New Cat Species Found: Sunda Clouded Leopard

According to recent studies, clouded leopards are not all created equal. Two distinct new species recently revealed.

Can a leopard change its spots? Apparently so, according to a team of scientists who caught images, on film, of the elusive Sunda clouded leopard from the Dermakot Forest Reserve in Malaysia.

Description, habitat & diet of the clouded leopard

Clouded leopards are usually a light yellow or tan color and have much darker and very distinct cloud shaped markings. Their chests and stomachs are covered with very light cream or white colored fur. They generally weigh about 28 pounds and their tail, which aids them in balancing and jumping, is approximately 30 inches long.

A creature of indiscriminate tastes, the clouded leopard will dine on a variety of animals. Deer, goats, monkeys, cattle, and birds are particularly favored food choices for the leopard.

Gestation, in clouded leopards typically takes 86 to 93 days. A litter will consist of between two and five babies, and they will continue to nurse for the first five months.

The originally known clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) made its home in parts of South-east Asia, China and India. The recently found species of clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), lives on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Scientists have determined that this separate leopard species split off genetically from the original species, over a million years ago

How was the new species of leopard discovered?

A team of scientists, led by Andreas Wilting, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, recorded footage of the new species in its natural habitat.

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Genetic research has now proven that the original belief that all leopards were derived from the same species is incorrect. In 2006, studies proved that there were actually two very different species of a clouded leopard. Further analysis conducted at the U.S. National Cancer Institute has shown that the differences between these two unique species are on the same scale as the differences between a lion and a tiger. Genetic researchers found at least 40 differences between the DNA, of both species, that was studied.

When trying to determine exactly what may have caused the genetic split in the original species, Wilting had this to say, “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”.

Potential dangers facing the Sunda clouded leopard

Studies are ongoing to determine the population of this previously unknown species. The slow decrease of the clouded leopards’ natural habitat is the main threat that this newly-found, beautiful and elusive cat faces.

Sources:

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, Elsevier, February 2011

Matt Walker, “Two forms of world’s ‘newest’ cat, the Sunda leopard”, Earth News, BBC, 22 January 2011

World Wildlife Fund, New Species Declared: Clouded Leopard On Borneo And Sumatra. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2011, Accessed 2 March 2011

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