur patterns and skin coloration.
"It's incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences," said Andrew Kitchener, mammal and bird curator for National Museums Scotland, in a statement.
Weighing in at about 50 pounds (23 kilograms), the Bornean clouded leopard—as it's being called—is the largest predator on Borneo and is second only to the Sumatran tiger on Sumatra. A hunter of lizards, monkeys, and small deer, the big cat has proportionately the longest canine teeth of any cat.
Many of the estimated 8,000 to 18,000 Bornean clouded leopards in existence inhabit a Kansas-size, mountainous rain forest called the Heart of Borneo.
"The fact that Borneo's top predator is now considered a separate species," said WWF's Adam Tomasek in a statement, "further emphasizes the uniqueness of the island and the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo."
This beautiful Asian cat, named for its spotted coat, is seldom seen in the wild, and its habits remain a bit mysterious. Clouded leopards roam the hunting grounds of Asia from the rain forests of Indonesia to the foothills of the Nepali Himalayas. Though little information is known about their population sizes, they are considered a vulnerable species.
Most cats are good climbers, but the clouded leopard is near the top of its class. These big cats can even hang upside down beneath large branches, using their large paws and sharp claws to secure a good grip. Clouded leopards have short, powerful legs equipped with rotating rear ankles that allow them to safely downclimb in a headfirst posture—much like a common squirrel. Sharp eyesight helps them judge distances well, and the cats use their long tails to maintain balance.
Though clouded leopards are great climbers, scientists believe that they do most of their hunting on the ground, feasting on deer, pigs, monkeys, and smaller fare such as squirrels or birds. They are aided in their hunting by the largest canine teeth (proportionate to body size) of any wild cat.
Scientists are not sure exactly how clouded leopards act in the wild. They are probably solitary animals, like most cats. Females give birth to a litter of one to five cubs every year, and the young leopards remain dependent upon their mother for about ten months.
Scientific Name: Neofelis nebulosa
Size: Head and body 2-3.6 feet (60-110cm); tail length 2-3 feet (60-90cm)
Weight: 33-43 pounds (15-20kg)
Distribution: India, S. China, Nepal, Burma, Indochina to Sumatra and Borneo, and Taiwan
Habitat: In dense tropical forests at altitudes up to 6,500 feet (2,000m)
Diet: Small deer, young buffalo, pigs, monkeys, squirrels, porcupines, birds, and reptiles
Reproduction: After a gestation period of 12-13 weeks, female gives birth to 1-5 cubs
Longevity: from 11 to 17 years in captivity
Population: Estimated at below 10,000