Sunda Clouded Leopard - Neofelis diardi
Temporal range: Early Pleistocene to Recent
Species: Neofelis diardi
The Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), also known as the Sundaland clouded leopard and is a medium-sized wild cat found in Borneo and Sumatra. In 2006, it was classified as a separate species, distinct from its continental relative Neofelis nebulosa.
In 2008, the IUCN classified the species as vulnerable, with a total effective population size suspected to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, and a decreasing population trend.
Previously, the species was known as the Bornean clouded leopard — a name publicised by the WWF in March 2007, quoting 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".
The Sunda clouded leopard is the largest felid in Borneo, and has a stocky build, weighing around 12 to 25 kg (26 to 55 lb). The canine teeth are 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.
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).
Distribution and habitat
The Sunda clouded leopard is probably restricted to Borneo and Sumatra. In Borneo, they occur in lowland rainforest, and at lower density, in logged forest. Records in Borneo are below 1,500 m (4,900 ft). In Sumatra, they appear to be more abundant in hilly, montane areas. It is unknown if there are still Sunda clouded leopards on the small Batu Islands close to Sumatra.
Between March and August 2005, tracks of clouded leopards were recorded during field research in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah. The population size in the 56 km2 (22 sq mi) research area was estimated to be five individuals, based on a capture-recapture analysis of four confirmed animals differentiated by their tracks; with a density estimated at eight to 17 individuals per 100 km2 (39 sq mi). The population in Sabah is roughly estimated at 1,500–3,200 individuals, with only 275–585 of them living in totally protected reserves that are large enough to hold a long-term viable population of more than 50 individuals.
The first documented film of a Sundaland clouded leopard was taken in June 2009 in Sabah.
On Sumatra, Sunda clouded leopards occur most probably in much lower densities than on Borneo. One explanation for this lower density of about 1.29 individuals per 100 km2 (39 sq mi) might be that on Sumatra clouded leopards co-occur sympatrically with the tiger, whereas on Borneo clouded leopards are the largest carnivores.
Clouded leopard fossils have been found on Java, where it perhaps became extinct in the Holocene.
Ecology and behaviour
The habits of the Sunda clouded leopard are largely unknown because of the animal's secretive nature. It is assumed that it is generally a solitary creature.
The clouded leopard hunts mainly on the ground and uses its climbing skills to hide from dangers.
Evolutionary and taxonomic history
The genetic analysis of specimens of Neofelis nebulosa and Neofelis diardi implies that the two species diverged 1.4 million years ago, after having used a now submerged land bridge to reach Borneo and Sumatra from mainland Asia.
The split of Neofelis diardi subspecies corresponds roughly with the catastrophic ‘‘super-eruption’’ of the Toba Volcano in Sumatra 69,000–77,000 years ago. A probable scenario is that Sunda clouded leopards from Borneo recolonized Sumatra during periods of low sea levels in the Pleistocene, and were later separated from their source population by rising sea levels.
The species was named Felis diardi in honor of the French naturalist and explorer Pierre-Médard Diard by Georges Cuvier in 1823, based on a drawing and skin allegedly from Java. In the 19th century Felis diardii designated both clouded and Sunda clouded leopards, colloquially "Diard's Cat".
The species was long regarded as a subspecies of the clouded leopard, and named Neofelis nebulosa diardi. In December 2006, the journal Current Biology published two articles, in which two distinct species of clouded leopard were reclassified and redefined:
Neofelis nebulosa from mainland Asia and
Neofelis diardi from the Malay archipelago, except Peninsular Malaysia.
Results of a morphometric analysis of the pelages of fifty-seven clouded leopards sampled throughout the genus' wide geographical range indicated that there are two distinct morphological groups, differing primarily in the size of their cloud markings. In another study, DNA samples from the Bornean and mainland Asia populations were used in molecular genetic analyses, revealing differences in mtDNA, nuclear DNA sequences, microsatellite and cytogenetic variation. Thirty-six fixed mitochondrial and nuclear nucleotide differences, and 20 microsatellite loci with nonoverlapping allele-size ranges distinguished the populations — a degree of differentiation equivalent to, or greater than, comparable measures among the panthera species — and strongly support a species-level distinction between Neofelis nebulosa and Neofelis diardi.
Molecular, craniomandibular and dental analysis indicates subspecifical distinction of Bornean and Sumatran clouded leopards into two populations with separate evolutionary histories — a Bornean subspecies Neofelis diardi borneensis and a Sumatran subspecies Neofelis diardi diardi. Both populations are estimated to have diverged from each other during the Middle to Late Pleistocene.
Sunda clouded leopards being strongly arboreal are forest-dependent, and are increasingly threatened by habitat destruction following deforestation in Indonesia as well as in Malaysia. Since the early 1970s, much of the forest cover has been cleared in southern Sumatra, in particular lowland tropical evergreen forest. Fragmentation of forest stands and agricultural encroachments have rendered wildlife particularly vulnerable to human pressure. Borneo has one of the world's highest deforestation rates. While in the mid-1980s forests still covered nearly three quarters of the island, by 2005 only 52% of Borneo was still forested. Both forests and land make way for human settlement. Illegal trade in wildlife is a widely spread practice.
The population status of Sunda clouded leopards in Sumatra and Borneo has been estimated to decrease due to forest loss, forest conversion, illegal logging, encroachment, and possibly hunting. In Borneo, forest fires pose an additional threat, particularly in Kaltim and in the Sebangau National Park.
There have been reports of poaching of Sunda clouded leopards in Brunei's Belait District where locals are selling their pelts at a lucrative price.
The species is listed on CITES Appendix I, and is fully protected in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. Sunda clouded leopards occur in most protected areas along the Sumatran mountain spine, and in most protected areas on Borneo.
Since November 2006, the Bornean Wild Cat and Clouded Leopard Project based in the Danum Valley Conservation Area and the Tabin Wildlife Reserve aims to study the behaviour and ecology of the five species of Bornean wild cat — bay cat, flat-headed cat, marbled cat, leopard cat, Sunda clouded leopard — and their prey, with a focus on the clouded leopard; investigate the effects of habitat alteration; increase awareness of the Bornean wild cats and their conservation needs, using the clouded leopard as a flagship species; and investigate threats to the Bornean wild cats from hunting and trade in Sabah.
The Sundaland clouded leopard is one of the focal felids of the project Conservation of Carnivores in Sabah based in northeastern Borneo since July 2008. The project team evaluates the consequences of different forms of forest exploitation for the abundance and density of felids in three commercially used forest reserves. They intend to assess the conservation needs of these felids and develop species specific conservation action plans together with other researchers and all local stakeholders.
Camera spots rare clouded leopard
Page last updated at 21:18 GMT, Saturday, 16 August 2008 22:18 UK
The Bornean clouded leopard was only classified as a distinct species in 2007
Automatic cameras have captured images of a clouded leopard in Borneo's Sebangua National Park, an area where the cats have not been recorded before.
Researchers say confirmation of the leopards' presence highlights the need to protect the region's habitat.
The park is one of the world's largest deep peat-swap forests, but is at risk from illegal logging and forest fires.
The images are helping a team of scientists identify what big cat species are found in the area.
The motion-activated remote cameras that captured the remarkable images were located on the northern edge of the Sebangau National Park, Indonesian Borneo.
"The Bornean clouded leopard is a top priority for our programme," said Professor David Macdonald, director of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, which is part of the Sebangau Felid Project.
"We are very excited by this evidence that they occur at Sebangau - a great deal remains to be discovered about these beautiful felids, which are a flagship for conservation in South-East Asia."
Based on estimates of density and population range, the team says the clouded leopards number no more than 10,000 sexually mature adults.
The cat was first classified as a separate species in 2007 after genetic testing highlighted at least 40 differences from clouded leopards found on mainland Asia.
The project aims to protect Indonesian Borneo's wild cat species, which also include the leopard cat, marbled cat and flat-headed cat.
As well as capturing the first image of the Bornean cloud leopard (Neofelis diardi) in the park, the cameras have also photographed a number of other species, including Malaysian sun bears, bearded pigs and lesser mouse deer.
The national park is also home to the world's largest remaining population of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii), and a "substantial" number of Bornean southern gibbons (Hylobates albibarbis).
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/sci ... 561940.stm
Delving Into the Past of a Big Cat: Clouded Leopard Redefined
ScienceDaily (Jan. 24, 2011) — Using genetic and morphological analyses, an international team of researchers led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, has recently demonstrated that the clouded leopard (Neofelis) should not only be classified into two species, but that one of which even comprises two distinct subspecies.
As shown in 2006, the genus Neofelis comprises two species living with distinct distributions. Clouded leopards from Borneo and Sumatra are genetically and morphologically highly 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 and Joerns Fickel of the IZW collected fur and bone samples of the clouded leopard from natural history museums worldwide, with the aim of elucidating to what extent the spatially distinct populations of the Sunda clouded leopard have followed different evolutionary paths. "Although we suspected that Sunda clouded leopards on Borneo and Sumatra have likely been geographically separated since the last Ice Age, it was not known whether this long isolation had caused them to split up into separate sub-species," explains Wilting.
In the course of their study, the researchers were able to demonstrate considerable genetic differences between the two populations. Dissimilarities between populations were also found with regard to skull morphology, as shown by Per Christiansen of the University of Aalborg, Denmark, a co-author of the study. In contrast, a comparison of coat colour patterns conducted by Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland yielded only small deviations between the populations -- the authors surmise that this finding could be attributed to the highly similar tropical habitats on Borneo and Sumatra. Based on these distinct patterns of genetic and morphological variation, the researchers have now formally described two subspecies of the Sunda clouded leopard: one occurring exclusively in Sumatra, the other being endemic to Borneo.
"So far we can only speculate about the specific course of events in the evolution of the clouded leopard," says Joerns Fickel. The scientists postulate that natural disasters and global climate periods are responsible for the split into two species and subspecies. The eruption of the "super-volcano" Toba on Sumatra ~75.000 years ago is likely to have played a particularly important role in this process. As Fickel explains, this event unquestionably had extreme consequences for the Southeast Asian fauna and flora. On that account, the researchers conclude that in all likelihood, only two populations of clouded leopards survived the eruption, one in southern China (Neofelis nebulosa) and one on Borneo (Neofelis diardi). In a plausible scenario, the latter recolonised Sumatra via glacial land bridges and subsequently developed into a different subspecies as sea levels rose after the last Ice Age and isolated the two islands.
Both subspecies are classified as endangered by the IUCN, owing to the fact that they, as all other big cats, occur at low population densities and require big home ranges for their survival. In order to save the Sunda clouded leopard, it is therefore of paramount importance to protect large forest areas in Borneo and Sumatra, or at least to manage them sustainably, Wilting emphasises. For this reason, the project is being carried out in close collaboration with Sabah Wildlife Department in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo. Dr. Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, adds that the IZW together with his department has contributed actively to efforts for the conservation of the Sunda clouded leopard in Borneo for several years, and last year, this team published the first video footage of a Sunda clouded leopard from the wild.
A photograph of a clouded leopard from Borneo (Neofelis diardi borneensis) taken in 2009 by an automated camera-trap set up by the Conservation of Carnivores in Sabah (ConCaSa) project in Tangkulap Forest Reserve, Sabah Malaysia.
Andreas Wilting, Per Christiansen, Andrew C. Kitchener, Yvonne J.M. Kemp, Laurentius Ambu, Jörns Fickel. Geographical variation in and evolutionary history of the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) with the description of a new subspecies from Borneo. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2010.11.007
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 215859.htm
Elusive Clouded Leopard Captured on Film—a First
Recently identified species spotted in Indonesia forest.
National Geographic News
Published March 2, 2011
A camera trap has caught one of the world's most elusive cats on film for the first time, conservationists say.
The Sundaland clouded leopard—only identified as its own species in 2007—was spotted recently in Indonesia's Berbak National Park on the island of Sumatra, according to the Zoological Society London (ZSL).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrvVTMP- ... r_embedded
Previously the cat was believed to be of the same species as the mainland clouded leopard.
"This footage is further evidence of the rich wildlife found in Berbak National Park, and is yet another reason why it [is] essential that a conservation plan is put in place for the long-term protection of these forests," ZSL's Sarah Christie said in a statement.
The new video shows one of the predator's unique adaptations to treetop living—a long tail that ensures balance on branches. The cat also relies on long claws and highly flexible ankles to scramble among the trees—and even shimmy down tree trunks like a squirrel, according to ZSL.
The species, listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, probably numbers at fewer than ten thousand animals.
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... s-science/