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The Clouded Leopard

By: Jason Abels – Assistant Director www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary
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Clouded Leopard
Clouded Leopard
Pictures of Clouded Leopards >>
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The Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is perhaps one of the most beautiful of all the endangered cats. Native to Borneo, Nepal, China, Sumatra, and possibly still Taiwan, this magnificent rare feline has the “claim-to-fame” of having the largest canine teeth of any living cat. I can validate this fact from personal experience, having been bitten by an adult, male Clouded Leopard several years ago. But, that’s another story for another time.

Clouded Leopards are considerably smaller then the African Spotted Leopard or the Snow Leopard. Adult males rarely top 80 pounds and the females are considerably smaller. Their size and body structure are built for a life in the trees and this species, in fact, is among the most arboreal felines in the world. This arboreal lifestyle is, most likely, the reason for the adaptation of this cat’s notoriously large upper canines. This adaptation may have evolved because Clouded Leopards, literally, snatch flying birds, and monkeys right out of the air. Having extra long canine teeth helps insure a catch and guarantees that the leopard does not drop and lose its prey high up in the forest canopy. If the prey is dropped, there is a good chance it could be stolen by a terrestrial predator or scavenger. In addition to having amazing arboreal hunting skills, Clouded Leopards are also known to ambush prey, like wild pigs, wild deer and even young domestic cattle, by dropping out of a low lying tree branch onto their backs.

Clouded Leopard

Next to habitat loss and poaching, the low reproduction rate of both wild and captive Clouded Leopards is the primary reason for their low numbers and endangered status. Clouded Leopards are very hard to breed in captivity and often exhibit very aggressive courtship behaviors. Although the www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary does not currently house this amazing feline, I have spent many years working directly with them in the past. I witnessed a male leopard kill his habitat mate of nine years while attempting to mate. This was horrible and a major loss. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence and happens more often than one would think, both in the wild and in responsible, accredited zoos. In most cases, the primary cause of death is the result of a fall from a high tree branch when the much smaller female is swatted or batted by the large male. This fall, in most cases, is fatal. In other cases, the male cat actually kills the female in the attempts to make her submit to breeding. Either way, Clouded Leopard breeding behavior is often brutal and, sometimes even deadly.

When Clouded Leopards do successfully mate, the typical gestation period is between 85 and 95 days, with as many as five baby leopards born to a litter. Although five have been reported on more than one occasion, an average of two Baby Clouded Leopards are born at a time (see pictures of Baby Clouded Leopards). Needless to say, when a zoo does successfully breed these rare leopards and delivers live, healthy baby cats, this is a major cause for celebration! These cats are rare, very rare, and captive breeding is going to be the best conservation strategy to insure the future of Clouded Leopards. More effort needs to be made for both habitat protection and education.

As mentioned above, the Clouded Leopard is absolutely beautiful. These cats are stunning and their beautiful coats are spectacular! As their name suggests, the Clouded Leopard’s fur coat has patterns similar to that of clouds. Their coats are creamy yellow to gray with dark black fur outlining the cat’s rosettes and cloud patterns. Healthy specimens will also exhibit a beautiful and very thick, fluffy fur tail. The condition of this stunning tail can also be a reliable indicator of the animal’s health. Poor nutrition in the wild or in captivity can cause the tail to look ratty and lose hair. Poor captive conditions in many cases cause these animals, more then most other species of leopard, to exhibit negative neurotic behaviors, and licking the fur off the tail is the primary indicator.

Jason with Clouded Leopard
Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopards are very delicate in captivity and, often, have a hard time adjusting to being moved from one facility to another, even when necessary to help insure the survival of the species. With most endangered species in captivity, there is a SSP (Species Survival Plan) run by the SSP Coordinator in charge of that species management in captivity. The SSP is designed to manage the genetics of a captive population of an endangered species, striving to maintain as much genetic variation as possible within the species. Each participating animal is assigned an SSP # with its genetic history. Then following a formula to maximize genetic variation, the SSP Coordinator designates which animals are to breed, trying to insure the most genetic variation, and the avoidance of inbreeding. Unfortunately, to do this, animals must be moved around between participating institutions. For example, the SSP Coordinator for Clouded Leopards may decide to send “Adult Male # 12345,” residing in a California zoo, to breed with “Adult Female #67899,” residing at a North Carolina zoo. There is a very good possibility that when the adult male arrives in North Carolina, it will start relentlessly licking its tail. It may still be physically healthy, even psychologically well, but the move, in many cases, distresses them and seems to trigger excessive tail grooming behavior, often leaving their tails hairless. One Zoo Keeper stated that, “adult and adolescent Clouded Leopards hate to be moved from the facility were they were born, and a good percentage of moved cats loose the fur on the tails.” Once this happens, it is almost impossible to reverse this negative grooming behavior. Very few facilities house Clouded Leopards, because they are just so rare. If you are lucky enough to have a local accredited zoo that houses them, I highly recommend that you visit; and take special notice of the condition of the animal’s tail. If it is thick and plush, this strongly indicates that the animal is happy and healthy and was probably born there or relocated, when very young. Captive Clouded Leopards also hate excess noise and distractions, thus making them difficult zoo animals to display and breed.

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I consider myself lucky to have had the privilege to work hands on with this truly magnificent endangered feline. Every day, David and I say to ourselves how lucky we are to work with the Sanctuary’s animals, and how happy we are to reach so many interested individuals around the world. The www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary now has members from all over the world watching our live Exotic Animal Web Cams and reading our “Educational Content.” Our three Educational DVD’s are now found in classrooms everywhere, from grade school to college. If you are interested in leopards, we invite you into the large habitats of Midnight, the Sanctuary’s female Black Leopard and Sampson, our Spotted Leopard, via our habitat cams.  If leopards are not your particular interest, check out our White Tiger Cams, Lion Cams, Cougar Cams and multiple species of Madagascar Lemur Cams.

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