It turns out a leopard really can change its spots—or at least its species. New DNA tests show that Borneo's top predator is one of a kind.
The clouded leopard of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra is its own unique species, according to genetic test results announced yesterday by WWF, the international conservation organization (Indonesia map showing Borneo and Sumatra). Until now the cat was believed to be of the same species as the mainland clouded leopard.
The differences aren't all in the genes, either—the two species have different fur patterns and skin coloration.
"It's incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences," said Andrew Kitchener, mammal and bird curator for National Museums Scotland, in a statement.
Weighing in at about 50 pounds (23 kilograms), the Bornean clouded leopard—as it's being called—is the largest predator on Borneo and is second only to the Sumatran tiger on Sumatra. A hunter of lizards, monkeys, and small deer, the big cat has proportionately the longest canine teeth of any cat.
Many of the estimated 8,000 to 18,000 Bornean clouded leopards in existence inhabit a Kansas-size, mountainous rain forest called the Heart of Borneo.
"The fact that Borneo's top predator is now considered a separate species," said WWF's Adam Tomasek in a statement, "further emphasizes the uniqueness of the island and the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo."