The clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, is an endangered semiarboreal felid with a wide distribution in tropical forests of southern and southeast Asia, including the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in the Indonesian archipelago. In common with many larger animal species, it displays morphological variation within its wide geographical range and is currently regarded as comprising of up to four subspecies. It is widely recognized that taxonomic designation has a major impact on conservation planning and action. Given that the last taxonomic revision was made over 50 years ago, a more detailed examination of geographical variation is needed. We describe here the results of a morphometric analysis of the pelages of 57 clouded leopards sampled throughout the species' range. We conclude that there are two distinct morphological groups, which differ primarily in the size of their cloud markings. These results are supported by a recent genetic analysis. On that basis, we give diagnoses for the distinction of two species, one in mainland Asia (N. nebulosa) and the other in Indonesia (N. diardi). The implications for conservation that arise from this new taxonomic arrangement are discussed.
Figure 1. Geographical Distribution of Putative Clouded Leopard Subspecies
This figure shows the geographical distribution of the clouded leopard and the location of the original four subspecies.
Figure 3. Morphological Variation between Mainland and Indonesian Clouded Leopards
Photographs of live clouded leopards from (A) Sumatra (Jambi Province: Zoological Society of London/LIPI), (B) Borneo (Sarawak, Lambir Hill National Park: Mohd. Azlan J.), (C) Sumatra (Jambi Province: ZSL/LIPI), (D) Borneo (Danum valley, Sabah; Siew Te Wong), (E) Cambodia (Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, Mondulkin: Joe Walston, Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Program), (F) Thailand (Khao Yai National Park: Sean Austin, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute), and (G) Thailand (anaesthetized animal for radiotracking; Lon Grassman, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute); these photographs show the distinct morphological differences between mainland and Indonesian forms. Mainland animals have large almost rectangular clouds that slope backwards from the dorsal midline on the front half of the body, whereas Indonesian animals have small irregular clouds that form two or three rows arranged vertically from the dorsal midline.
Kitchener, A.C., Beaumont, M.A., Richardson, D. 2006. Geographical Variation in the Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, Reveals Two Species. Current Biology. 16 (23): 2377–2383. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2006.10.066.
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