Poaching, habitat loss taking toll on Bornean clouded leopard
When the Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) was first identified as its own species in 2006, it was almost instantly added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as “vulnerable” to extinction. Just four years later evidence out of Brunei, one of the three countries on the island of Borneo and the one we hear about the least, indicates increasing pressure on the rare cats that could quickly push it further toward extinction.
According to two separate reports from The Brunei Times, Bornean clouded leopards are heavily threatened both by poaching and deforestation, which is eliminating their habitat.
We often hear about deforestation on Borneo in relation to orangutans, with the news usually coming out of Indonesia, which controls nearly three quarters of the island. Brunei represents just 1 percent of Borneo, about 5,700 square kilometers. It’s rare to get news about Brunei’s species, however, because the country is not exactly media friendly.
Killing clouded leopards or selling their body parts is already illegal under Brunei’s Wildlife Protection Act, but a recent investigation by wildlife experts from the University Brunei Darussalam (U.B.D.) found that people either do not know about the law or simply don’t care. “I was told by some local hunters that they would kill them and sell their skin for several thousand U.S. dollars,” the university’s Ang Lee Bian told the Times. Punishment for breaking the Wildlife Protection Act is one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The act, which is rarely enforced or even promoted, predates the Bornean clouded leopard’s scientific discovery and still refers to it as a related species, the similarly yet more simply named “clouded leopard” (N. nebulosa), which actually does not exist on Borneo at all.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Bornean clouded leopards are highly valued for their pelts and teeth—the largest of any feline species—whereas their bones are used in traditional Asian medicine. WWF reports that clouded leopard pelts have been found for sale in China, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal and Thailand.
Meanwhile, much of the leopard’s forest habitat on Borneo is being cut down, both for illegal lumber and to make room for palm tree plantations (also often illegal), forcing leopards closer—if not into—human settlements. One such cat has been observed in the populous area of Mukim Labi, where it has been spotted several times during the day. “This animal is nocturnal,” U.B.D. senior lecturer Joseph Charles told the Times. “If they come down to the place [a neighborhood], either it’s hungry, couldn’t sleep anywhere in peace [or] is very disturbed.”
Bornean clouded leopards live on Borneo and nearby Sumatra. Photo via Wikipedia