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Clouded leopard: Sabah to try captive breeding
Published on: Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kota Kinabalu: The clouded leopards in Borneo belong to a unique subspecies.

This discovery was made in a recent scientific study by an international team of researchers led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin (IZW), with the collaboration of Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD). Using genetic and morphological analyses, they demonstrated that Bornean clouded leopards need to be classified into a unique subspecies (Neofelis diardi borneensis) distinct from its relatives in Sumatra.

The clouded leopards drew international attention in 2006, when scientists found there to be 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 of the IZW investigated in more detail the differences between the spatially distinct populations of the Sunda clouded leopard in Borneo and Sumatra.

"Due to the long isolation of Sumatran and Bornean clouded leopards we suspected both populations to be different in their genetic and morphological characters," said Wilting.

The Sunda clouded leopard is the largest carnivore in Borneo and it was only last year that the first film of a wild Sunda clouded leopard taken in Deramakot Forests Reserve, in Sabah, was released by the IZW, the SWD and the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD).

"Their distinctiveness makes them one of the highest priority populations for conservation and ratchets up the need for conservation actions." said SWD Director Dr Laurentius Ambu. To maintain the diversity, Sumatran and Bornean clouded leopards need to be managed separately in captive breeding programmes, he said.

SWD Conservation Director, Dr Sen Nathan, said the department is trying to establish the first captive breeding programme of the Sunda clouded leopard in the Lokawi Wildlife Park in Kota Kinabalu, adding that currently this species is not kept in any European or American zoo.

The Bornean subspecies has already been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, owing to the fact that they occur at low population densities and require large home ranges for their survival.

Wilting said in order to save the Bornean clouded leopard, it is of paramount importance to protect large forest areas in Borneo, or to manage them sustainably.

Laurentius said SWD together with the IZW and the SFD, has contributed actively to efforts for the conservation of the Bornean clouded leopard for several years.

The first film was just one result of these joint efforts. Another milestone in the conservation of the Bornean clouded leopard and of other threatened Bornean carnivores is the First Borneo Carnivore Symposium, which will be held in Kota Kinabalu in June 2011. This Symposium is an initiative of the IZW, the SWD and three specialist groups (Cat SG, Small Carnivore SG and Otter SG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

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