Clouded Leopard

The Clouded Leopard is the smallest of the big cats and is not a close relative to the Leopards. This Asian feline is an evolutionary bridge between the small cats and the big cats. Studying these solitary carnivores is still an obscure topic for the scientists mostly because of their natural inclination of living concealed from view. The clouded leopards found in Southeast Asia are genetically different from the Sunda clouded leopards (Neofelis diardi) that dwell in Sumatra and Borneo. These two species were isolated only in 2006.

Clouded Leopard Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Mammalia
Carnivora
Felidae
Neofelis
Neofelis nebulosa

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Clouded Leopard

Animalia
Chordata
Mammalia
Carnivora
Felidae
Neofelis
Neofelis nebulosa

Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopard

Physical Description

Size (Length): Males measure between 11.5 and 23 kg (25 and 51 lb), while females are between 68.6 and 94 cm. Including tail, the males are 81 to 108 cm (32 to 43 in), and females are 61 to 82 cm (24 to 32 in).

Height: Shoulder height is between 50 and 55 cm (20 to 22 in).

Skin/Coat: Short haired that can be tawny to orange-yellow to darker shades of gray and brown, with black ring markings that are dark in the center, with two black bars on the neck.

Body: Stout and stocky built.

Head: The structure of the long skull has given the head a slim shape.

Feet: Relatively shorter legs with broad paws, making them a good climber.

Teeth: Very long canine teeth with the upper pair measuring 4 cm or more.

Claws: Consisting of sharp nails that are retractable inside the toe skin.

Tail: Very long, attaining a length of up to 65 cm.

Clouded Leopard Skull

Clouded Leopard Teeth

Clouded Leopard Size

Clouded Leopard Tail

Lifespan

The life span of those living in the wild is not known. The captive animals have been recorded to be living up to 17 years.

Distribution

The clouded leopards are spread across the countries around the Himalayas viz. India, Nepal, northeastern and southeastern Bangladesh. In India, they are found in northern West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Manipur. They are also spread across South of China, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the Malaysian peninsula.

Habitat: Where do Clouded Leopards live

These cats primarily live in the tropical evergreen rainforests. However, if they find suitable prey, the clouded leopards can live in dry forests, scrublands, grasslands or mangrove swamps. The clouded leopard has been found in the higher altitudes of the Himalayan mountain range.

Clouded Leopard Habitat

Clouded Leopard Habitat

Cloud Leopard

Subspecies

  1. Neofelis nebulosa macrosceloides
  2. Neofelis nebulosa nebulosa
  3. Neofelis nebulosa brachyura

[The last in the list (commonly known as the ‘Formosan Clouded Leopard’), was found in Taiwan. With the last confirmed sighting dating back to 1989, it is now considered extinct.]

Behavior and Lifestyle

The lifestyle of the clouded leopard is very secretive, and hence, very little has been known about their nature. Most of the information has been derived studying the specimens in captivity.

  • They were thought to be highly arboreal that are mainly nocturnal and crepuscular hunters. Recent studies have suggested that they would also move around and prey on the ground and not that nocturnal.
  • By virtue of their large paws and sharp claws, these cats are very agile tree climbers that can even climb down the vertical trunks in a headfirst posture much like squirrels. They have the ability to hang down from branches winding the tail around them and grasping them using their hind paws. They can also jump up to a height of 2 m (3.9 ft). Their sharp eyesight aids in viewing or locating distances easily.
  • These cats do not emit a purring sound. They rather have a range of vocalizations like growl, snort, moan, mewl, and hiss, which they use to express different emotions and purposes like greeting, aggression, locating, etc. They also communicate by leaving marks, scratching on tree trunks.
  • The cloud leopards are territorial and mark their territories spraying urine. The males have large sebaceous glands on their cheeks that they rub onto objects for scent-marking.
  • They mostly lead a life of solitude, except during mating or when with their cubs.
Clouded Leopards

Clouded Leopards

Pictures of Clouded Leopard

Pictures of Clouded Leopard

Diet: What Do Clouded Leopards Eat

Because of the difficulty in studying these leopards, not much has been recorded about their eating habits or what they eat. Their confirmed prey-list includes arboreal and rodents like monkeys, squirrels etc., and terrestrial animals like pigs, goats, deer, slow loris, brush-tailed porcupine, Malayan pangolin, young buffaloes, domestic livestock, and even birds, including pheasants.

Mating and Breeding

One sexual behavior of the male clouded leopard is rather strange. They are usually aggressive during mating and would often bite the female on the neck severing her vertebrae during courtship. The female, being almost half the male’s size, is powerless to resist, and would often die.

In captivity, the male-female compatibility is a crucial part. With the ‘estrus’ lasting for about six days (and the estrous cycle lasts for 30 days on an average), the pair would mate multiple times for a few days. After the period is over, the male deserts the female to give birth to the kittens after a gestation period of 93 ± 6 days and raise them up. The average age of reproduction in both males and females is 26 months.

Clouded Leopards

Clouded Leopard Cub

Clouded Leopard Cub

Life Cycle of the Baby Clouded Leopard

The litter size of the clouded leopard is one to five, but mostly three. Like most kittens, the babies are mostly helpless and blind, and gain vision within ten days from birth. They are born around 170 grams and need constant support and care of the mother until they are three months old. The cubs are born with solid dark coat, devoid of the adult cloudy patterns that they only develop after attaining six months of age. It is believed that the mothers hide their babies in dense vegetation before leaving for hunting. However, not much evidence has been found to support this theory. At 20 to 30 months of age, the baby cats are ready to strike the prey on their own.

Baby Clouded Leopard

Baby Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopard Cubs Pictures

Clouded Leopard Cubs Pictures

Clouded Leopard Kitten

Clouded Leopard Kitten

Clouded Leopard Cubs

Adaptations

  1. As in other Felidae family members, the ulna and the radius of these cats are not fused. This helps them greater freedom in movement.
  2. Well-developed crests in their elongated, narrow skull have supported the enlarged jaw muscles.
  3. Its canine teeth have compensated for its small size by helping it being able to kill fairly larger animals.
  4. Their very long tail has provided them a balance especially when walking thru the narrow branches of trees.

Predators

In their natural environment, the clouded leopards are near to the top of the food chain, and have no natural predators, except occasionally for tigers and leopards, who are also its food competitors.

Threats & Relationship with Humans

These cats are not far from being ‘Endangered’. The main threat of these canines is the humans. Humans have long been hunting down these big cats for their meat, teeth, bones, and their beautiful pelts, even though hunting these cats has been made illegal in most of the countries they are found.

Deforestation (by humans) and resultant loss of habitat have also served as big factors to their threatened existence.

Clouded Leopard Images

Clouded Leopard Images

Clouded Leopard Pictures

Clouded Leopard Pictures

Population

With a decreasing population trend, the population size is considered to be lesser than 10,000 mature individuals. In captive, the total number of these cats is about 222.

Conservation Status

The IUCN 3.1 has categorized the clouded leopard under the ‘Vulnerable’ species list.

Interesting Facts

  • Like domestic pet cats, the young clouded leopards are called ‘Kitten’.
  • Clouded leopards can mate at any point of time in the year, but in captivity breeding mostly occurs between December and March.
  • The recorded top speed of these cats is 64kph (40mph).
  • They are more closely related to lions and tigers, but not leopards.
  • The unique length of its canine teeth is very similar to those of the prehistoric saber-toothed cats.
  • During friendly interactions with other individuals, the clouded leopards emit a low-intensity snorting sound called “prusten”.
  • The Clouded Leopards are also known as ‘Mint Leopard’ and ‘Tree Tiger’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *