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Clouded Leopard

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Clouded Leopard
Photo © Archanamiya / Wikipedia.
The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is a species of cat native to the foothills of the Himalaya. The clouded leopard is named for its coat pattern which consists of a tan or yellow-brown background with large, cloud-shaped patches or blotches that are outlined with dark edges and have a mottled interior. The belly of a clouded leopard is a pale cream color.

Clouded leopards are skilled climbers, among the best in the cat family. Their ability to climb well enables them to capture prey that lives in trees. Clouded leopards have short legs, large paws and sharp claws. Their legs are very flexible and they have a long tail (which provides them with good balance). Their rear ankles can rotate through a wide range of motion, enabling them to climb head-first down tree trunks. They can also hang from branches with their hind feet and climb upside down on the undersides of tree branches.

Clouded leopards have long canine teath. In proportion to their skull size, clouded leopards have the longest upper canine teeth of any carnivore. Some experts note that skull of clouded leopards bears striking resemblence to that of the extinct saber-toothed cats. Clouded leopards have a wide gape that can open to an impressive 100 degree angle. By comarison, the gape of a lion extends to an angle of 65 degrees.

Clouded leopards are classified as vulnerable and their population is thought to be less than 10,000 adults. Conservationists believe their population to be declining. The most significant threats facing clouded leopards include habitat destruction and poaching.

Clouded leopards are medium sized cats. Their coat provides them with good camouflage in the patchy, dappled light of the forests they inhabit.

Clouded leopards are one of two closely related species (the other being the Sunda clouded leopard). Populations of clouded leopards and Sunda clouded leopards diverged about 1.5 million years ago when they were isolated from each other after a land bridge connecting their populations was submerged due to rising sea levels. The two species differ in their appearance, the Sunda clouded leopard has smaller, darker markings on their coat and their general coat color is darker.

Clouded leopards are thought to be solitary cats, though little is known of their social behavior. Clouded leopards were once thought to be nocturnal hunters but there is some evidence that they are active during the day as well.

Clouded leopards reach sexual maturity at the age of about 2 years. They mate year-round and their gestation period is between 85 and 93 days. Litters include between 1 and 5 cubs (the average number of cubs per litter is 2). Cubs venture out on their own after they reach about 10 months of age.

Size and Weight:

About 30 inches long and 40 pounds

Diet:

Clouded leopards are carnivores that feed on deer, monkeys, pigs, squirrels and other small mammals as well as birds.

Classification:

Clouded leopards belong to the Pantherinae, a group that also includes lions, tigers, jaguars, snow leopards and leopards. Clouded leopards were thought to be a single species until 2006 when researched revealed that the clouded leopards of Borneo and Sumatra were a distinct species. As a result, the species name Neofelis nebulosa was retained for snow leopards from mainland Asia. A new name was given to the Borneo and Sumatra clouded leopards—they are now called the Sunda clouded leopard and their scientific name is Neofelis diardi.

Habitat:

Clouded leopards inhabit lowland tropical forests, dry woodlands and secondary forests. They prefer dense, closed forests to open habitats. They live as high as 9000 feet. Their range includes most of Southeast Asia, from Nepal, through southern China, Thailand, Indonesia and Borneo.
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