Other Names
panthère longibande, panthère nébuleuse (French)
Nebelparder (German)
pantera longibanda, pantera nebulosa (Spanish)
lamchita, gecho bagh (Bengali: Bangladesh, India)
yun bao (Chinese)
engkuli (Iban: Malaysia)
machan dahan (Indonesia, Malaysia)
shagraw kai (Kachin: Myanmar)
thit kyaung, thit-tet kya [tree-top leopard], in kya (Myanmar)
lamchitia (Khas: Nepal)
  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • sua one (Laos)
    rikulau (Rukai, Paiwan: Taiwan)
    hso awn (Shan)
    seua laay mek (Thailand)

    Description and Behavior
    The clouded leopard is named after its distinctive markings - ellipses partially edged in black, with the insides a darker color than the background color of the pelt, and sometimes dotted with small black spots. Pelt color varies from ochraceous to tawny to silvery grey (Pocock 1939a). Black and pale, whitish individuals have been reported from Borneo (Medway 1965, Payne et al. 1985, Rabinowitz et al. 1987, S. Yasuma in litt. 1993). The limbs and underbelly are marked with large black ovals, and the back of its neck is conspicuously marked with two thick black bars. The tail is thick and plush, encircled with black rings, and very long, typically equivalent to head-body length (up to 80-90 cm: Pocock 1939a, Legakul and McNeely 1977, Mehta and Dhewaju 1990). Swinhoe (1862) described the Formosan clouded leopard as a distinct subspecies (F.n. brachyurus) on the basis of a shorter tail length (55-60 cm), but Pocock (1939a) found that tail length is not a consistent criterion. The legs of the clouded leopard are short, but its canines are relatively the longest of any felid (3.8-4.5 cm: Guggisberg 1975), and have a very sharp posterior edge. Werdelin (1983a) analyzed morphological characters in the skulls of cats, and concluded that the clouded leopard has attained pantherine cranial proportions (especially large teeth) without reaching pantherine cranial size. Clouded leopards are intermediate in size between large and small cats: wild adults have weighed between 11-20 kg (Pocock 1939a, Banks 1949, Prater 1971).

    The clouded leopard has arboreal talents rivalling those of the margay of South America. In captivity, it has been seen to run down tree trunks head- first, climb about on horizontal branches with its back to the ground, and hang upside down from branches by its hind feet (Hemmer 1968). It probably does some foraging in trees, but mainly uses them for resting (Rabinowitz et al. 1987, Davies 1990, W. Brockelman in litt. 1993). Most photos taken by camera traps in Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park, where tigers occur, were at night (Griffiths 1993). There is speculation that the clouded leopard may be less diurnal in Borneo, where other large carnivores are absent (Selous and Banks 1935, Davis 1962, Rabinowitz et al. 1987). Clouded leopards swim well, and have been found on small islands off Sabah (Davies and Payne 1982) and Vietnam (Le 1973, C. Santiapillai in litt. 1991).

    Pocock (1939a) surmises from the clouded leopard’s long canines and stocky build that it is adapted to take relatively large ungulate prey. Prey has been reported to consist of birds, primates and small mammals, as well as larger prey, such as porcupines, deer, and wild boar (Banks 1949, Le 1973, Prater 1971, Rabinowitz et al. 1987, S.Yasuma in litt. 1993), but the few data collected by scientists have been mainly of primates. In Sabah, a clouded leopard was observed feeding on a proboscis monkey in the branches of a small tree in riverine forest (J. Payne in litt. 1992), and one shot in coastal mangrove in northern Borneo in 1950 had also just killed a large male proboscis monkey (Davis 1962). Griffiths (1993) found mainly remains of primates, but also muntjac and argus pheasant, in a small sample of scats attributed to clouded leopards from Gunung Leuser NP. Clouded leopards have been observed hunting primates (pig-tailed macaques and gibbons) in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park (Davies 1990, W. Brockelman in litt. 1993).

    Estrus (C): average 6 days

    Estrus cycle (C):average 30 days (n=72)

    Gestation (C): 93±6 days (Yamada and Durrant 1989)

    Litter size (C): 1-5, most often 3 (n=7 of 9 litters: P. Andrews in litt. 1993)

    Age at first reproduction (C): both males and females average 26 months

    Age at last reproduction (C): 12 (Yamada and Durrant 1989) - 15 years (P. Andrews in litt. 1993); most litters born to males and females between 2-4 years (Yamada and Durrant 1989)

    Longevity (C): average 11, up to 17 years (Prator et al. 1988)

    Habitat and Distribution
    The clouded leopard is usually characterized as being most closely associated with primary evergreen tropical rainforest (e.g., Banks 1949, Prater 1971), but it also makes use of other types of habitat. Sightings have also been made in secondary and logged forest (Davies and Payne 1982, Rabinowitz et al. 1987, Santiapillai and Ashby 1988, Johns 1989, M. Khan in litt. 1991), as well as grassland and scrub (Santiapillai and Ashby 1988, Dinerstein and Mehta 1989). In Burma and Thailand, its presence has been reported from relatively open, dry tropical forest (C. Wemmer in Dinerstein and Mehta 1989, Rabinowitz and Walker 1991). The clouded leopard has been recorded from mangrove swamps in Borneo (Davis 1962, Davies and Payne 1982). The clouded leopard has a wide distribution in China, south of the Yangtze (Tan 1984, China Cat Specialist group meeting 1992), apparently occurring in a variety of forest types, but there is no information on habitat preference or ecology across this large portion of its geographic range (Figure 7). It has been recorded in the Himalayan foothills up to 1,450 m (Biswas et al. 1985), and possibly as high as 3,000 m (Jerdon 1874).

    Clouded leopards are remarkably secretive creatures for their size. Four animals turned up in different areas of Nepal in 1989 after more than a century’s hiatus in official observation, having last been recorded in the country in 1863 (Dinerstein and Mehta 1989). The records extend the western limit of the range to central Nepal.

    Population Status
    Global: Category 3(A)
    Regional: Category 2(A)
    IUCN: Vulnerable

    Its elusiveness, arboreality and forest habitat make the clouded leopard a difficult subject for study (A. Rabinowitz pers. comm.), and there has been no in-depth investigation beyond interviews with local residents or forestry workers. In Taiwan, there have been only a handful of sighting reports from hunters since the 1960s; none of them have been substantiated (Rabinowitz 1988, Nowell 1991, K.-Y. Lue pers. comm.). Little forested habitat remains in Bangladesh and parts of north-eastern India, and numbers are probably low outside protected areas (Khan 1986, Johnsingh et al. 1991, Choudhury 1993). Although it has a wide range in southern China, suitable forest habitat is generally fragmented in small patches (J. MacKinnon pers. comm.).

    The status of the clouded leopard is probably healthiest on the island of Borneo (Rabinowitz et al. 1987), possibly because of the absence of tigers and leopards. As part of a faunal survey of Sabah, Davies and Payne (1982) provided the first (and thus far only) rough estimate of density; they assumed that 12 one-square kilometer study areas were surveyed adequately so that presence or absence of clouded leopard would be detected and, on the basis of three records, came up with a density of one individual/4 km2.

    Protection Status
    Protection Status: CITES Appendix I

    National Legislation:
    Protected over most of its range.

    Hunting Prohibited:
    Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

    Hunting Regulated:

    No Legal Protection Outside Protected Areas:

    No information:
    Cambodia (Nichols et al. 1991; U. Ohn, R. Salter, C. Santiapillai in litt.)

    Principal Threats
    Deforestation is the foremost threat, although the seriousness depends upon further study of the species’ tolerance of various degrees of forest clearance (Rabinowitz et al. 1987). Secondly, the clouded leopard is widely hunted for its teeth and decorative pelt, and for bones for the traditional Asian medicinal trade. Clouded leopard pelts were the most commonly available felid pelts in a survey of black market wildlife traders in south-eastern China (Low 1991). Taiwanese were the main buyers. In Taiwan, where clouded leopards are now either very rare or extinct, Nowell (1990) reported that small numbers of pelts are sold to aborigines to make traditional ceremonial jackets. Pelts have also been reported on sale in urban markets from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal and Thailand (Salter 1983, Chazee 1990, Humphrey and Bain 1990, MacKinnon 1990, Van Gruisen and Sinclair 1992; R. Salter, TRAFFIC South-East Asia in litt. 1993). Clouded leopards have been featured on the menu of restaurants in Thailand and China which cater to wealthy Asian tourists (Anon. 1988).

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union