Clouded Leopard Isabel Murphy

Identification

Common name: Clouded Leopard

Scientific name: Neofelis Nebulosa

timeline

1821 : Clouded Leopard first recorded/classified as a species

Day they were put on the IUCN Red List: 1986 as Vulnerable.

2011: 277 Clouded Leopards in Captivity worldwide

2013: Clouded Leopards were determined extinct in the region of Taiwan, China.

They are still on the IUCN Red List Today in 2016 as Vulnerable.

Over the last three generations, there has been a reduction of 30% in the number of mature individuals of Clouded Leopards.

physical description

  • Named after the distinct "clouds" on it's coat
  • A medium sized cat, yet with a very long tail for balancing (sometimes can be as long as their bodies)
  • Stocky build
  • Proportionally the longest canine teeth of any living feline
  • Short legs and very broad paws made for climbing
"Clouds"
Long Tail for Balance

habitat

Clouded leopards are found across Southeast Asia and the Himalayas in Southern China, Bhutan, Nepal, northeast India, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, and Bangladesh

Geographic Range

Clouded leopards are strongly associated with forest habitat specifically primary evergreen tropical rain forest, but there are records of them living in dry and deciduous forest as well as secondary and logged forests. Less frequently, they have been found in grassland and scrub, dry tropical forests and mangrove swamps. They can live in forests of elevations up to 8,000 feet.

Highly arboreal, they spend much of their lives in trees, for they are the best climbers in the cat family.Their strong tails help them to balance while perched on tree branches, their specially adapted ankle bones and large paws allow them to both climb while hanging upside down under branches and climb down trees head first. When a clouded leopard spots its prey on the forest floor, it leaps down on it from above. They are solitary animals except when breeding and mostly nocturnal, yet evidence shows them being active during some periods of the day. It is known that they will patrol their territory and may use logging roads for hunting and travelling. They are territorial animals that move just over a mile a day throughout their home range which varies from 50 to more than 120 square miles in size, depending on the region.

A study in Thailand's Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary 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. Other observations include mainly primate prey, but also Muntjac and Argus Pheasant. Clouded leopards systems is terrestrial, and their movement patterns are non migrational.

A vulnerable species

Threats to the clouded leopard:

  • Deforestation from commercial logging and growth of human settlements, main threat to the species
  • Poaching-- hunting for this cat is very abundant because of its wanted beautiful pelt, decorative teeth, and their bones are prized in traditional Asian medicinal trade (Clouded leopards are hunted to be captured and sold to illegal wildlife traders, In Myanmar, 301 body parts of at least 279 clouded leopards --mostly skins and skeletons-- were observed in four markets surveyed between 1991 and 2006.)
  • Clouded leopards have even been featured on the menus of restaurants in Thailand and China :(
  • Human-wildlife conflict, clouded leopards are often killed in retaliation for killing livestock from farms

According to the Wildlife Alliance, the number of clouded leopard pelts has increased by 200% in just two years.

The current population of Clouded leopards is suspected to be fewer than 10,000. The status of the Clouded leopard's population is decreasing. The main and most significant reason for this decrease is deforestation, for their habitat in Southeast Asia is undergoing the world's fastest deforestation rate (1.2-1.3% a year since 1990).

conservation actions

Hunting is banned in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and VietNam; hunting regulations apply in Lao PDR. WWF are addressing human-wildlife conflict by setting up a compensation fund for local farmers whose livestock is often killed by clouded leopards. WWF is also working to establish anti-poaching units in Bhutan and strengthen anti-poaching law enforcement. "Adopt a Clouded Leopard" as facilitated through the Clouded Leopard Project is also helping to conserve.

Some large conservation groups that aid Clouded Leopards:

  • Cat Action Treasury: Advancing conservation of big cats, CAT works closely with the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group--can international network of over 200 experts on wild cats.
  • Clouded Leopard Project: Engaged in field research,education, and conservation of the Clouded Leopard
  • IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group: brings together more than 200 of the world’s leading cat experts, including scientists, wildlife managers and conservationists from 50 countries who are dedicated to advancing the understanding and conservation of the world’s 36 wild living cat species including the Clouded Leopard

in conclusion

Overall, the Clouded leopard affects the overall ecosystem and biodiversity in a huge way. Since the Clouded Leopard is the top predator in its area, they are responsible for maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, and ultimately it's survival-- they are like regulators of the food web. Constant predation of the top consumers prevents a population from growing larger than the system can support. For example, by preying on cervids and keeping population size low, clouded leopards prevent excessive stress on plant populations.If they were to be removed it would alter and disrupt the whole balance of the ecosystem.

Being the top predator also greatly impacts the biodiversity of the ecosystem. Clouded leopards ensure that a multitude of species occupying a variety of environmental niches can survive and thrive, which boosts biodiversity. The Clouded Leopard needs large areas for foraging and breeding and are thus considered umbrella species; that is, if an area supports a large predator, it will encompass the requirements of less demanding species, which ultimately supports biodiversity as well.

In summary, Without predators to regulate prey populations, these other species will reproduce beyond the carrying capacity of their environments, decimating the populations of smaller animals, plants, etc. As these species decline, additional organisms that rely on their presence will also decline, resulting in a domino effect that can ultimately push populations and habitats beyond the point of recovery. Clouded leopards, being these top predators, keep the ecosystem alive which boosts ecosystem services which all leads to healthy biodiversity.

Credits:

Created with images by spencer77 - "Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis Diardi), Santago" • MrGuilt - "Looking at His Next Leap" • PublicDomainPictures - "animal carnivore cat" • MrGuilt - "Clouded Leopard Cub Hanging on the Branch (2)" • amandarichard421 - "20100206 - IMG4279" • amandarichard421 - "IMG_1334"

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