Mint leopard, Tree tiger
The name of this animal comes from its large cloud-like spots. It is a cat of medium size with a yellowish or grayish coat. Its spots, which are usually dark brown with black edges, provide it with excellent camouflage in its forest habitat. Clouded leopards have powerful, stout legs and long, strong tails. They are amongst the best climbers in the family of cats.
Clouded leopards range from the Himalayas, the south of China, and Taiwan to the Malaysian peninsula. It most often inhabits primary evergreen tropical forest and also lives in secondary forest, logged forest, dry tropical forest, grassland, mangrove swamp, scrub land, and coastal hardwood forest.
Habits and lifestyle
Clouded leopards are thought to be solitary, except during breeding or when with their cubs. They are extremely shy and elusive animals, resting high in trees during the day and hunting actively at night. These leopards are territorial and move a little more than a mile a day within their home range, which may be 50 to over 120 square miles, depending on its geographical location. They are extremely agile climbers and can run up tree trunks and climb amongst the branches, as well as run head first down trunks and climb along horizontal branches while hanging underneath, with their tails for balance. Clouded leopards do not purr, but do make low snorting noises called “prusten” during friendly interactions with others of their species. They also make low, moaning roars, a soft chuffle, a hiss, a growl and a meow sound.
Diet and nutrition
Clouded leopards are carnivorous and mainly eat birds, monkeys, porcupines, deer, pigs, wild boar, young buffalo and domestic animals.
Clouded leopards are polygynous, one male mating with multiple females. The individuals separate after mating and males do not assist with the rearing of the kittens. In captivity, breeding is usually between December and March, though it can take place year round. One to five cubs are born, following gestation of around 3 months. The young open their eyes by about 10 days old and at five weeks old they are fully active, and soon after this, their mother starts to teach them how to hunt. Although it eats solid food by 10 weeks old, a cub is not fully weaned until the age of nine months, when it becomes independent and leaves its mother to establish its own territory. Clouded leopards reach sexual maturity between the age of 20 and 30 months.
Deforestation from commercial logging and the increase of human settlements is considered as the major threat to these animals. This also reduces the numbers of their prey species. Another main threat is hunting for its beautiful pelt and its decorative teeth, and bones, the latter being used for traditional Asian medicine.
Clouded leopard total population is suspected to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a decreasing population trend, and no single population numbering more than 1,000 adults. It is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.
Clouded leopards within their range are amongst the top predators, especially where there are no tigers and leopards. They have a role in the control of populations of their prey species, limiting the impact of these populations on the ecosystem, such as preventing deers from putting excessive stress on populations of plants.
Fun facts for kids
- The Clouded leopard climbs almost like a monkey and can hang upside down from branches with its rear feet.
- The Clouded leopard is a capable swimmer and it could have reached small islands off Borneo and Vietnam in this manner.
- This animal is so elusive that captive specimens provide most of what we know about its biology .
- In Malaysia, this species is known by the name “tree tiger”.
- In China, these animals are known as the “mint leopard” due to its spots looking like mint leaves.
- Clouded Leopards posses the largest canines of all cats, relative to their body size, being between 4 and 5 cm (or 1.5 - 2 inches).
- The Clouded leopard and the margay are the only animals that have enough ankle flexibility to be able to climb head first down trees.
- These animals are not actually a type of leopard but are closer relatives of lions and tigers.
- The Clouded leopard is able to open its jaws more widely than all other cats, and its teeth are most like those of the saber tooth cat, which is extinct.