By Alison Walker-Baird
Published on January 28, 2007
FREDERICK -- The clouded leopard's namesake spots help camouflage the wild Asian cat in the forest, but a local scientist's discovery may help protect this vulnerable species from extinction at the hands of humans.
The population of this avid climber -- not a type of leopard but a separate "big cat" species -- has shrunk into endangerment, as the cats are hunted for their fur and meat, and their habitat is destroyed.
Four subspecies of clouded leopard had been recognized in Southeast Asia, but a National Cancer Institute at Frederick researcher has now discovered one of those is a separate species.
NCI-F's findings were published in a December 2006 paper in Current Biology. The paper's lead author, Valerie Buckley-Beason, is a researcher in the institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity.
The scientific community will likely name the new species Neofelis diardi, Buckley-Beason said.
She found major genetic differences between mainland clouded leopards, a subspecies found from Southern China to eastern Burma, and the diardi, found on the island of Borneo.
Finding that separate species may boost conservation efforts, said Karen Povey, coordinator of The Clouded Leopard Project, a conservation and research group based in Tacoma, Wash.
"We know so little about them," Povey said. "This is very exciting -- it shows we have so many opportunities to learn about clouded leopards."
For more on this story, see Monday's edition of The Frederick News-Post.