Clouded Leopard


Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa

Sunda Clouded Leopard, Neofelis diardi

Description:

Clouded Leopard (Photo: Christian Sperka)

Clouded Leopard (Photo: Christian Sperka)

The clouded leopard is frequently described as bridging the gap between big and small cats. It has proportionately short legs and a long, bushy tail. The coat is brown or yellowish-gray and covered with irregular dark stripes, spots and blotches. Black and pale, whitish individuals have been reported from Borneo. Clouded leopards have long canine teeth with very sharp posterior edges. Although larger than other “small” cats, the clouded leopard does not roar like the larger cats. Clouded leopards weigh 25 to 50 pounds (11.3 kg to 22.68 kg) and measure 10 to 16 inches (25.4 to 40.6 cm) high at the shoulder.

Distribution:

DNA analysis indicates there are two species of clouded leopard, divided geographically into mainland cats and island cats. N. nebulosa are the mainland cats found from Nepal, Bangladesh, and eastern India through Indochina and peninsular Malaysia and northeastward to southern China and formerly Taiwan. The island cats, N. diardi, are found in Sumatra and Borneo. Although population numbers are thought to be lower outside protected areas, their populations are probably healthiest in Borneo because of the absence of tigers and leopards and subsequent lack of competition. Surveys there suggest a density of one individual per 1.5 miles squared (4 km2), although this value likely varies considerably due to suitability of habitat.

Range Maps:

http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=14519  – N. nebulosa (mainland)

http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=136603  – N. diardi (island)

Habitat:

Based on anecdotal observations, clouded leopards were originally thought to be closely associated with evergreen tropical rainforests. More recent sightings suggest they also make use of other types of habitat, including secondary and logged forest as well as grassland and scrub. In Borneo, they are reported in mangrove swamps, and in Nepal, they are found at least as high as 4,757 feet (1,450 m) and perhaps as high as 9,843 feet (3,000 m).

Diet:

Although there are very few confirmed data on predation behavior, clouded leopards are thought to prey primarily on monkeys, small deer and wild boar. They may also take birds, rodents and domestic poultry.

Clouded Leopard Cubs (Photo: Amiee Stubbs)

Clouded Leopard Cubs (Photo: Amiee Stubbs)

Social Structure:

Because the clouded leopard is such a secretive animal, with most sightings made at night, most of the knowledge of its social behavior comes from observations in zoos. Once paired as young animals, most clouded leopards in zoos remain with the same mate for life. Unlike other large cats, however, pair formation is rarely successful after one year of age. In zoos, attempting to pair clouded leopards as adults often results in injury or death of the female by the male. Females bear two to four young after a gestation of 85 to 93 days. The young reach independence in less than one year.

Behavior:

The clouded leopard has arboreal talents rivaling those of the margay of South America. In captivity, they have been seen to run down tree trunks headfirst, climb along horizontal branches with their backs to the ground and hang upside down from branches by their hind feet. However, there is no field evidence to support the assumption that they spend most of their life in trees. It now appears that trees are used primarily for resting sites and that clouded leopard movements are typically terrestrial. In Malaysia, it is known as the “tree tiger.” Interestingly, they also appear to swim well and have been found on small islands off Borneo and Vietnam. In Borneo, they may be more diurnal, presumably because of the absence of other large carnivores.

Threats to Survival:

Clouded leopards are frequent victims of habitat destruction and illegal hunting. Clear cutting of forests for use as agricultural lands is its primary threat. They are widely hunted for their teeth, decorative pelts, and bones for the traditional Asian medicinal trade and have been targeted more specifically in recent years due to the decline in tiger and leopard numbers. Their pelts are still reported on sale in urban markets of Burma, Laos, Vietnam Cambodia, Nepal and Thailand. The primary threat to Sunda clouded leopards is the expansion of oil palm plantations. Borneo and Sumatra are experiencing the world’s highest deforestation rates.

Legal Status:

Clouded leopards are considered Vulnerable by the IUCN. They are listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and are listed on CITES Appendix I. Although officially protected in most range countries, enforcement in many areas is weak. Precise data on their population numbers in the wild is unknown, but thought to be in decline.

Zoo Programs:

Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopard

Clouded leopards are considered one of the most difficult large cats to breed in zoos due to the aggression between males and females. A top priority for the Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) is increasing the number of founder animals of known origin to augment the population’s historically low genetic diversity. This goal has been supported by the establishment of the Clouded Leopard Consortium, consisting of the Thailand Zoological Parks Organization (ZPO), Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, and the Clouded Leopard SSP. This coalition of international partners works together to develop a viable self-sustaining clouded leopard breeding program in Thailand. Khao Kheow Open Zoo serves as the project’s breeding center, housing pairs of clouded leopards originating from the five zoos within the ZPO. Offspring produced in the program have been imported into the United States and are now producing cubs themselves. The target population of the Regional Collection Plan is 100 specimens.

Assisted reproduction research continues for clouded leopards in North America; however, no offspring have been produced since the only successful artificial insemination at the Nashville Zoo in 1992.

Contacts:

Clouded Leopard SSP Coordinator & International Studbook Keeper

Bonnie Breitbeil

Clouded Leopard SSP Education Advisor

Karen Povey, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Field Conservation:

The Clouded Leopard Project (www.cloudedleopard.org) is dedicated to the conservation of clouded leopards and their habitat by supporting field research, implementing education initiatives in range countries, and bringing global awareness to clouded leopard conservation issues.

Resources:

Clouded Leopard Project, www.cloudedleopard.org

Clouded Leopard Consortium, http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/ReproductiveScience/ConsEndangeredCats/CloudedLeopards/consortium.cfm