It is becoming more and more apparent that if you want to recognize new species, Borneo is the place to be these days (although Malaysian “web footed” sharks don’t count). In this case, it’s not so much that a completely new animal has been found, but that a long suspected need for taxonomic revision has become realized. In the past, the Bornean Clouded Leopard (now known as Neofelis diardi) was assumed to be a subspecies of the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), the Bornean Clouded Leopards inhabiting the Indonesian archipelago and Clouded Leopards inhabiting mainland Asia. I haven’t had the opportunity to see an active Clouded Leopard (the one at the Philadelphia Zoo always seems to be sleeping when I’m around, but that’s what cats do best after all), but this is what they look like;
Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi)
Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Indonesia.
CREDIT: (c) WWF-Canon / Alain COMPOST
IMAGE No.: 112939
According to the WWF press release, the new species was recognized by use of DNA testing, indicating about 40 differences between the Bornean cats and their mainland relatives, their estimated time of speciation estimated at 1.4 million years ago. Other than the DNA, it is clear merely by looking at the animals that they are of two different species, the Bornean Clouded Leopards being much darker (they almost have a caramel-like coloring) with a double dorsal stripe (not visible in the picture above) and more distinct spots within the larger spots. As Dr. Andrew Kitchener (one author of the paper that determined that there are two species) said, after comparing pelts of animals from the mainland with those of Borneo;
It’s incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences.
While the actual divergence of the Borneo Clouded Leopard occurred 1.4 million years in the past, it still can give us insight into speciation and if we are lucky enough to be around for the centuries (and hopefully, millenia) to come, perhaps providing some clues as to how animals might change after a speciation event. Unfortunately such studies would take much time and effort over many generations, but I hope that by discovering and keeping track of closely related animals in differening ecologies, we can get a better idea about the “tempo and mode” of evolutionary change. Regardless of what we may learn in the future, I for one am ecstatic to know there is another great cat stalking the Bornean jungles, and I hope it will continue to do so far a long time into the future.