The clouded leopard is a beautiful predator from the same family as cats. It forms one genus, which includes the eponymous species Neofelis nebulosa. The predator, in fact, is not a leopard, although it bears such a name due to the resemblance to a distant relative.
Origin of the species and description
British naturalist Edward Griffith first described this feline in 1821, giving it the name Felis nebulosa. In 1841, Brian Haughton Hodgson, who studied the fauna in India, Nepal, based on the description of the non-Polish specimen, named this species Felis macrosceloides. The following description and name of the animal from Taiwan was given by biologist Robert Swinho (1862) — Felis Brachyura. John Edward Gray collected all three into one genus Neofelis (1867).
The clouded leopard, although it represents a transitional form between small cats to large ones, is genetically closer to the latter, belonging to the genus Panthers. Previously considered as one predator, it was split into two species in 2006.
Video: Clouded Leopard
Collecting data on island mammals has not been easy. The skins of animals stored in various museums of the world, excrement of animals were taken as the basis for DNA research. According to these data and morphology, the range of Neofelis nebulosa is limited to Southeast Asia, the part that is on the mainland and Taiwan, while N. diardi lives on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The result of the research also changed the number of subspecies.
All subspecies of nebulosa were combined and the diardi population was divided into two:
- diardi borneensis in Borneo;
- diardi diardi in Sumatra.
The two species diverged 1.5 million years ago ago due to geographic isolation as overland communication disappeared between the islands, possibly due to rising sea levels or volcanic eruptions. Since then, the two species have not met or interbred. The Clouded Leopard from the Islands has smaller and darker spot markings and a darker overall coat color.
While the two species of Smoky felines may look the same, they are genetically more different than a lion is from a tiger!
Appearance and Features
The distinctive cloud-like color of the coat makes these animals unusually beautiful and different from other relatives of the family. The elliptical patches are darker in color than the background, and the edge of each patch is partially framed in black. They are located against the background of a monochromatic field, which varies from light brown with yellowness to deep gray.
The muzzle is light, like a background, solid black spots mark the forehead, cheeks. The ventral side and limbs are marked with large black ovals. Two solid black stripes extend from behind the ears along the back of the neck to the shoulder blades, a thick tail covered with black markings merging towards the end. In juveniles, lateral spots are continuous, not cloudy. They will have changed by the time the animal is about six months old.
Adult specimens usually weigh 18-22 kg, with a height at the withers of 50 to 60. Body length from 75 to 105 centimeters, tail length & # 8212; from 79 to 90 cm, which is almost equal to the length of the body itself. Smoky cats do not have much difference in size, but the females are slightly smaller.
The legs of the predator are relatively short, compared to other felines, the hind limbs are longer than the forelimbs. The ankles have a wide range of motion, the paws are massive, ending with retractable claws. The structure of the body, the height of the limbs, the long tail are ideally suited for climbing trees, both up and down. Mammals have good eyesight, hearing and smell.
The animal, in comparison with other relatives of this family:
- narrower, longer skull;
- the longest fangs, in relation to the size of the body and skull;
- The mouth opens much wider.
Canine teeth can be more than 4 cm. The nose is pink, sometimes with black spots. Ears are short, set wide apart and rounded. The iris is usually yellow-brown or green-gray grayish-green, the pupils shrink into vertical slits.
Where does the clouded leopard live?
The species Neofelis Nebulosa is found south of the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, Bhutan, in the north & # 8212; east of India. The southern part of the range is limited to Myanmar, southern China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia (mainland areas).
Three subspecies occupy different regions:
- Neofelis n . nebulosa — southern China and mainland Malaysia;
- Neofelis n. brachyura — used to live in Taiwan but are now considered extinct;
- Neofelis n. macrosceloides — found from Myanmar to Nepal;
- Neofelis diardi — independent view from the islands of Borneo, Sumatra.
Predators live in tropical forests, reaching areas at an altitude of 3 thousand meters. They use the trees for recreation as well as for hunting, but spend more time on the ground than previously thought. Observations of predators have shown that they are most often found in the tropics of evergreen forests. Mammals inhabit scrublands, secondary dry subtropical, coastal deciduous forests, they can be found in mangrove swamps, clearings and grasslands.
What does the clouded leopard eat?
Like all wild cats, these animals are predators. It was once believed that they spent a lot of time hunting in the trees, but recent research has shown that clouded leopards also hunt on the ground, and rest in the trees during the day.
To the animals that the predator preys on , include:
- bear macaques;
- Malay pangolins;
- wild boars;
- bearded pigs;
- ground squirrels;
- palm civets;
Predators can catch birds, such as pheasants. The remains of fish were found in the excrement. There are cases of attacks of these wild cats on livestock: calves, pigs, goats, poultry. These animals kill prey by digging their teeth into the back of the head, breaking the spine. They eat by tearing the meat out of the carcass, digging in with fangs and incisors, and then sharply tilting their heads back. Often the animal sits in ambush on a tree, closely pressed against a branch. It attacks prey from above, jumping on its back. It catches smaller animals from the ground.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
A body adapted to this lifestyle allows you to achieve these amazing skills. Their legs are short and strong, providing leverage and a low center of gravity. In addition, the extremely long tail helps with balancing. To capture their large paws are armed with sharp claws and special pads. The hind limbs have flexible ankle joints, allowing the leg to also rotate backwards.
A distinctive feature of this leopard — an unusual skull, the predator also has the longest upper fangs compared to the size of the skull, which makes it possible to compare it with the extinct saber-toothed feline.
Research by Dr. Per Christiansen from the Copenhagen Zoological Museum has revealed a connection between these creatures. A study of the characteristics of the skull of both living and extinct cats has shown that its structure in the clouded leopard is similar to extinct saber-toothed, such as Paramachairodus (before the group narrowed and the animals had huge upper canines).
Both animals have a huge open mouth, about 100 degrees. Unlike the modern lion, which can only open its mouth to 65°. This indicates that one of the lines of modern felids, of which only the clouded leopard now remains, has undergone some common changes with true saber-toothed cats. This means that the animals can hunt big prey in the wild a little differently than other big predators.
Smoky leopards are one of the best climbers in the cat family. They can climb trunks, dangle from branches with their hind legs, and even descend headfirst like a squirrel.
Saber-toothed cats would bite their prey on the neck, using their elongated teeth to sever nerves and blood vessels and seize the throat to suffocate the prey. This hunting technique is different from modern big cats, which grab their prey by the throat to strangle their prey.
Social Structure and Reproduction
The social behavior of these animals have been little studied. Based on the lifestyle of other wild cats, they lead a solitary life, tying themselves into partnerships only for mating. They control their territory both day and night. Its area can vary from 20 to 50 m2.
In Thailand, several animals living in nat. nature reserves were equipped with radio communication. This experience showed that three females had plots of 23, 25, 39, 50 m2, and males of 30, 42, 50 m2. The core of the plot was about 3 m2.
Predators mark the territory by spraying urine and rubbing against objects, scratching the bark of trees with their claws. Vibrissae help them navigate at night. These felines do not know how to purr, but they make snorting sounds, as well as high-pitched sounds similar to meowing. A short groaning cry can be heard from a distance, the purpose of such a vocalization is unknown, perhaps it is intended to attract a partner. If the cats are friendly, they stretch their neck, raising their muzzle. In an aggressive state, they bare their teeth, wrinkling their nose, growl with a hiss.
Sexual maturity of animals occurs after two years. Mating can take place over an extended period, but is more common from December to March. This animal is so aggressive that even caring, it shows character. Males often seriously injure their girlfriends, sometimes up to a rupture of the spine. Mating occurs several times with the same partner, who at the same time bites the female, she responds with sounds, encouraging the male to further action.
Female individuals are able to bear offspring annually. The average life expectancy of mammals is seven years. In captivity, predators live longer, about 11, there are cases when the animal lived for 17 years.
Pregnancy lasts about 13 weeks, ending in the birth of 2-3 blind, helpless babies, weighing 140-280 g. There are litters from 1 to 5 pcs. Nests are hollow trees, voids under the roots, secluded corners overgrown with bushes. By two weeks, babies already see, by a month they are active, and by three they stop eating milk. Mother teaches them to hunt. Kittens become completely independent by ten months. At first, the coloration has absolutely dark spots, which, expanding with age, brighten in the center, leaving a dark area. It is not known where the kittens hide during the mother's hunt, probably in the canopy of trees.
Natural enemies of clouded leopards
Humans are the main killer of mammals. Animals are hunted for their unusually beautiful skin. In hunting, dogs are used, driving predators and killing them. A wild beast tends to live away from settlements. As man expands his agricultural land, destroying forests and entering the habitat of this species, he, in turn, attacks domestic animals. The local population barbarously uses poisons to exterminate cats.
In the wild, leopards and tigers compete with our hero for food and can kill him to eliminate rivals. In such places, smoky cats are nocturnal and prefer to spend more time in the trees. Their camouflage coloration plays a good role, it is impossible to see this animal, especially in the dark or at dusk.
Population and species status
Unfortunately, due to Because of the secretive way of life, it is difficult to talk about the exact number of these animals. According to rough estimates, the population is less than 10 thousand copies. The main threats are poaching and deforestation. Some of the remaining forest areas are so small that they cannot ensure the reproduction and conservation of the species.
They hunt animals for their beautiful skins. In Sarawak, long fangs are used by some tribes as ear ornaments. Some parts of the carcass are used for medical purposes by local peoples. In restaurants in China and Thailand, smoked leopard meat is on the menu of some restaurants for wealthy tourists, which is a motivation for poaching. Babies are offered at fabulous prices as pets.
These predators were considered extinct in Nepal at the end of the 19th century, but in the 80s of the last century, four adults were found in the Pokhara Valley. After that, rare specimens were periodically recorded in the national parks and reserves of the country. In India, the western part of Bengal, the mountains of Sikkim, the beast was captured on cameras. At least 16 individuals were recorded on camera traps.
Clouded leopard today is found in the foothills of the Himalayas, Nepal, mainland Southeast Asia, China. It was previously widely distributed south of the Yangtze, but recent sightings of the animal are few, and little is known about its current range and abundance here. The mammal is found in parts of southeastern Bangladesh (Chittagong tract) in the mountains, with an appropriate habitat.
Fragmentation of habitats has increased the susceptibility of animals to infectious diseases and natural disasters. Rapid deforestation is taking place in Sumatra and Borneo, and the Bornean leopard not only dies, deprived of its natural habitat, but also falls into traps set for other animals. Clouded Leopards are considered vulnerable by the IUCN.
Clouded Leopard Conservation
Hunting for a mammal is prohibited in countries: Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and is regulated in Laos. In Bhutan, outside of protected areas, hunting is not regulated.
Efforts have been made in Nepal, Malaysia and Indonesia to establish national parks to support predator populations. The reserve of the Malaysian state of Sabah calculated the density of the settlement. Here, nine individuals live per 100 km². More rare than in Borneo, this beast is found in Sumatra. A national park has been established in the Tripura Sipahihola Wildlife Sanctuary, where clouded leopards are kept in a zoo.
It is difficult to get offspring from these animals in captivity due to their aggressive behavior. To reduce the level of hostility, a couple of babies are kept together from a very early age. When offspring appear, more often children are taken away from their mother and fed from a bottle. In March 2011, at the Grassmere Zoo in Nashville, Tennessee, two females gave birth to three cubs, who were then raised in captivity. Each cub weighed 230 g. Four more cubs were born there in 2012
In June 2011, a pair of leopards appeared at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. Their parents were brought from the Pattaya open zoo Khao Kheo (Thailand) under the training and knowledge exchange program. In May 2015, four more babies were born there. They are the fourth litter from Chai Lee and his girlfriend Nah Phan.
As of December 2011, there were 222 specimens of this rare animal in zoos.
Formerly breeding in captivity was difficult, as there was a lack of experience and knowledge about their way of life in nature. Now breeding cases have become more frequent, animals are given territory with rocky areas and secluded corners that are hidden from view. Animals are fed according to a special balanced feeding program. To increase the number of animals in the wild, measures are needed to preserve the natural habitats of clouded leopards.