The beautifully patched, clouded leopard is one of the most mysterious species. So far the information that has been drawn about it is in captivity, as they are rarely seen in the wild. Though this specie is named clouded leopard but it is more closely related to lions and tigers. These species are rare and endangered and scientists have very little information regarding their population.
The scientific name given to the clouded leopard is Neofelis nebulosa, where Neo means new and felis means cat; these mammals belong to the family of Felidae. IUCN classified this specie as vulnerable in the year 2008. So far the total population size is known to be less than 10,000 mature leopards and this population trend is decreasing with not more than 1000 adults in a single population.
This unique Asian cat roams around from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal to the rain forests in Indonesia. You can find four of their species scattered from southern China to eastern Burma, and from Burma to Nepal. Sumatra, Myanmar, Malaysia, Java and Borneo are also having some of its species, in the past some species were found in Taiwan as well but now they are believed to be extinct. The clouded leopards found in Borneo are considered to be new cat species and also known as Sunda clouded leopard or Neofelis diardi.
We have noticed before how good the cats are at climbing but when we talk about clouded leopards they are best climbers ever seen. Their sharp claws and large paws can grip very tightly, so don’t be surprised if you see one hanging upside down from the branch of the tree. They have short but very powerful legs and ankles that are flexible enough to help them safely land from the trees to the ground in headfirst posture, just like squirrels. They are known to have very sharp eyesight that enables them to judge distances. Their long tails are used to maintain the balance of the body on narrow tree branches.
When clouded leopards hunt they attack their prey by leaping down on it from above. Scientists claim that these cats perform most of their hunting on the ground and their preys include pigs, deer, squirrels, birds and monkeys. These cats are also known for their sharp canines that are longer as compared to the size of their skull; also they are longest out of all the carnivorous wild cats existing. These sharp teeth help the clouded leopards to devour their prey.
Their social behavior is however unknown by the scientists and only a few assumptions have been made regarding their behavior. It is assumed that they choose to live solitarily. These animals are arboreal and spend most of the time in trees, and only come down on the ground for hunting.
The leopards are believed to communicate by various methods. Usually male clouded leopards spray their urine on various objects to mark their territories. On the other hand their cheeks have special sebaceous glands that help them to scent the markings made by other leopards, by rubbing their cheeks against the sprayed objects.
Greeting calls are made with the help of high pitched chuffs and meows, location calls require loud meows and they can be heard over a distance of up to 100 meters. To threaten the other leopards and animals aggressive growling is a norm. These animals are also believed to communicate by making markings on the trees using their claws.
The length of clouded leopard from head to body is 24 to 43 inches and the tail measures about 24 to 36 inches. So in total its length can reach up to 6 feet that is relative to a size of a fully grown man. On average the females weigh around 25 to 35 pounds whereas male leopards may weigh up to 50 pounds.
There is a thick coating of fur that has cloud like patches on it, these patches are dusky-grey in color; the fur is found in dark grey, brown or pale yellow color. There are black spots found on the ears and head, and black stripes on the cheeks.
Clouded leopards reach maturity at the age of 26 months. Their gestation period varies from 85 to 93 days and there are 1 to 5 cubs born in a litter. Females give birth once a year. Right after their birth, the cubs are blind and helpless for 10 days. On average they weigh around 5 to 10 pounds. It takes 10 months for young leopards to start their lives independently. The life span of clouded leopards is unknown in the wild but in captivity they are known to live for 11 to 17 years.
Although the Rukai people of Taiwan considered these leopards to be sacred and believed them to be their spiritual ancestors but still they hunted them for their beautiful pelts. These leopards have become extinct in Taiwan because of this reason and also because of deforestation. They are also hunted illegally for their use in Chinese medicine.
Their only hope is the defenders of wildlife who have passed legislation in April, 2009 to protect 15 species of wild cats including the clouded leopards. The bill is yet to be approved by the US senator.
Categorised in: Amazing Animals
This post was written by Editorial Staff