Clouded Leopard Classification and Evolution
The Clouded Leopard is a medium sized feline that is found inhabiting the dense tropical jungles of south-east Asia. The Clouded Leopard is the smallest of the world's big cats and despite it's name, it is not actually that closely related to Leopards and is instead believed by many to be an evolutionary link between big cats and small cats. Clouded Leopards are incredibly shy animals and coupled with their highly nocturnal lifestyle has meant that little is known about their behaviour in the wild as they are very rarely seen. The Clouded Leopard has recently been split into two separate species which are the Clouded Leopard (found on the mainland) and the Sunda Clouded Leopard (Borneo and Sumatra). Both species are already very rare with numbers constantly declining due to the hunting of them for their meat and fur, along the loss of vast areas of their tropical forest habitat.
Clouded Leopard Anatomy and Appearance
The Clouded Leopard is one the most distinctive of all the big cats and one of the most beautiful. As their name suggests, their yellow to grey coloured coat is patterned with large, cloud-like markings that are lined with black and are dark in the centre. Their small but stocky bodies are supported by short legs and like other cat species (besides the Cheetah), the Clouded Leopard is able to retract it's claws into the skin on it's toes to keep them sharp. One of the most distinctive features of the Clouded Leopard is their rather long canines which can grow up to two inches long, making them about the same length as those of a Tiger. They have has two broad black bars on the back of their neck and black rings that run the length of their incredibly long tail. The tail of a Clouded Leopard can reach 65cm in length and is used to help the animal to balance whilst moving about in the trees.
Clouded Leopard Distribution and Habitat
The Clouded Leopard is natively found in south-east Asia throughout a number of countries including India, Southern China, Burma, Nepal, throughout Indochina and on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. It was once also found in Taiwan but is now widely thought to be extinct there. Clouded Leopards spend nearly all their lives in the trees and so prefer dense forest habitats including both tropical and subtropical forests and jungles, and at altitudes of up to 2,000 meters. However, despite seemingly only being found in very dense rainforest, the Clouded Leopard has also been recorded in a variety of other habitats including in tall grasslands in Nepal and in the mangrove swamps of Borneo. The highest population is thought to reside on the island of Borneo but they are threatened throughout their natural range by deforestation to clear land for agriculture or by loggers.
Clouded Leopard Behaviour and Lifestyle
The Clouded Leopard is an incredibly shy and elusive animal that rests high in the trees during the day and actively hunts under the cover of night. They are territorial animals that move just over a mile a day throughout their home range which varies from 50 to more than 120 square miles in size, depending on the region. They are incredibly agile climbers that can not only speed up trunks and climb about in the branches, but they have also been observed running head first back down tree trunks and move along horizontal branches by hanging underneath, using their tails for balance. The Clouded Leopard is a solitary animal that marks it's territory using urine and scratch marks on trees, however, very little is actually known about their social behaviour in the wild.
Clouded Leopard Reproduction and Life Cycles
Clouded Leopard kittens are born in the summer months after a gestation period that lasts for around 3 months. Between one and five kittens are born blind and the large spots on their fur are completely dark in colour and don't develop the adult colouration for about six months. Clouded Leopard kittens open their eyes by the time they are around 10 days old and are fully active at five weeks of age, beginning to learn how to hunt with their mother shortly afterwards. Although they are eating solids food by the time they are 10 weeks of age they are not fully weaned until nine months, when they become independent and leave their mother to establish a territory of their own. Clouded Leopards are known to get to be 17 years old in captivity but little is known about the extent of their lifespan in the wild due to their incredibly elusive nature.
Clouded Leopard Diet and Prey
The Clouded Leopard is a carnivorous animal that only hunts and eats other animals in order to gain the nutrition it needs to survive. Their preferred prey species is quite dependant on the region where they live as those Clouded Leopards found in Thailand favour rodents, Ground Squirrels and Porcupines whereas individuals elsewhere more readily hunt primates including Pig-Tailed Macaques, Gibbons and Proboscis Monkeys. Monkeys. Clouded Leopards are nocturnal hunters that either come down to the ground to stalk their prey or lie waiting on a branch to pounce on it's victim below. They are also known to hunt birds, Deer, Cattle, young Wild Boars Boars and livestock such as Chickens and Goats in areas close to human habitation when food in the jungle is hard to find. Clouded Leopards are known to retire to the trees once having eaten to rest and let their meal digest.
Clouded Leopard Predators and Threats
Due to it's large size and incredibly secretive nature, the Clouded Leopard has no real natural predators in the jungle with the exception of the occasional Tiger or Leopard with which Clouded Leopards compete for food. People are the primary threat to Clouded Leopards as they are hunted for meat and their beautiful pelts, which is a particular problem in certain areas. They are also severely threatened by habitat loss as vast areas of their natural forest habitats are being deforested either to log the tropical timbers or to clear land for agriculture including the planting of oil palm plantations. Increasing levels of human activity in general is also pushing the remaining populations deeper still in the forests, making it even harder for experts to try and study them.
Clouded Leopard Interesting Facts and Features
People used to think that the stocky build and the large canines of the Clouded Leopard were adaptations for hunting larger prey than itself in the forest. However, studies have shown that in fact 65% of their diet is comprised of smaller prey species including rodents and primates. Although the Clouded Leopard is thought to only hunt in the dead of night, some individuals have been observed leading a more crepuscular lifestyle and more actively hunting in the early morning or at dusk. Despite the hunting and trading of the Clouded Leopard now being banned, the practise still continues as people are after their beautifully patterned fur. This is often used in the making of fur coats with just one coat needing the pelts of around 25 Clouded Leopard individuals to produce it.
Clouded Leopard Relationship with Humans
People have hunted the Clouded Leopard for food for many years but also for it's body parts. It's beautiful pelt is highly sought after and it's bones and canines are often sold to both native people and outsiders for use in medicine and for decorative purposes. Despite being banned, the hunting and trading of their body parts still continues today but the biggest threat to the world's Clouded Leopard populations is their rapidly dwindling range. Vast areas of ancient forests are being cleared every day for logging or to make way for palm oil plantations. Land in these regions is often cleared illegally which has devastating consequences in areas that are home to some of the rarest and more unique species on the planet.
Clouded Leopard Conservation Status and Life Today
Today, both species of Clouded Leopard are listed by the IUCN as animals that are Vulnerable to extinction from their natural habitats in the near future. It is estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 mature Clouded Leopard individuals left in the wild, with the highest densities thought to be found on the tropical island of Borneo. However, population numbers are continuing to decline throughout their natural range due to habitat loss and the hunting of them for their fur, with the species having already become extinct from it's native habitats in Taiwan.