Thursday, 25 October 2007

Borneo's Own Big Cat

The caption under a small photo of a clouded leopard on the index pages of the October 2007 issue of the National Geographic, “A New Species”, was a little misleading. However further inside the magazine is the full explanation and a full length photo of the feline together with a map showing (somewhat optimistically, IMHO) the extent of the remaining rain forests on Borneo.

Neofelis diardi is not exactly a new species as it was first described by a zoologist 184 long years ago in 1823. However later taxonomists demoted this cat to sub-species status, i.e. they thought this cat was merely a race of the species Neofelis nebulosa which are found all over Asia ranging from Nepal through Eastern China to Southeast Asia including Sumatra and Borneo. Thus those Borneo, and Sumatra, were classified under Neofelis nebulosa diardi until now when new detailed analysis shows that, in spite of very similar appearance, they are genetically vastly different from their mainland cousins.

While we think this calls for a celebration, we also mourn the fact that the rain forests of our great island where these magnificent cats and countless other animals live, are disappearing fast! The so-called Heart of Borneo set aside by three countries that share it is indeed being set aside FOR the cultivation of oil and bio-fuel production with each of these participating countries seemingly trying to outrace each other to “develope” (read “destroy”) the land.

This photo of a bored and unhappy captive animal was taken at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park in Kota Kinabalu. I accept that some animals need to be captured for various legitimate reasons, including for display to educate the public but I strongly oppose capturing and displaying animals sorely for entertainment and financial gains. Though sometimes it’s difficult to judge and draw a line…

The common English name for this cat would probably be Bornean Clouded Leopard or Island Clouded Leopard (to include Sumatra). Anyway the many natives of Borneo have their own name for it: Mondou/Inanasad/Nanansad/Tangangansad (Kadazandusun); Enkuli (Iban); Lakuing (Brunei); Kuleh (Kayan); Kuir (Kelabit, Lundayeh); Tantanion (Murut). In Malay it’s Harimau Dahan or Rimau Dahan.

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