Today is International Clouded Leopard Day. It was started by Lauren Amos and Dan Kemp, two carnivore keepers from Howletts in 2018 to bring awareness to the plight of clouded leopards. These beautiful cats are on the endangered species list, ranked as vulnerable. Poaching and habitat destruction are the two main reasons for the clouded leopards low numbers.
Due to its forest habitat, clouded leopards have large, dexterous paws with specialized footpads for gripping branches. Specialized anklebones allow varied position for climbing, including climbing headfirst down trees. Another distinctive feature of the clouded leopard is its long canine teeth. These canines are longer in proportion to skull size than those of any other species of wild cat.
While more closely related to big cats, the clouded leopard is frequently described as bridging the gap between big and small cats due to its smaller stature. It has proportionately short legs and a long tail. The coat is brown or yellowish-gray and covered with irregular dark stripes, spots and blotches. Black and pale, whitish individuals have been reported, indicating the species may exhibit dark and albino forms.
While all species of cats are classified as one family, the Felidae, genetic research has shown the clouded leopard to be most closely related to the large cat species. Clouded leopards are not a "type" of leopard as their name implies. They are actually a separate species of wild cat, as are snow leopards and leopards. Recent research has proposed the clouded leopard branched from other members of the Pantherinae family first, over 6 million years ago, making them the most ancient feline species in the modern cat world.
The clouded leopard is found from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Assam (eastern India) through Indochina to Sumatra and Borneo, and northeastward to southern China and formerly Taiwan. Although population numbers are thought to be lower outside protected areas, their populations are probably healthiest in Borneo because of the absence of tigers and leopards. Clouded leopards prefer to live in lowland tropical rainforests. However, they can also be found in dry woodlands and secondary forests, and in Borneo, they are reported to live in mangrove swamps. They have even been spotted in the foothills of the Himalayas at an elevation of 9,000 feet (2,743 meters).
Due to a different bone structure in their neck, the clouded leopard cannot roar like the larger cats, but also cannot purr because it lacks the fully ossified hyoid bone that allows small cats this ability. Vocalizations include growling, hissing and chuffing.
Clouded leopards are sexually mature around 2 years old. Mating can occur in any month, but in human care, most breeding occurs between December and March. The gestation period is between 85 and 93 days with one to five cubs (usually two or three) produced per litter. Cubs' eyes open at 10 to 14 days. Teeth appear around three weeks. At 5 weeks, cubs leave the nest, and they are weaned at 90 to 100 days. Cubs are independent after 1.5 to 2 years. Females can produce a litter every year.
Males weigh up to 50 pounds (23 kilograms). Females are significantly smaller, usually 25 to 35 pounds (11 to 21 kilograms). Clouded leopards are thought to be primarily nocturnal. The average life span of the clouded leopard is 12 to 15 years, though they may live up to 17 years in human care.