Factsheet: Bornean Red Carnivore from Kayan Mentarang National Park, Indonesia
The photographs show a red mammal slightly larger than a domestic cat. One photo is a front view while the other is a rear view. Unfortunately the head of the animal is partly obscured by a leaf in the front-view photograph. The fur of the animal is entirely dark red. The animal has a very long bushy tail, almost as long as its body. The snout is probably pointed and the ears are very small. The most remarkable features of this animal are the very large hind legs. The overall shape quite clearly indicates that this animal is a carnivore.
The body shape is very different from a treeshrew, a squirrel, or any other rodent species. It could be a new species of civet, or marten.
The photographs were compared to all other camera trap pictures of civets and martens, but none of these match. The photos of the animal were shown to many local people who are very familiar with the wildlife of the area. Nobody however had ever seen this creature before. When I asked them whether it could be a red morph of a Masked Palm Civet or another civet species, they told me that the shape is just too different and that is likely a new, unknown, species.
The photographs were shown to several mammal specialists from various institutions: The Chicago Field Museum (Dr. Harry Leaney, who has worked on Philippine & SE Asian mammals for 30 years), the Smithsonian (Dr. Louise Emmons, a senior mammalogist who worked in Sabah in the 1980s and has seen most of its mammal fauna), and the Sabah Museum (Mr. Rob Stuebing and others). Nobody knew what kind of animal it was. It was definitely not a cat species. Some people mentioned that is looked like a Lemur, though most people thought that is was a kind of civet. It was suggested that this animal might be a red colour morph. However, Dr. Emmons remarked that the animal was “almost like a civet, but the tail is too weird, and there are no orange patternless civets in Borneo”. The only way to know for sure whether this animal is a new species is by obtaining a specimen. WWF has tried for more than one year to capture additional photographs, and will now try to catch a life specimen by using cage traps.
It is very rare nowadays to discover a new mammal species. The discovery of a new species of Barking Deer in Vietnam in 1997 was quite a sensation. It is even more amazing to discover a new species of carnivore in South-east Asia. The last time when this happened in Borneo was with the discovery of the Borneo Ferret-Badger in 1895.
The discovery of a new mammal species would strongly emphasize the importance of the conservation of this part of the Heart of Borneo. But even without this kind of sensational discoveries the enormous natural diversity of Kayan Mentarang in itself should be a sufficient reason to save this area for the future.