‘Newest’ cat Sunda leopard has two distinct species

January 23rd, 2011 - 12:05 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 23 (ANI): The ‘newest’ cat species-the Sunda clouded leopard-exists in reality in two distinct forms, scientists have confirmed.

This big cat is so enigmatic that researchers only realised it was a new species-distinct from clouded leopards living elsewhere in Asia-in 2007.

Now a genetic analysis has confirmed that the cat comes in two forms, one living in Sumatra, the other on Borneo, reports the BBC.

Clouded leopards are the most elusive of all the big cats, which include lions, tigers, jaguars, snow leopards and normal spotted leopards.

Until 2006, all clouded leopards were thought to belong to a single species.

As well as the better-known clouded leopard living on the Asian mainland (Neofelis nebulosa), scientists determined that a separate clouded leopard species lives on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

The two species are thought to have diverged over one million years ago.

This leopard is now known as the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), though it was previously and erroneously called the Bornean clouded leopard.

In 2010, a team of scientists working in the Dermakot Forest Reserve in Malaysia released the first footage of the cat in the wild to be made public.

Led by Andreas Wilting of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, the researchers captured images of a Sunda clouded leopard walking along a road.

Now Wilting and colleagues have published new research, which reveals even more about this mysterious cat.

They sampled 15 Sunda clouded leopards living on Borneo and 16 living in Sumatra, conducting molecular and genetic studies to reveal their origin.

The researchers also examined the skulls of 28 further Sunda clouded leopards and the fur coats of 20 specimens held in museums, as well as the coats of cats photographed on both islands.

“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,” explained Wilting.

But his team’s analysis confirms that the latest ‘new’ species of cat to be discovered actually comes in two forms, a Bornean subspecies N. d. borneensis and the Sumatran subspecies N. d. diardi.

Their results have been published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. (ANI)

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