Neofelis nebulosaclouded leopard

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Geographic Range

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. (Buckley-Beason, et al., 2006; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Habitat

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3000 m
    0.00 to 9842.52 ft

Physical Description

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    11 to 23 kg
    24.23 to 50.66 lb
  • Average mass
    18-22 kg
    lb
  • Range length
    123 to 200 cm
    48.43 to 78.74 in
  • Average length
    154-195 cm
    in

Reproduction

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. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

  • 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
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • 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

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. (Kitchener, 1991; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008; Turner, 1997)

  • 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

Lifespan/Longevity

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    11 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    17 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13-15 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    11 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    17 (high) days
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13-15 days

Behavior

Little is known about the behavior of clouded leopards in the wild, although conjectures are made based upon observations of animals in captivity. They are regarded as secretive and rarely seen arboreal hunters that are most active at night, although these characteristics vary. Large feet, short legs, and a long tail make clouded leopards well-adapted for arboreal living. They are extremely adept in trees, and they have been observed engaging in acrobatics such as climbing slowly head first down tree trunks, hanging upside down while moving along horizontal branches, and hanging from branches using only their hind feet. Clouded leopards are able to hunt in the trees, preying on birds, monkeys, and rodents. Clouded leopards are not strictly arboreal hunters, they may spend more time resting in trees than hunting. Using trees as refuges is thought to be a means of escaping the terrestrial leeches found in tropical forests in Asia; they also protect these cats from larger predators, such as leopards and tigers. The amount of time clouded leopards spend in trees may vary between different habitats. They pursue prey, both in trees and on the ground, by stalking quietly and then pouncing quickly. Diurnal activity has been observed in both wild and captive cats; therefore, clouded leopards may not be solely nocturnal. Daily activity patterns probably vary with activity patterns of prey in different regions, as well as the amount of human activity in particular areas. Nothing is known about the social systems of wild clouded leopards, they are probably solitary animals. A male and female found together probably make up a mating pair, coming together only to breed. A female may also be seen with her cubs. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Turner, 1997)

  • Range territory size
    30 to 40 km^2

Home Range

Radio-telemetry studies in national parks in Southeast Asia have found that male and female clouded leopards have ranges that are similar in size. A typical clouded leopard has a territory that is 30 to 40 square kilometers, with a heavily used core area of 3 to 5 square kilometers. Male and female home ranges overlap substantially. ("Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996)

Communication and Perception

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. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Food Habits

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • fish

Predation

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; Kitchener, 1991; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; Grassman, et al., 2004; Patton and Rabinowitz, 1994; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

Conservation Status

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. (Beacham and Beltz, 1998; "Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa", 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; "About the Clouded Leopard", 2008)

Other Comments

A subspecies of clouded leopards, Neofelis nebulosa diardi, is now considered a separate species, Neofelis diardi. They are found on Borneo. (Buckley-Beason, et al., 2006)

Contributors

Katie Holmes (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

piscivore

an animal that mainly eats fish

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

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.

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.

Beacham, W., K. Beltz. 1998. Beacham's Guide to International Endangered Species, Vol. 2. Osprey, Florida: Beacham Publishing Corp..

Buckley-Beason, V., W. Johnson, W. Nash, R. Stanyon, J. Menninger, C. Driscoll, J. Howard, M. Bush, J. Page, M. Roelke, G. Stone, P. Martelli, C. Wen, L. Ling, R. Duraisingam, P. Lam, S. O'Brien. 2006. Molecular Evidence for Species-Level Distinctions in Clouded Leopards. Current Biology, 16: 2371-2376.

Grassman, L., N. Sarataphanab, M. Tewesa, N. Silvyac, T. Nakanakratad. 2004. Ticks (Acari: Ixodidae) Parasitizing Wild Carnivores in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand. Journal of Parasitology, 90(3): 657-659.

Kitchener, A. 1991. The Natural History of the Wild Cats. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Patton, S., A. Rabinowitz. 1994. Parasites of Wild Felidae in Thailand: A Coprological Survey. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 30(3): 472-475.

Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Turner, A. 1997. The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives. New York: Columbia University Press.