CLOUDED LEOPARD, Neofelis nebulosa
Conservation Status: Clouded leopards are listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and are listed as an Appendix I species under CITES. Although officially protected in most range countries, enforcement in many areas is weak. Precise data on its population numbers in the wild is not known but the reduced number of pelts encountered at fur markets and sightings of live clouded leopards by resident peoples within its range suggest the species is thought to be in decline. There are four recognized subspecies; the subspecies that is restricted to Taiwan, N. n. brachyurus, is thought to be extinct.
Description: 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. It has long canine teeth with very sharp posterior edges and DNA comparisons suggest that the clouded leopard is most closely related to the extinct saber-tooth cat of North America, Smilodon fatalis. Although larger than other "small" cats, the clouded leopard does not roar like the larger cats. Clouded leopards weigh 35 to 50 pounds (15.8 to 22.68 kg) and measure 10 to 16 inches (25.4 to 40.6 cm) high at the shoulder.
Range: The clouded leopard is found from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Assam (eastern India) through Indochina to Sumatra and Borneo, and northeastward to southern China and formerly Taiwan. 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. Surveys there suggest a density of one individual/4 km2.
* map from Wild Cats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, compiled and edited by Kristin Nowell and Peter Jackson, (IUCN, 1996)
Habitat: Based on anecdotal observations, clouded leopards were originally thought to be closely associated with evergreen tropical rainforest. More recent sightings suggest it also makes 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 1,450 meters, and perhaps as high as 3,000 meters.
Diet: The chief prey of clouded leopards are monkeys, small deer and wild boars, which it ambushes from the trees or stalks from the ground. It may also take birds, rodents and domestic poultry.
Social Organization: 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 zoological facilities. Once paired as young, most clouded leopards in captivity remain with the same mate for life. Unlike other large cats, however, pair formation is virtually only successful prior to 12 months of age. Formation of adult pairs, at least in captivity, often results in injury or death of the female by the male. Females bear two to four young after a gestation of 93 days. The young reach independence in less than one year.
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 its back to the ground and hang upside down from branches by its hind feet. Regardless, there is no field evidence to support the assumption that they spend most of the 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 Sabah (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, as the clouded leopard requires large tracts of forest for hunting. They are widely hunted for their teeth, decorative pelt, for bones for the traditional Asian medicinal trade, and pelts are still reported on sale in urban markets of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam Cambodia, Nepal and Thailand. They are also featured on restaurant menus in Thailand and China that cater to wealthy Asian tourists.
photo by Sean Austin
Zoo Programs - SSP: Clouded leopards are considered one of the most difficult large cats to breed in zoological facilities. Priorities for this SSP include increasing the number of animals of founders of known origin, identifying the relationship of clouded leopard subspecies and developing a protocol for the introduction of new breeding pairs. The target population of the Regional Collection Plan is 120 specimens.
International Studbook Keeper and Species Coordinator
John Ball Zoological Garden
1300 W. Fulton St., NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Tel: (616) 336-4301
Fax: (616) 336-3907
Dr. Sean Barrett
Santa Clara Animal Clinic
65 Irving Road
Eugene, OR 97331
Tel: (541) 688-0434
Dr. Naja Wielebnowski
3300 Golf Rd.
Brookfield, IL 60513
Tel.: (708) 485-0263, ex.251
Fax: (708) 485-3532