Monday, March 19, 2007

Animal of the Week March 19, 2007 -- New leopard

Well, it's fast turning into mammal of the week around here, I was very much going to not have a mammal as animal of the week, but then a new species of beautiful big cat is named, so this week's animal of the week is, of course, Neofelis diardii (Bornean clouded leopard).

Clouded leopards are members of the group of big cats including snow leopards, tigers, leopards, lions, and jaguars, although they are generally thought to be the cats that diverged from the others in this group earliest. Previously the cats on Borneo and Sumatra were thought to be a subspecies of the Neofelis nebulosa, but genetic studies suggest that they diverged from the mainland cats over 1 million years ago when they spread out into the Malay archipelago before it was divided by the sea, and they are distinct enough to have species status themselves.

Although the clouded leopards are small big cats, on Borneo they are the largest predator, on Sumatra, the few tigers that remain put them firmly into second place. Despite their diminutive stature they are finely honed predators and along with jaguars, they have, relative to their body size, the strongest bite of the big cats. Clouded leopards also have the longest canines relative to body size. What all this means, I know not.

Should you be faced with having to tell the two species of clouded leopard appart and you do not have the facility to sequence their mitochondrial genes, the Bornean clouded leopard is much darker than the mainland species and has spots within its cloudy markings. It will also be on Borneo and Sumatra and not on the mainland.

So there you go, what does this new speices status mean? It means more funding for conservation efforts, and more awareness for plight of Borneo's forests threatened by the lumber and palm oil industries. And what does that mean, that means that maybe this isn't really a separate species at all, just a subspecies as previously thought, raised in status by duplicitous conservationists. It all depends whose side you're on really.

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At 9:09 PM, Blogger animaloftheweek said...

If you have come here from the old email list to make some sarcastic comment about the editing in the email, I hope I have managed to sort out the major gaffs and you will forgive a poor beleaguered ex-copyeditor the odd sip up.


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