Smithsonian Channel Video: Ghost Cat: Saving the Clouded Leopard (Full Episode)
Clouded leopards, Neofelis nebulosa, are found south of the Himalayas in Nepal, Bhutan, and some areas of northeastern India. Myanmar, southern China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and mainland Malaysia make up the southern parts of its geographic range. Three subspecies are recognized, occupying different regions within the range. Neofelis nebulosa nebulosa is found from southern China to mainland Malaysia; Neofelis nebulosa brachyura formerly lived in Taiwan but is now probably extinct; and Neofelis nebulosa macrosceloides is found from Myanmar to Nepal. Until recently, Neofelis diardi was classified as a subspecies of Neofelis nebulosa, but researchers studying molecular evidence now consider it to be a separate species. Neofelis diardi inhabits the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
The clouded leopards of Sumatra and Borneo were recently diagnosed as a separate species Neofelis diardi (Buckley-Beason et al. 2006, Kitchener et al. 2006, Eizirik et al. submitted), the Sundaland clouded leopard. Sundaland refers to the Malay peninsula and the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java. Clouded leopards do not occur on Java. Because of limited samples from Peninsular Malaysia, it is unclear which species of clouded leopard occur here - on the basis of a single skin, Kitchener et al. (2006) ascribed Peninsular Malayasia to the mainland clouded leopard, but indicated that more samples were needed for confirmation.
The map shows range within forest cover (European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2003) to reflect patchiness caused by deforestation upon recommendation of the assessors (IUCN Cats Red List workshop 2007).
Southeastern and south-central Asia, Taiwan
The distinctive cloud-shaped markings of their coats make clouded leopards unmistakable. The fur is marked with elliptical blotches of a darker color than the background and the posterior edge of each blotch is partially framed in black. The blotches sit on a background field that varies from yellowish brown to dark gray. The muzzle is white and solid black spots mark the forehead and cheeks. The ventral side and limbs are marked with large, black ovals. Two solid black bars run from behind the ears along the back of the neck down to the shoulder blades and the bushy, thick tail is ringed in black. In juveniles, lateral spots are solid, not clouded. These will change by the time the animal is approximately six months old.
Adults usually weigh between 18 and 22 kilograms and stand at 50 to 60 centimeters at the shoulder. The head-body length is between 75 and 105 centimeters, and the tail length is between 79 and 90 centimeters, which is nearly as long as the body itself. There is no marked sexual dimorphism in clouded leopards, although females are slightly smaller. The legs are relatively short compared to other felids, with the hind limbs being longer than the fore limbs. The ankles have a wide range of motion and the feet are large and padded with retractile claws. As in other members of the family Felidae, the radius and the ulna are not fused, which allows for greater independence of motion. Clouded leopards have a digitigrade stance.
The skull is long and narrow compared to other felids and has well-developed crests to support the jaw muscles. Clouded leopards have the longest canine teeth relative to head and body size of any of the felids; canines can reach four centimeters or longer. A wide diastema lies between the premolars and canines, and individuals are often missing their first premolar.
The nose pad is pink and sometimes has small black spots, and the ears are short and round. The iris of the eye is usually brownish yellow or grayish green, and the pupils contract into vertical slits.
Range mass: 11 to 23 kg.
Average mass: 18-22 kg.
Range length: 123 to 200 cm.
Average length: 154-195 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Clouded leopards occupy tropical forests at elevations up to 3000 meters. They are highly arboreal, using trees primarily for resting and also for hunting. However, they spend more time hunting on the ground than was originally believed. Sightings of clouded leopards occur most often in primary evergreen tropical forest but they have also been sighted in other habitats, such as secondary forest, logged forest, mangrove swamp, grassland, scrub land, dry tropical forest, and coastal hardwood forest.
Range elevation: 0 to 3000 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
A study in Thailand's Phu Khieu National Park 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 (Grassman et al. 2005). Other observations include mainly primate prey, but also muntjac and argus pheasant (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Clouded leopards are primarily nocturnal, with crepuscular activity peaks (Grassman et al. 2005, Austin et al. 2007).
Two radio-telemetry studies in different parks in Thailand have found that adult male and female clouded leopards had similar home range sizes between 30-40 km² in size (95% fixed kernel estimators), with smaller intensively used core areas of 3-5 km² (Grassman et al. 2005, Austin et al. 2007). While both studies found substantial home range overlap between males and females, as is typical of most felids, Grassman et al. (2005) also found that the ranges of their two radio-collared males overlapped by a significant amount (39%). Although both studies found similar home ranges, clouded leopards in Phu Khieu National Park travelled approximately twice the average daily distance (average 2 km) than clouded leopards in Khao Yai National Park (Grassman et al. 2005, Austin et al. 2007).
Clouded leopards may occur at higher densities where densities of the larger cats, tigers and leopards, are lower (Lynam et al. 2001, Grassman et al. 2005, Rao et al. 2005).
Little is known about the feeding behavior of clouded leopards. Like other felids, they are strict carnivores. They are also solitary hunters, preying on birds, fish, monkeys, deer, and rodents. Prey species include argus pheasant, stump-tailed macaque, slow loris, silvered leaf monkey, sambar, hog deer, Indian muntjac, lesser mouse-deer, wild boar, bearded pig, Malayan pangolin, Indochinese ground squirrel, Asiatic brush-tailed porcupine, and masked palm civet. They have also been known to kill domestic animals, including calves, pigs, goats, and poultry. Fish remains have been found in the excrement of wild clouded leopards. Clouded leopards kill prey with a bite to the back of the neck, which snaps the spine. They pull flesh off of the carcass by stabbing the meat with its incisors and large canines and then abruptly jerking the head back.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; fish
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore )
Clouded leopards are one of the top predators in their range, especially where tigers and leopards are absent. They play a role in controlling populations of prey species, which effectively limits the impact which these populations have on the ecosystem. For example, by preying on cervids and keeping population size low, clouded leopards prevent excessive stress on plant populations. Like all other mammals, clouded leopards can be hosts for many internal parasites, as well as ectoparasites. Internal parasites found in the feces of clouded leopards include liver flukes (Dicrocoeliidae), intestinal flukes (Echinostomatidae), Paragonimus westermanni, Gnathostoma spinigerum, pseudophyllid cestodes (Pseudophyllidea), cyclophyllidean tapeworms (Mesocestoididae, Hymenolepididae, Taeniidae), Toxoplasma gondii, Mammomonogamus, Toxascaris, Oncicola, Sarcocystis, and Giardia. Many of these parasites are probably acquired from prey species. Ectoparasites of clouded leopards include several tick species: Amblyomma testudinarium, Haemaphysalis asiatica, Haemaphysalis hystricis, Haemaphysalis semermis, Rhipicephalus haemaphysaloides, and Ixodes granulatus.
- Gnathostoma spinigerum
- Paragonimus westermani
- Toxoplasma gondii
- Amblyomma testudinarium
- Haemaphysalis asiatica
- Haemaphysalis hystricis
- Haemaphysalis semermis
- Rhipicephalus haemaphysaloides
- Ixodes granulatus
The main predators of clouded leopards are humans, who use dogs to track and corner them. For this reason, clouded leopards avoid humans and they are rarely found near human settlements. Clouded leopards share much of their range with tigers and leopards. In these shared areas clouded leopards seem to have a more arboreal and nocturnal lifestyle. The reason for this is undocumented, but researchers suspect that tigers and leopards kill clouded leopards to eliminate competition. Therefore, clouded leopards are more active at night and spend more time in trees to avoid these large predators. Their patterned coat serves as camouflage when they are stalking their prey and attempting to remain hidden from other predators.
- tigers (Panthera tigris)
- leopards (Panthera pardus)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Like other felids, clouded leopards have keen vision as well as good senses of smell and hearing. Captive clouded leopards mark their territories by clawing trees, urine spraying, scraping, and head rubbing, all of which are typical scent-marking behaviors. Vocalizations made by captive animals are characteristic of members of the family Felidae, which include growling, mewing, hissing, and spitting. Clouded leopards do not purr, but they do make a low-intensity snorting noise called “prusten” when they have friendly interactions with other individuals. Clouded leopards, tigers, snow leopards, and jaguars are the only felids that use this type of vocalization. They also have a long moaning call that can be heard across distances. The purpose of this call is unknown, but observers think it is a form of communication between animals in different territories, perhaps as a mating call or to warn other cats away from their territory. Clouded leopards also have vibrissae on their muzzles, which detect tactile stimuli, especially at night.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The average lifespan of wild clouded leopards is estimated to be 11 years. Individuals in zoos have been recorded living up to 17 years, with the average between 13 and 15 years. For wild clouded leopards, hunting or habitat destruction by humans limits lifespan. Clouded leopards also share parts of their geographic range with larger predators that kill potential competitors, such as tigers or leopards. Clouded leopards may spend a significant amount of time in trees for this reason. Studies have not been conducted regarding diseases that may limit the lifespan of clouded leopards. The number of deaths by other clouded leopards also remains unknown.
Status: wild: 11 years.
Status: captivity: 17 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 13-15 years.
Status: wild: 11 years.
Status: captivity: 17 (high) days.
Status: captivity: 13-15 days.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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 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); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 170 g.
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
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Neofelis nebulosa
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Neofelis nebulosa
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
Little is known about the population status of clouded leopards because actual population estimates are difficult to obtain. The chief threat for clouded leopard populations is habitat loss due to deforestation for agricultural purposes. Humans hunt clouded leopards for their pelts and teeth, as well as for use in traditional medicine and culinary trades. In a survey conducted by the IUCN in 1991 in southeastern China, clouded leopard pelts were common on the black market. The Taiwanese purchase most clouded leopard products and the Taiwanese subspecies of clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura) is thought to be extinct as a result. Trade of clouded leopard products has been prohibited by CITES since 1975. Laws now protect clouded leopards over the majority of their range. Hunting is strictly prohibited in Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam; hunting is regulated in Laos. The IUCN lists clouded leopards as vulnerable, and they are also listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which prohibits the trade of any part of the animal in the United States. Still, prohibition of hunting of clouded leopards does not necessarily decrease demand and pelts have been reported on sale in urban markets in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, and Thailand. Clouded leopards face persecution by farmers who feel that their livestock is at risk. Populations have been fragmented by deforestation, increasing the susceptibility of the entire species to infectious disease and natural catastrophic events. Efforts have been made in Nepal, Malaysia, and Indonesia to establish national parks in order to sustain populations of clouded leopards. Unfortunately, due to their elusive nature and dense forest habitats, data on the numbers actually surviving in parks are limited and possibly inaccurate.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Southeastern and South-Central Asia, Taiwan
Population location: Southeastern and South-Central Asia, Taiwan
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Neofelis nebulosa , see its USFWS Species Profile
The clouded leopard is hunted for the illegal wildlife trade - large numbers of skins have been seen in market surveys, and there is also trade in bones for medicines, meat for exotic dishes and live animals for the pet trade. Wild animals are likely the primary source, but there is also some illegal trade from captive animals (Nowell 2007).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
As agricultural lands continue to encroach on clouded leopard habitat, incidences of clouded leopard attacks on livestock have increased. Clouded leopards prey on calves, goats, pigs, and poultry. Villagers use poison to kill predators such as clouded leopards.
Clouded leopards have been hunted extensively for their pelts, which may be bought on the wildlife black market. The smuggling of skins from mainland China has increased as the demand for clouded leopard pelts in Taiwan has been renewed. Prior to the conversion of tribal peoples in Taiwan to Christianity, clouded leopard skins were used in ceremonies and the hunter was considered heroic for killing these animals. Today, ownership of a clouded leopard pelt is a status symbol among men in some Asian countries. Authorities have found pelts for sale in many markets throughout mainland Southeast Asia as well. Body parts, especially claws, teeth and bones, are still used in traditional medicine practices. Clouded leopard occasionally appears on menus at upscale restaurants in Asia. In addition, live animals are traded illegally as pets.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material
The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is a cat found from the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia into China, and has been classified as Vulnerable in 2008 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its total population size is suspected to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a decreasing population trend, and no single population numbering more than 1,000 adults.
The fur of clouded leopards is of a dark grey or ochreous ground-colour, often largely obliterated by black and dark dusky-grey blotched pattern. There are black spots on the head, and the ears are black. Partly fused or broken-up stripes run from the corner of the eyes over the cheek, from the corner of the mouth to the neck, and along the nape to the shoulders. Elongated blotches continue down the spine and form a single median stripe on the loins. Two large blotches of dark dusky-grey hair on the side of the shoulders are each emphasized posteriorly by a dark stripe, which passes on to the foreleg and breaks up into irregular spots. The flanks are marked by dark dusky-grey irregular blotches bordered behind by long, oblique, irregularly curved or looped stripes. These blotches yielding the clouded pattern suggest the English name of the cat. The underparts and legs are spotted, and the tail is marked by large, irregular, paired spots. Females are slightly smaller than males.
Their irises are usually either greyish-green or brownish-yellow in color. Their legs are short and stout, with broad paws. They have rather short limbs compared to the other big cats, but their hind limbs are longer than their front limbs to allow for increased jumping and leaping capabilities. Their ulnae and radii are not fused, which also contributes to a greater range of motion when climbing trees and stalking prey.
Melanistic clouded leopards are uncommon. Clouded leopards weigh between 11.5 and 23 kg (25 and 51 lb). Females vary in head-to-body length from 68.6 to 94 cm (27.0 to 37.0 in), with a tail 61 to 82 cm (24 to 32 in) long. Males are larger at 81 to 108 cm (32 to 43 in) with a tail 74 to 91 cm (29 to 36 in) long. Their shoulder height varies from 50 to 55 cm (20 to 22 in).
They have exceptionally long, piercing canine teeth, the upper being about three times as long as the basal width of the socket. The upper pair of canines may measure 4 cm (1.6 in) or longer. They are often referred to as a “modern-day saber tooth” because they have the largest canines in proportion to their body size, matching the tiger in canine length. The first premolar is usually absent, and they also have a very distinct long and slim skull with well-developed occipital and sagittal crests to support the enlarged jaw muscles.
Distribution and habitat
Clouded leopards occur from the Himalayan foothills in Nepal and India to Myanmar, Bhutan, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Indochina, and in China south of the Yangtze River. Some are found in the mixed-evergreen forests of the northeastern and southeastern parts of Bangladesh. They are regionally extinct in Taiwan. Clouded leopards prefer open- or closed-forest habitats to other habitat types. They have been reported from relatively open, dry tropical forest in Myanmar and in Thailand.
In India, they occur in northern West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. In Assam they were observed in forests but have not been recorded in protected areas. In the Himalayas, they were camera-trapped at altitudes of 2,500–3,720 m (8,200–12,200 ft) between April 2008 and May 2010 in the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, Sikkim.
Clouded leopards were thought to be extinct in Nepal since the late 1860s. But in 1987 and 1988, four individuals were found in the central part of the country, close to Chitwan National Park and in the Pokhara Valley. These findings extended their known range westward, suggesting they are able to survive and breed in degraded woodlands that previously harboured moist subtropical semideciduous forest. Since then, individuals were recorded in the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park and in the Annapurna Conservation Area.
Distribution of subspecies
- N. n. nebulosa (Griffith, 1821) — lives in Southern China to eastern Myanmar;
- N. n. macrosceloides (Hodgson, 1853) — lives in Nepal to Myanmar;
- N. n. brachyura (Swinhoe, 1862) — used to live in Taiwan, and is considered extinct since the early 1990s. The last confirmed record dates to 1989, when the skin of a young individual was found in the Taroko area. It was not recorded during an extensive camera trapping survey from 2000 to 2004 in southern Taiwan.
Ecology and behavior
Clouded leopards are the most talented climbers among the cats. In captivity, they have been observed to climb down vertical tree trunks head first, and hang on to branches with their hind paws bent around branchings of tree limbs. They are capable of supination and can even hang down from branches only by bending their hind paws and their tail around them. When jumping down, they keep hanging on to a branch this way until the very last moment. They can climb on horizontal branches with their back to the ground, and in this position make short jumps forward. When balancing on thin branches, they use their long tails to steer. They can easily jump up to 1.2 m (3.9 ft) high.
Clouded leopards have been observed to scent mark in captivity by urine-spraying and head-rubbing on prominent objects. Presumably such habits are used to mark their territory in the wild, although the size of their home ranges is unknown. Like other big cats, they do not appear able to purr[disputed ], but they otherwise have a wide range of vocalisations, including mewing, hissing, growling, moaning, and snorting. When communicating, two individuals will emit low snorting sounds that are called prusten when approaching each other in a friendly manner. They also use long-call communication used over large distances, which could either be a type of mating call between different territories or a warning call to other cats encroaching on other territories. Apart from information stemming from observations of captive clouded leopards, little is known of their natural history and behavior in the wild. Early accounts depict them as rare, secretive, arboreal, and nocturnal denizens of dense primary forest. More recent observations suggest they may not be as arboreal and nocturnal as previously thought. They may use trees as daytime rest sites, but also spend a significant proportion of time on the ground. Some daytime movement has been observed, suggesting they are not strictly nocturnal but crepuscular. However, the time of day when they are active depends on their prey and the level of human disturbance.
They live a solitary lifestyle, resting in trees during the day and hunting at night. When hunting, clouded leopards either come down from their perches in the trees and stalk their prey or lie and wait for the prey to come to them. After making a kill and eating, they usually retreat to the trees to digest and rest.
Their partly nocturnal and far-ranging behaviour, their low densities, and because they inhabit densely vegetated habitats and remote areas makes the counting and monitoring of clouded leopards extremely difficult. Consequently, little is known about their behaviour and status. Available information on their ecology is anecdotal, based on local interviews and a few sighting reports.
Home ranges have only been estimated in Thailand:
- Four individuals were radio-collared in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary from April 2000 to February 2003. Home ranges of two females were 25.7 km2 (9.9 sq mi) and 22.9 km2 (8.8 sq mi), and of two males 29.7 km2 (11.5 sq mi) and 49.1 km2 (19.0 sq mi).
- Two individuals were radio-collared during a study from 1997 to 1999 in the Khao Yai National Park. The home range of one female was 39.4 km2 (15.2 sq mi), of the one male 42 km2 (16 sq mi). Both individuals had a core area of 2.9 km2 (1.1 sq mi).
Little is known of the diet of clouded leopards. Their prey includes both arboreal and terrestrial vertebrates. Pocock presumed they are adapted for preying upon herbivorous mammals of considerable bulk because of their powerful build and the deep penetration of their bites, attested by their long canines. Confirmed prey species include hog deer, slow loris, brush-tailed porcupine, Malayan pangolin and Indochinese ground squirrel. Known prey species in China include barking deer and pheasants.
Both males and females average 26 months at first reproduction. Mating usually occurs during December and March. The males tend to be very aggressive during sexual encounters and have been known to bite the female on the neck during courtship, severing her vertebrae. With this in mind, male and female compatibility has been deemed extremely important when attempting breeding in captivity. The pair will meet and mate multiple times over the course of several days. The male grasps the female by the neck and the female responds with vocalization that encourages the male to continue. The male then leaves and is not involved in raising the kittens. Estrus last six days on average, estrous cycle averages 30 days. After a gestation period of 93 ± 6 days, females give birth to a litter of one to five, most often three cubs.
Initially, the young are blind and helpless, much like the young of many other cats, and weigh from 140 to 280 g (4.9 to 9.9 oz). Unlike adults, the kittens' spots are "solid" — completely dark rather than dark rings. The young can see within about 10 days of birth, are active within five weeks, and are fully weaned at around three months of age. They attain the adult coat pattern at around six months, and probably become independent after around 10 months. Females are able to bear one litter each year. The mother is believed to hide her kittens in dense vegetation while she goes to hunt, though little concrete evidence supports this theory, since their lifestyle is so secretive.
Many of the remaining forest areas are too small to ensure the long-term persistence of clouded leopard populations. They are threatened by habitat loss following large–scale deforestation and commercial poaching for the wildlife trade. Skins, claws, and teeth are offered for decoration and clothing, bones and meat as substitute for tiger in traditional Asian medicines and tonics, and live animals for the pet trade. Few poaching incidents have been documented, but all range states are believed to have some degree of commercial poaching. In recent years, substantial domestic markets existed in Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
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. Three of the surveyed markets are situated on international borders with China and Thailand, and cater to international buyers, although clouded leopards are completely protected under Myanmar's national legislation. Effective implementation and enforcement of CITES is considered inadequate.
Neofelis nebulosa is listed in CITES Appendix I and protected over most of its range. Hunting is banned in Bangladesh, China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is not legally protected outside Bhutan's protected areas. Hunting is regulated in Laos. No information about its protection status is available from Cambodia. These bans, however, are poorly enforced in India, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Early captive-breeding programs involving clouded leopards were not very successful, largely due to ignorance of courtship activity among them in the wild. Experience has taught keepers that introducing pairs of clouded leopards at a young age gives opportunities for the pair to bond and breed successfully. Males have the reputation of being aggressive towards females. Facilities breeding clouded leopards need to provide the female a secluded, off-exhibit area. Modern breeding programs involve carefully regulated introductions between prospective mating pairs, and take into account the requirements for enriched enclosures. Stimulating natural behavior by providing adequate space to permit climbing minimizes stress. This, combined with a feeding program that fulfills the proper dietary requirements, has promoted more successful breeding in recent years.
In March 2011, two breeding females at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere in Nashville, Tennessee, gave birth to three cubs, which are being raised by zookeepers. Each cub weighed 0.5 lb (0.23 kg). In June 2011, two cubs were born at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. The breeding pair was brought from the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand in an ongoing education and research exchange program. Four cubs were born at the Nashville Zoo in 2012.
As of December 2011, 222 clouded leopards are believed to exist in zoos.
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