Clouded Leopard

Introduction to Clouded Leopard

The clouded leopard is a wild cat whose species were found in 1820. They got this name because of the cloud-shaped spots and stripes. Since 1820, several studies have been going on of these clouded leopards. But there are still some mysterious things over there. Some recent studies have found that they have a distinct Gene that makes them unique. They are also known as spotted leopards. Usually, the term clouded refers to snow leopards or Pantherinae, like tigers, lions, jaguars, and true leopards, which belong to the same taxonomic family. 


Distribution

Let's know where clouded leopards are found. The clouded leopards are usually found in lowland tropical rainforests, dry woodlands, and secondary forests. The clouded leopard lives in the Himalayan foothills in Nepal, Bhutan, and India to Myanmar, southeastern Bangladesh, Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, to the south of the Yangtze River in China. Some species of these wild cats are found in eastern parts of India like Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, etc.  It is also regionally extinct in Taiwan and Singapore.


Physical Appearance

The clouded leopard body is filled with fur. This fur is of two different colors. Some leopards may have dark gray fur and some others may have ochreous ground color. Also, we can see some black spots on the head. Their ears are black in color and the corner parts of their eyes have broken up stripes. These partly fused stripes can be found from eyes to cheeks and from mouth to neck. And also from nape to the shoulders. Also, several body parts of clouded leopards have some irregular blotches. On the spine, on shoulders, and flanks. Some faded irregular spots can be seen on the tile of a clouded leopard. The legs are short and stout but have broad paws. 

Clouded leopards weigh between 11.5 and 23 kg (25 and 51 lb). But the body lengths are different for males and females. 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. Whereas the males are larger at 81 to 108 cm (32 to 43 in) with a tail 74 to 91 cm (29 to 36 in) long. The shoulder height of the spotted leopard varies from 50 to 55 cm. 

The clouded leopard teeth are also known as canine teeth. It is one of the interesting parts of this wildcat. The clouded leopard teeth are very long. They don't have the first premolar. The upper canal has a length of 4 cm which is 3 times larger than the basal cavity present on the lower socket. Because of the largest canines in proportion to their body size, the clouded leopard is also referred to as a "modern-day saber-tooth". 

To the presence of hyoid bone, the clouded leopards cannot roar or purr like larger cats. The vocalizations of these spotted leopards may include growling, hissing, and chuffing. The underbelly and limbs have large black oval marks. Also, we can see two thick black stripes on the back of the neck.


Scientific Classification 

The clouded leopards belong to the Animalia kingdom. Its Phylum is Chordata. The class of spotted leopards is Mammalia. The clouded leopard has its order as Carnivora and the suborder as Feliformia. The wild cat's Family is Felidae and the subfamily is Pantherinae. The clouded leopard species belong to Neofelis nebulosa. 


Food Habits

As the name itself specifies that the clouded leopards are also known as wild cats, they are carnivores. They prey on macaques, slow loris, gibbons, small deer, and wild boars, etc. They also can hunt some birds. Usually, they can take prey from the trees or stack it on the ground. But some research studies said that they prefer to take food on the ground. They don't want to reach higher because of their short legs. But the clouded leopard teeth help to grab huge quantities of food at once.


Taxonomy

Let us have a glance at various proposals by scientists. 

  • In 1821, Felis nebulosa was proposed by Edward Griffith.

  • In 1841, Brian Houghton Hodgson had proposed Felis macroscelides.

  • Felis diardi was proposed by Georges Cuvier in 1823 but was not uncovered.

  • Felis Brachyura was proposed by Robert Swinhoe in 1862 with the skin of a clouded leopard from Taiwan. 

  • In 2006 after several pieces of research, it was identified as Neofelis species, by the Sunda. He observed the species of Taiwan and Hainan Island.


Reproductive System

From the age of 2 years, the clouded leopards can undergo the reproduction process. They are sexually mature cats. Mating can occur every month. But under the supervision of human beings, it usually occurs in March and December. The female spotted leopard has estrus every 6 days and it lasts up to 30 days. The gestation period of a female clouded leopard is around 83 to 95 days. For every litter, it can produce one to five cubs. The female spotted leopards can litter once a year. 

Coming to the growth cycle of cubs, they can open their eyes around 10 to 14 days. Teeth start growing from 3 weeks and after 5 weeks, the cubs can leave the nest. The little cubs started weaning for 100 days. At the age of 1.5 to 2 years, they started living independently. After 2 years again the reproductive system starts. The lifespan of a clouded leopard is around 12 to 15 years. But under proper human care, they can live till 17 years.


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The reproductive system of clouded leopards has different challenges. The female clouded leopards have distinct ovulations. Some may have spontaneous ovulation and some others may not have. Among all the challenges, the considerable one is the aggressiveness of the male clouded leopard. Unlike the other large cats, the male clouded leopards can make aggressive attacks which results in the injuries and even death of the female clouded leopard. It happens even under human care. Also, the males can meet with females at the age of 12 months itself successfully. The females can have a successful mating with the immature males also. Managing and protecting the female clouded leopards is the most difficult task for conservation centers and Zoos etc.


Threats For Clouded Leopards

  • The major threat to the survival of clouded leopards is deforestation. With the reduced forest and evergreen tropical areas, the lifespan and reproduction system of clouded leopards were degraded.

  • Another threat is the world trading of clouded leopard body parts. Especially the teeth, bones, skin, and skeleton are commercial watching throughout the world. Also the skin, bones were used to make decorative items, etc. 

Several cases were caught in Myanmar and Nepal. Even though several rules were stated by the legislative bodies, the results were poor. 


Conservative Steps

Due to the increasing awareness, many people came forward to conserve the wild cats. Also, the clouded leopards have been listed in CITES APPENDIX I. Also, the hunting of spotted leopards was banned in several countries. Mainly - Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand, Taiwan, Myanmar, Vietnam, etc. 4th August is declared as international clouded leopards day in the United States from 2018. They also stated that these spotted leopards are endangered animals. 

The clouded leopards have been kept in zoos since the beginning of the 20th century. Even in India, there are six zoos. They are - 

  • Darjeeling Zoo since 1996

  • Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary Zoo since 1996

  • Aizawl Zoo since 2006

  • Itanagar Zoo since 2009

  • Gangtok Zoo since 2010

  • Shillong Zoo since 2012

Meghalaya has the clouded leopard state animal 

Also, well-experienced veterinarians look after the females during the gestation period to avoid respiratory and digestive diseases. Everyone should take this as a responsibility to protect the wildlife and spread the word.


Bottom Lines

Hence the clouded leopards are wild cats and have similar features to tigers. They have a unique structure and reproduction. As they are carnivores, they can prey on different tiny insects and other animals. The clouded leopards are also known as the spotted leopards. Their life span is around 15 years. The unfortunate thing is about the threats to their conservation. Every individual should take it as a responsibility and can spread this word.

FAQs on Clouded Leopard

1. How Many Clouded Leopards are Left?

Ans: Both species of the clouded leopards whatever juice today by day because of the major two threats. Namely deforestation and worldwide illegal trade of skin, bones, skeleton, etc body parts of the clouded leopards. These are vulnerable to extinction. Having a less life span, these threats became add-ons for their extinction. Several recent studies had estimated that the presence of clouded leopards is fewer than 10,000 at present. 


Deforestation reduced greenery and the favorable climatic conditions of clouded leopards were also decreased. The worldwide commercial trade of different body parts of clouded leopards alleged the death of alive animals. All these factors reduce the species and presence of clouded leopards.

2. Can a Clouded Leopard Kill a Human?

Ans: The clouded leopards have canine teeth which are very sharp and lengthy. They also have a killing bite on the back of the neck. Even though it has a killing bite, it uses them for grabbing huge amounts of food. But they won't kill humans. They don't have the first premolar. The upper canal has a length of 4 cm which is 3 times larger than the basal cavity present on the lower socket. Because of the largest canines in proportion to their body size, the clouded leopard is also referred to as a "modern-day saber-tooth". 


Hence these canine teeth are such interesting features among all the other body parts. But they use them for their prey. They usually get food from or in the trees. Also, they started getting food after 3 to 5 weeks of each. Because this is the time when they get teeth. These teeth are very sharp and are about 4cms in length. The nature of these clouded leopards specifies that even though human beings are harmful to them, they don't do any harm to humans. 

3. Why is the Clouded Leopard the State Animal of Meghalaya?

Ans: The clouded leopard is a beautiful spotted wild cat. It is a majestic sight to stare at. But unfortunately, the IUCN has declared it as vulnerable. Then the three northeastern states namely Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram war decided to look after and conserve the clouded leopards. They declared these clouded leopards as endangered. The eastern Himalayas, the Assam valley, and the hills south of the Brahmaputra are the restricted North Eastern regions in India.


The density of the population of the clouded leopards is around 5.14 per 100 sq km. This density is called Kelral. Conrad K. Sangma, the chief minister of Meghalaya declared these beautiful spotted leopards are the state animals of Meghalaya. Also, the specialized team of respective departments was appointed to conserve them and to take necessary steps. Also, these clouded leopards are declared as mascots of the upcoming national games which are going to be held in 2023. It is the 39th national game for Meghalaya.

4. What are Baby Clouded Leopards Called?

Ans: The baby-clouded leopards are called cubs. These newborn cubs do not have teeth and do not open their eyes. They started opening their eyes after 10 to 15 days. Also at the age of 3 to 5 weeks, the teeth start growing for the Cubs. Cute little ugly legs help them to walk slowly. They started taking solid food after 8 to 10 weeks. After a hundred days, they completely started weaning. Within 12 months, they left the nest and started living independently. 


If it is a female cub, then it starts its reproductive cycle and mating with the mail at the age of 2 years. If it is a male cup, it starts mating with the females at the age of 12 months itself. The female clouded leopards can litter once every year. Each letter can produce three to five cups. Again the growth cycle starts from the cup. The gestation period usually ranges between 80 to 100 days.

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