Clouded LeopardThe Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is a medium-sized cat, 55 to 110 cm (2 ft to 3 ft 6 in) long and weighing between 15 and 23 kg (33 to 50 lb). It has a tan or tawny coat, and is distinctively marked with large, irregularly-shaped, dark-edged ellipses which are said to be shaped like clouds, hence both its common and original scientific name. It is found in southern China, the eastern Himalayas, north-east India and south-east Asia. The Bornean Clouded Leopard, Neofelis diardi, is a separate species found on the Sumatra, Borneo and the Batu Islands. Because of their distinct skull structure, the two species are considered sufficiently different to be the only members of their genus. The Clouded Leopard was a confusion to scientists for a long time because of the appearance and skeleton. It was what seamed to be a cross in between a big cat and a small cat. The name that is refered to by scientists is neofelis nebulosa neo means new and felis means small cat so it literally means new kind of small cat.
OverviewThe Clouded Leopard has a large build and, proportionately, the longest canine teeth (2 in) of any living feline. It is also believed that the Clouded Leopard is a descendant of the saber-toothed cat, which existed before/during the Ice Age. These characteristics led early researchers to speculate that it preyed on large land-dwelling mammals. However, while remarkably little is known about the natural history and behavioral habits of this species in the wild, it is now thought that its primary prey includes arboreal and terrestrial mammals, particularly gibbons, macaques, and the Proboscis Monkey, supplemented by other small mammals, deer, birds, porcupines, and domestic livestock. The Clouded Leopard has 5 toes like most big cats.
In conjunction with the fact that some of its prey lives in trees, the Clouded Leopard is an excellent climber. Short, flexible legs, large paws, and keen claws combine to make it very sure-footed. The Clouded Leopard can possess a tail as long as its body, further aiding in balance. Surprisingly, the cat can climb while hanging upside-down under branches and descend tree trunks head-first.
BehaviourThe Clouded Leopard is a tree dweller, and has a squirrel-like agility like the Margay of South America. In captivity, the Clouded Leopard routinely hangs by its hind legs using its long tail for balance and runs head-first down tree trunks. Little is known about its behaviour in the wild, but it is assumed that it is highly arboreal and that a favoured hunting tactic is to drop on prey from the trees.
The habits and behaviour of the Clouded Leopard in the wild are virtually unknown to man because of the animal's secretive nature. With a lack of evidence for a pack- or pride-society like that of the Lion, it is assumed that it is a generally solitary creature. Certainly it interacts with other Clouded Leopards while engaged in activities relating to mating and rearing young. While it was once assumed that the Clouded Leopard was active only at night, the cat has now been observed during the day.
BreedingFemales give birth to a litter of 1 to 5 cubs after a gestation period of about 85 to 93 days. Initially, the young are blind and helpless, much like the young of many other cats. 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 5 weeks, and probably become independent at about 10 months of age. The Clouded Leopard reaches sexual maturity at two years of age and females are able to bear one litter each year. Adults in captivity have lived as long as 17 years: in the wild, they have an average 11 year lifespan. This gives hope that the Clouded Leopard will be able to increase its numbers with careful management.
Despite these facts, captive breeding programs met with little success in their early stages, largely because the females were frequently killed by aggressive males; largely due to ignorance of courtship activity among these cats in the wild. Normally, the Clouded Leopard is not aggressive. Experience has taught keepers that carefully selected pairs of Clouded Leopards introduced and given opportunities to bond often breed successfully, although this is more art than science and takes great patience to achieve.
Carefully regulated introductions between prospective mating pairs and breeding programmes that take into account the requirements for enriched enclosures with adequate space to permit climbing, provide and stimulate natural behaviour, remove sources of exposure and minimise stress combined with a feeding programme that fulfills the proper dietary requirements have proven more successful in recent years. Cats born in captivity may one day supplement and bolster threatened populations in the wild.
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