Mystery mammal discovered in Borneo’s forests
06 December 2005 [NewScientist.com]
A mysterious red furry creature, captured on film in the dense forests of Borneo, could be a new species of carnivore.
The mammal, which is slightly larger than a domestic cat, has dark red fur and a long, bushy tail. It was snapped twice at night by a camera trap set up by researchers from the conservation group WWF.
Its general shape – with a possibly pointed snout, small ears, and large powerful hind legs – suggests it is a meat-eater. It has some similarities with martens or civets and could belong to these groups, or it may belong to an entirely new group, says WWF.
“New species are always exciting, and new species of cuddly things are exciting,” says Nick Isaac, a research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, UK.
But he warns it may be difficult to establish whether the new find genuinely represents a new species, or just a variation on a known species. “My reservation is – is it a range extension, or a slightly different colour morph of something we know about?” he told New Scientist.
Hair or faeces
“We showed the photos of the animal to locals who know the wildlife of the area, but nobody had ever seen this creature before,” says Stephan Wulffraat, a biologist coordinating WWF’s research on the new mystery mammal. “We also consulted several Bornean wildlife experts, s. Some thought it looked like a lemur, but most were convinced it was a carnivore.”
He says the only way to know for certain whether the strange mammal is a new species is to capture one. The team is attempting to capture snare a live animal using cage traps.
Isaac says that catching an animal is the ideal way to establish its true identity. However, in recent years taxonomists have been able to classify some new species, for example beetles, by using their DNA. “If you could get a hair from this thing or faeces then you could compare the DNA with close relatives,” he suggests.
A fur trap next to the camera trap might be able to betray the creature’s identity if it could snatch a hair from the root so its DNA-containing follicle could be used.
The use of camera traps has meant many new species are being discovered, says Isaac. Grids of cameras can be left on animal trails for weeks. And digital photography with good flashes means the technology has made it easier for modern scientists to make discoveries. “The Victorians didn’t have that luxury,” he adds.
The new beast, with its dark red fur and long tail, could be a new species of marten or civet, or belong to a new group entirely (Image: Stephan Wulffraat, WWF)
Experts are mystified by the new creature, with some saying it looks like a civet, and others say that it resembles a lemur (Image: Stephan Wulffraat, WWF)
 Mystery mammal discovered in Borneo’s forests [NewScientist.com]