Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)
The scientific name of the genus Neofelis is a composite of the Greek word νεο- meaning "new", and the Latin word feles meaning "cat", so it literally means "new cat.
The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is a felid found from the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia into China, and has been classified as vulnerable in 2008 by IUCN. Its total population size is suspected to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a decreasing population trend and no single population numbering more than 1,000 adults. The Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) found on Sumatra and Borneo is genetically distinct and considered a separate species since 2006.
The fur of clouded leopards is of a dark grey or ochreous ground-colour, often largely obliterated by black and dark dusky-grey blotched pattern. There are black spots on the head, and the ears are black. Partly fused or broken up stripes run from the corner of the eyes over the cheek, from the corner of the mouth to the neck, and along the nape to the shoulders. Elongated blotches continue down the spine and form a single median stripe on the loins. Two large blotches of dark dusky-grey hairs on the side of the shoulders are each emphasized posteriorly by a dark stripe, which passes on to the fore leg and breaks up into irregular spots. The flanks are marked by dark dusky-grey irregular blotches bordered behind by long, oblique irregularly curved or looped stripes. These blotches yielding the clouded pattern suggest the English name of the cat. The underparts and legs are spotted, and the tail is marked by large irregular paired spots. Melanistic clouded leopards are not common. Clouded leopards weigh between 11.5 and 23 kg (25 and 51 lb). Females vary in head-to-body length from 68.6 to 94 cm (27.0 to 37 in), with a 61 to 82 cm (24 to 32 in) long tail. Males are larger at 81 to 108 cm (32 to 43 in) with a 74 to 91 cm (29 to 36 in) long tail. Their shoulder height varies from 25 to 40 cm (9.8 to 16 in). Their legs are short and stout, with broad paws. They have exceptionally long, piercing canine teeth, the upper being about three times as long as the basal width of the socket. The upper pair of canines may measure 4 cm (1.6 in) or longer.
The clouded leopard is found from the Himalayan foothills in
Nepal through mainland Southeast Asia into China (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The
clouded leopard historically had a wide distribution in China, south of the
Yangtze, but recent records are few, habitat is fast disappearing, illegal
hunting of this species has been prolific and its current distribution in China
is poorly known (Wozencraft et al. 2008). The clouded leopard is extinct on the
island of Taiwan (Anon. 1996). It still occurs marginally in Bangladesh: Khan
(2004) reported that local people still see clouded leopards in the
mixed-evergreen forests of the northeastern and South Eastern parts of the
The clouded leopards of Sumatra and Borneo were recently diagnosed as a separate species Neofelis diardi (Buckley-Beason et al. 2006, Kitchener et al. 2006, Eizirik et al. submitted), the Sundaland clouded leopard. Sundaland refers to the Malay peninsula and the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java. Clouded leopards do not occur on Java. Because of limited samples from Peninsular Malaysia, it is unclear which species of clouded leopard occur here - on the basis of a single skin, Kitchener et al. (2006) ascribed Peninsular Malayasia to the mainland clouded leopard, but indicated that more samples were needed for confirmation.
Bangladesh; Bhutan; Cambodia; China; India; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia); Myanmar; Nepal; Thailand; Vietnam
Taiwan, Province of China
The clouded leopard is most strongly associated with primary
tropical forest which is rapidly disappearing across its range (Nowell and
Jackson 1996), and clouded leopard skins have been observed in large numbers in
illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia (Nowell 2007). Increasing use of camera
traps has helped to better document its distribution and recent research efforts
should help improve understanding of its population status (Grassman et al.
2005, Austin et al. 2007).
Population Trend: Decreasing
Clouded leopards are the most talented climbers among the cats. In captivity, they have been observed to climb down vertical tree trunks head first, and hang on to branches with their hind paws bent around branchings of tree limbs. They are capable of supination and can even hang down from branches only by bending their hind paws and their tail around them. When jumping down, they keep hanging on to a branch this way until the very last moment. They can climb on horizontal branches with their back to the ground, and in this position make short jumps forward. When balancing on thin branches, they use their long tail to steer. They can easily jump up to 1.2 m (3.9 ft) high.
Clouded leopards have been observed to scent mark in captivity by urine spraying and head-rubbing on prominent objects. Presumably such habits are used to mark their territory in the wild, although the size of their home ranges is unknown. Like other big cats, they do not appear able to purr, but they otherwise have a wide range of vocalisations, including mewing, hissing, growling, moaning, and snorting. Apart from information stemming from observations of captive clouded leopards, little is known of their natural history and behavior in the wild. Early accounts depict them as rare, secretive, arboreal and nocturnal denizens of dense primary forest. More recent observations suggest that they may not be as arboreal and nocturnal as previously thought. They may use trees as day time rest sites but also spend a significant proportion of time on the ground. Some daytime movement has been observed suggesting that they are not strictly nocturnal but crepuscular. However, the time of day when they are active depends on their prey and the level of human disturbance. Their partly nocturnal and far-ranging behaviour, their low densities, and the fact they inhabit densely vegetated habitats and remote areas makes the censuring and monitoring of clouded leopards extremely difficult. Consequently, little is known about their behaviour and status. Available information on their ecology is anecdotal, based on local interviews and a few sighting reports.
Home ranges have only been estimated in Thailand:
Four individuals were radio-collared in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary from April 2000 to February 2003. Home ranges of two females were 25.7 km2 (9.9 sq mi) and 22.9 km2 (8.8 sq mi), and of two males 29.7 km2 (11.5 sq mi) and 49.1 km2 (19.0 sq mi).
Two individuals were radio-collared during a study from 1997 to 1999 in the Khao Yai National Park. The home range of one female was 39.4 km2 (15.2 sq mi), of the one male 42 km2 (16 sq mi). Both individuals had a core area of 2.9 km2 (1.1 sq mi).
Little is known of the feeding ecology of clouded leopards. Their prey likely includes both arboreal and terrestrial vertebrates.Pocock presumed that they are adapted for preying upon herbivorous mammals of considerable bulk because of their powerful build, the deep penetration of their bite, attested by their long canines. Confirmed prey species include hog deer, slow loris, brush-tailed porcupine, Malayan pangolin and Indochinese ground squirrel. Known prey species in China include barking deer and pheasants. They most likely also hunt civets, birds, and domestic livestock. Captive clouded leopards also eat eggs and some vegetation. Both males and females average 26 months at first reproduction. Estrus last 6 days in average, estrus cycle averages 30 days. After a gestation period of 93±6 days females give birth to a litter of one to five, most often three cubs. Initially, the young are blind and helpless, much like the young of many other cats, and weigh from 140 to 280 grams (4.9 to 9.9 oz). Unlike adults, the kittens' spots are "solid" — completely dark rather than dark rings. The young can see within about 10 days of birth, are active within five weeks, and are fully weaned at around three months of age. They attain the adult coat pattern at around six months, and probably become independent after around ten months. Females are able to bear one litter each year. In captivity they have an average lifespan of 11 years. One individual has lived to be almost 17 years old. The clouded leopard is intermediate in size between large and small cats, with wild females from Thailand weighing 11.5 (Austin and Tewes 1999) to 13.5 kg (Grassman et al. 2005), and males 16 (Grassman et al. 2005) to 18 kg (Austin and Tewes 1999). Its coat is patterned with distinctive large cloud shaped markings, its canines are exceptionally elongated, as is its tail - for a large cat, the clouded leopard is highly arboreal (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). They are strongly associated with forest habitat, particularly primary evergreen tropical rainforest, but there are also records from dry and deciduous forest, as well as secondary and logged forests. They have been recorded in the Himalayas up to 2,500 m and possibly as high as 3,000 m. Less frequently, they have been found in grassland and scrub, dry tropical forests and mangrove swamps (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Radio-tracking studies in Thailand have showed a preference for forest over more open habitats (Austin et al. 2007). A study in Thailand's Phu Khieu National Park found that clouded leopards preyed upon a variety of arboreal and terrestrial prey, including hog deer, slow loris, bush-tailed porcupine, Malayan pangolin and Indochinese ground squirrel (Grassman et al. 2005). Other observations include mainly primate prey, but also Muntjac and Argus pheasant (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Clouded leopards are primarily nocturnal, with crepuscular activity peaks (Grassman et al. 2005, Austin et al. 2007). Two radio-telemetry studies in different parks in Thailand have found that adult male and female clouded leopards had similar home range sizes between 30-40 km˛ in size (95% fixed kernel estimators), with smaller intensively used core areas of 3-5 km˛ (Grassman et al. 2005, Austin et al. 2007). While both studies found substantial home range overlap between males and females, as is typical of most felids, Grassman et al. (2005) also found that the ranges of their two radio-collared males overlapped by a significant amount (39%). Although both studies found similar home ranges, clouded leopards in Phu Khieu National Park travelled approximately twice the average daily distance (average 2 km) than clouded leopards in Khao Yai National Park (Grassman et al. 2005, Austin et al. 2007). Clouded leopards may occur at higher densities where densities of the larger cats, tigers and leopards, are lower (Lynam et al. 2001, Grassman et al. 2005, Rao et al. 2005).
Clouded leopards prefer closed forest (Grassman et al. 2005, Austin et al. 2007), and their habitat in Southeast Asia is undergoing the world's fastest deforestation rate (1.2-1.3% a year since 1990: FAO 2007). The clouded leopard is hunted for the illegal wildlife trade - large numbers of skins have been seen in market surveys, and there is also trade in bones for medicines, meat for exotic dishes and live animals for the pet trade. Wild animals are likely the primary source, but there is also some illegal trade from captive animals (Nowell 2007).
Included on CITES Appendix I and protected by national legislation over most of its range (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Hunting is banned in Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, and hunting regulations apply in Lao PDR (Nowell and Jackson 1996). It occurs in many protected areas.