The clouded leopard is named after the distinctive ‘cloud’ markings on its coat. Clouded leopards have an exceptionally long, furry tail that is marked with black rings. It has recently been discovered that there are two species of clouded leopard. The more widely distributed clouded leopard has lighter coloured fur with larger cloud-like markings, whilst the darker coloured clouded leopards of Sumatra and Borneo are another species known as Sunda clouded leopards (Neofelis diardi).
Clouded leopards are found throughout south-east Asia, from the foothills of the Himalayas through to China where they historically had a relatively wide distribution. However more recent records are scarcer and their habitat is disappearing quickly. Compounded by illegal hunting its current distribution in China is now poorly known. It has become extinct on the island of Taiwan, but still occurs in the mixed-evergreen forests in the eastern parts of Bangladesh.
The Sunda, or Sundaland, clouded leopards are found in Sumatra and Borneo. Sundaland refers to the Malay peninsula and the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java. Clouded leopards do not occur on Java.
Clouded leopards become sexually mature at two years and mating takes place throughout the year. Following a three month gestation period females give birth to between one and five cubs. Females usually have one litter a year, the young becoming independent at about ten months old.
The clouded leopard’s diet includes birds, monkeys, pigs, cattle, goats, deer, and porcupines.
Although records of clouded leopards range from as high up as 3,000m in the Himalayas and also from grassland, scrub and mangrove swamps, their preferred habitat is predominantly forest, in particular primary evergreen tropical rainforest.
- This forest-dwelling cat is severely threatened by the accelerating rate of deforestation in its native Southeast Asia. Since 1990 the loss of forest cover per year is over 1%.
- Clouded leopards are also hunted illegally for their fur, bones and meat, and also to provide live animals for the pet trade.
- Like many other big cat species the clouded leopard is also killed as retaliation for killing livestock.
The clouded leopard is nationally protected by hunting bans in many countries in which it exists as well as being listed on CITES. However these have done little to stem the illegal trade and as a consequence significant efforts are being made to breed and maintain a healthy captive population. Unfortunately captive-breeding is hard. Males are particularly aggressive, breeding success is low and many young die.
Local wildlife authorities are working together to establish anti-poaching units and strengthen anti-poaching law enforcement, whilst other NGOs are addressing human-wildlife conflict by setting up a compensation fund for local farmers whose livestock is often killed by tigers and leopards.
Rueben Clements, Malaysia
Malayan tiger, clouded leopard, black leopard
Small worldwide grant