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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Species Fact Profile: Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

Clouded Leopard
Neofelis nebulosa (Griffith, 1821)

Range:  Southeast Asia, Indonesia
Habitat: Tropical Forest, Mangrove Swamp, Scrub
Diet:  Monkeys, Small Deer, Small Mammals, Pheasants
Social Grouping: Solitary
Reproduction:  1-5 (usually 2) cubs born after a 85-109 day gestation period; cubs weaned at 10-14 weeks and, independent at 10 months.  Sexual maturity reached at 20-30 months.  Appear to breed year round (based on captive observations)
Lifespan:  11 Years (Wild), 14 Years (Captivity)
Conservation Status: IUCN Vulnerable, CITES Appendix I

  • Body length 123-200 centimeters (tail length is 75-105 centimeters), stand 50-60 centimeters at the shoulder and weigh 11-23 kilograms. Females are slightly smaller than males
  • Legs are relatively short and compact, hind-limbs longer than front, very mobile ankles 
  • Longest canine teeth in proportion of body size of any felid, canines 4 centimeters long
  • Brown-gray background fur marked with darker elliptical blotches (“clouds” of name), tail is ringed, muzzle white with black spots of forehead and cheek, juveniles have solid spots until 6 months old
  • Clouded leopards have barely been observed in the wild; the conventional wisdom is that they are nocturnal and arboreal (they are one of best climbers of all the wild cats).  Some new studies, however, suggest that they may only use trees for rest sites, not for hunting grounds, and may be much more active by day than was previously believed
  • One of the best climbers of all the cats - captives have been observed running down tree trunks head-first, hanging from branches by their hind legs (leaving their front paws free to snatch birds), and walking alongside horizontal tree branches upside.
  •  Three subspecies: N. n. nebulosa (S. China to Malaysia), N. n. brachyura (Taiwan, now probably extinct), and N. n. macrosceloides (Myanmar to Nepal).  A former fourth subspecies is now listed as a full species - Neofelis diardi, the Bornean clouded leopard
  • Captive breeding of species is problematic due to male aggression towards females; most successful breeding pairs are those that were introduced young and kept together for life
  • Habitat loss is the major threat to the species, but it is also hunted for its pelts and (to a lesser extent) its claws, teeth, and bones; animals are also live-captured for the illegal pet trade

Zookeeper's Journal: I've worked with over a dozen species of wild cat over the course of my career, but none has proven as challenging - or captivating - as the clouded leopard.  The boldness, even arrogance, that you encounter with lions and tigers is replaced with a, extraordinary shyness - from the moment I unloaded our clouded leopard from its crate and introduced it into its exhibit, I didn't see it in the daylight for weeks.  Their fearfulness towards humans, however, is counterbalanced by their savagery towards each other - many  a female has been cut down in here breeding prime by a lethal attack from a male.  Fortunately, a few institutions - notably Nashville Zoo, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium - have made great strides in learning about the biology and captive management of these beautiful cats.  The result has been a dramatic change in every aspect of how we care for these animals, from their exhibit design (higher ceilings, greater distance from other large carnivores) to their social structure (introduced to potential mates at a very young age and kept together for life).  The result has also been a booming population in captivity which will hopefully aid the conservation of the wild population.

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