All that is known about the mating behavior of clouded leopards comes from observations of captive animals. This lack of knowledge concerning wild mating behavior has made it extremely difficult to breed these animals in captivity. Arranged mating encounters at zoos often conclude with aggression between the two individuals, and the male often kills the female with a bite to the back of the neck. For this reason, many experts believe that compatibility between a male and female is important for productive matings. The most successful matings have occurred between a male and female that were raised together from only a few weeks of age. However, researchers do not believe that clouded leopards are monogamous in the wild. In zoos, mating usually occurs between December and March, but it can occur at any time throughout the year. Because clouded leopards occupy tropical habitats, breeding may be less seasonal in the wild. The mating pair copulates many times over the course of several days. The male typically grasps the female with a bite to the back of the neck before an intromission, and the female vocalizes once the intromission occurs. In the wild, clouded leopards use elevated areas to deliver a long moaning call that travels well. This call is suspected to be a mating call, but it may be a territorial call instead.
The gestation period for captive clouded leopards normally lasts between 88 and 95 days, although it can last anywhere from 85 to 109 days. Females most often give birth to two kittens per pregnancy, but litters of one to five kittens have been documented as well. Kittens are born with the large spots that are characteristic of their adult counterparts, but these spots are solid black until approximately six months of age. A newborn kitten weighs between 140 and 280 grams, depending on the size of the litter. Kittens first open their eyes between two and eleven days of age. Clouded leopard kittens begin walking at 20 days of age, and they can climb trees as early as six weeks old. They start to consume flesh between 7 and 10 weeks old, and they are weaned shortly thereafter at 10 to 14 weeks. It has been reported that clouded leopard kittens are able to kill chickens at 10 weeks old. At zoos, clouded leopard kittens are typically taken away from their mothers to be hand-reared but, in the wild, kittens normally stay with their mothers for about ten months. Little is known about the interbirth interval of female clouded leopards. The length of time between births for captive cats has ranged from 10 to 16 months. Clouded leopards in captivity arrive at sexual maturity between 20 and 30 months of age, with the average being 23 to 24 months.
Breeding interval: The length of time between matings for captive cats has ranged from 10 to 16 months.
Breeding season: In captivity, breeding usually occurs between December and March, but it can occur year round.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 5.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Range gestation period: 85 to 109 days.
Average gestation period: 88-95 days.
Range birth mass: 140 to 280 g.
Range weaning age: 10 to 14 weeks.
Average time to independence: 10 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 20 to 30 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 23-24 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 20 to 30 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 23-24 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous
Average number of offspring: 2.
After mating, male and female clouded leopards separate, and the male does not take part in the rearing of offspring. The gestation period is typically between 88 and 95 days. The female does not appear pregnant until the third trimester, at which time her abdomen and nipples become larger. When the kittens are born, the mother licks them to keep them clean and warm. She continues to clean them until they learn to do so themselves. It is unknown where a female keeps her young while she is hunting, but she probably hides them in dense vegetation. Females produce milk for the kittens, which is their sole source of nutrition until they are between 7 and 10 weeks old. They are completely weaned when they are between 10 and 14 weeks of age. Until they are approximately 10 months old, the mother continues to provide them with prey while they grow and learn to hunt for themselves. At this age, they leave their mothers to find their own territories.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning
- Beacham, W., K. Beltz. 1998. Beacham's Guide to International Endangered Species, Vol. 2. Osprey, Florida: Beacham Publishing Corp..
- IUCN. 1996. "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa" (On-line). IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Accessed March 21, 2009 at http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/20_cat-website/home/index_en.htm.
- Kitchener, A. 1991. The Natural History of the Wild Cats. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
- Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- The Clouded Leopard Project. 2008. "About the Clouded Leopard" (On-line). The Clouded Leopard Project: Supporting Clouded Leopard Conservation and Research. Accessed March 26, 2009 at http://cloudedleopard.org/default.aspx?link=about_main.
- Turner, A. 1997. The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives. New York: Columbia University Press.