New Species Discovery May Help Save Borneo’s Upland Forests

Conservationists working to save threatened mountain terrain in Borneo from the incursions of a proposed palm oil plantation have a new weapon in their arsenal. Recent photographs snapped by a camera trap set up in the mountains of Kayan Mentara National Park show a mysterious carnivorous mammal which biologists claim has not yet been documented by science. If the creature is indeed a new species to science, it would be the first such discovery of a new carnivore in Borneo in more than a century.

While the as-yet unclassified animal in the grainy night-time photographs bears some similarity to viverrids (cat-sized tropical mammals with mongoose-like pointed muzzles), Indonesian hunters and biologists say they have never seen anything like what the photographs depict. Meanwhile, others are skeptical, insisting that the subject of the photos is just another viverrid, perhaps with slightly different coloration and features than typical examples of the species.

WWF has been working in the region for years, and of late has been trying to block approval of a new palm oil plantation that would eat up 7,000 square miles of currently pristine Indonesian forest, some of which is within the boundaries of the Kayan Mentara National Park. “We are working with the government of Indonesia to look at alternatives in the lowlands which, in fact, are much more suitable for growing palm than the highlands,” says Ginette Hemley, vice president for species conservation at WWF in the U.S. “For us as conservationists these photos underscore the urgency of protecting what is some of the last remaining untouched forest in Southeast Asia, both lowland and upland.”