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Infrastructure Development Taking Toll on Clouded Leopards

by Staff Correspondent
Infrastructure Development Taking Toll on Clouded Leopards

Yadav Ghimirey | The TrickyScribe: Known for the cloud-like spots it has on its hide, Clouded Leopard are most closely related to snow leopards and are in the same subfamily, Pantherinae, as tigers, lions, jaguars, and a true leopard species. Only a few people have personally seen a clouded leopard, either in wild in Southeast Asia or in a zoo. Officially recorded as a species back in 1821, clouded leopard continues to remain shrouded in the same mystery that veiled it 200 years ago.


With a sturdy build, clouded leopard is on an average larger than small cat species but at the time is smaller than the large cats! Males are generally twice the size of females. They can purr like the small cats; also they have a low, moaning roar, a chuffle, a growl, a hiss and meows as part of their call signs.

Clouded leopard camera trapped two years back near the village of Tangting (Photo: Friends of Nature)

Young ones of clouded leopard’s eyes are different from any other cat’s pupils. They never attain a round profile like a big cat’s pupils do. Still they never shrink to vertical slits like a small cat’s pupils do. Instead, they stay in an oblong shape. And then there’s that amazing tail—the longest, in relation to body size, of any cat’s tail, which gives the clouded leopard great balance when strolling along tree branches.


Comparable to domestic dogs in size, they are robust with strong limbs and broad paws. Their small size notwithstanding, they can take down large hoofed animals with this method. It, however, is believed that Clouded leopards hunt on the ground and are thought to eat a variety of birds, squirrels, monkeys and wild pigs. They have a very long tail, equal to their body length which helps them in their arboreal habits.


Clouded leopard has an added advantage when it comes to hunting. Its ankles can rotate backward enabling it to climb down a tree or cliff headfirst, climb upside down, and even hang from its back feet. This arrangement leaves the powerful front paws free to snatch at prey. Clouded leopards also ambush their prey from the treetops, landing on their target’s back and delivering that single killing bite.


Clouded leopards are typically rain-forest dwellers but can be found in dryer forests as well in Southeast Asia. In areas where clouded leopards share their habitat with tigers and common leopards, the clouded ones seem to be more nocturnal and arboreal in their habits to avoid competition for food. That long, thick tail provides balance in the trees, where the cats seek shelter and resting spots.


They are very secretive and hence difficult for researchers to study in the wild, despite being a good sized cat. Never common, its population is moving downhill outside of protected areas. Clouded leopards’ main threat to survival is rampant habitat loss from a growing number of farms. The cat is being poached upon for its beautiful coat. It is a mistaken belief that clouded leopard bones and teeth have magical healing powers.


Clouded leopards help regulate the population of monkeys, langurs, deers, squirrels and birds by preying upon these prey species and help in maintaining the delicate balance in the ecosystem. Research has shown that a mere presence of these top predators helps in proper functioning of any ecosystem. Clouded leopards are no exception. They’re one of the top predators in the mid-hills of Nepal.


Clouded leopard is a beautiful; is equally rare. The rarity can be explained by the fact that they have been confirmed to reside in only 11 of the 77 districts in Nepal. In Annapurna Conservation Area, they have been recorded only on a few locations. With a view to promoting the awareness about clouded leopard and initiating steps for its long term conservation Clouded Leopard Day was recently celebrated in the area.


It is threatened by anthropogenic activities which include excessive resource extraction from forest, loss of big trees and indiscriminate hunting of ungulates. Currently, infrastructure development is also one of the important threats to clouded leopard’s habitat. Development of hydropower and resulting road construction inside its prime habitat are major concern.

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