The clouded leopard faces serious threats

Habitat destruction due to ever-increasing deforestation, demand for its beautiful fur, and hunting for its use in traditional Chinese medicine are believed to be major reasons for the clouded leopard's decline

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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The clouded leopard faces serious threats

The clouded leopard lives only in Southeast Asia and is widespread in southern China, the eastern Himalayas, western Malaysia, Nepal, northeastern India, Bangladesh and Indochina. In Taiwan in May 2013 the Formosan clouded leopard was officially declared extinct and the last confirmed sighting on the island dated back to 1989, when the skin of a small specimen was found in the Taroko area, but fortunately in 2019 the Formosan clouded leopard Formosa has been sighted again.

This subspecies is characterized by a relatively shorter tail. Its favorite habitats are the tropical and subtropical forests up to altitudes of 2000 metres; however, it is also sometimes encountered in mangrove swamps and grasslands.

It lives in areas with temperatures of 18 - 49 °C. Since the habits of the clouded leopard make this species quite difficult to study, there are no exact population estimates. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that fewer than 10,000 specimens remain in all, and that they are also destined to decrease even more.

Habitat destruction due to ever-increasing deforestation, demand for its beautiful fur, and hunting for its use in traditional Chinese medicine are believed to be major reasons for the clouded leopard's decline. In all, only six specimens, all living in Thailand, were fitted with radio collars.

Their movements have been studied and recorded by scholars with the use of radio telemetry. Almost everything we know about this feline comes from studies of captive specimens. Apart from various anecdotal testimonies, we know almost nothing about the natural history, ecology and behavior of this animal in the wild.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the organization that draws up the Red List of endangered species every year, places the clouded leopard among the vulnerable species. In addition, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, classifies it in Appendix I, among the species whose international trade is prohibited.

Furthermore, in the United States, the clouded leopard is placed among the species protected by the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits the trade of animals or any parts or products obtained from them throughout the country.

In all the countries where it lives, hunting is prohibited, although in such areas it is rather difficult to enforce the ban. Because most of its prey lives in trees, the clouded leopard is an excellent climber. The combination of short, flexible legs, large soles, and sharp claws enable it to move across the forest canopy with sure-footedness.

The tail, which can be as long as the body, is a further aid in balancing, so much so that this feline can move in the same way as squirrels, similar to the South American margay. Surprisingly, this tree-dwelling creature is able to climb while hanging from branches upside down, as well as always descend with its head down.

In captivity, the clouded leopard regularly hangs on its hind legs using its long tail as a balance wheel and runs upside down on tree trunks. We know little about its habits in the wild, but from such behavior it is assumed that it captures prey by leaping down from trees.