One of the rarest and most beautiful big cats, clouded leopard is a unique animal. A medium sized cat, it has sufficient genetic diversity to classify into a species, unique from the leopard and Bornean clouded leopard. The cat, though, is not strictly included in big or small cats, owing to its inability to roar or purr respectively. Length is around three to four feet, weight approximately forty to fifty pounds, with males being generally bigger. It occurs in the wild exclusively in South East Asia.
The Clouded Leopard coat is generally tawny and is marked by a number of irregular shapes mimicking clouds, hence the name. The tail is nearly three feet long, at times as long as the body, and assists the cat in its acrobatic climbs up and down trees. Capable of moving over branches horizontally, hanging from them by its hind legs, and coming down tree trunks head first - clouded leopard is considered as one of the best tree climbers in all cats, a fact assisted by large paws and sharp claws that support grip on trees. In fact it spends most of its day time on trees, resting on branches.
Previously considered a nocturnal hunter, the Clouded Leopard is now seen in activity during day time as well. Prey is usually taken on the ground, though jumping at it from trees is a preferred tactic. Hunting is assisted by its long canine teeth, considered to be the longest proportional to body size in family felidae. In fact the long fangs have led many to compare the Clouded Leopard to the Saber toothed tiger! Prey is usually small to mid-sized animals including monkeys, birds, porcupines and deer.
Owing to its rarity and elusive nature, the Clouded Leopard has seldom been studied in the wild. Few animals have been successfully collared and monitored. As a result, very little is known about its behavior in nature, though it is generally considered a solitary cat that comes together for mating and perhaps raring of the young. Gestational period is around three months and on average a litter of three cubs is born. They are blind and helpless initially but become active in a month's time. Lifespan is nearly seventeen years in captivity and eleven years in the wild.
The beautiful Clouded Leopard is classified as a vulnerable species and strict embargoes are placed by CITES and the US government on the trade of live animals or its parts, allowing only the scientific study of these great cats. The bans though are poorly enforced in the native countries and this has led to a global Clouded Leopard population that is less than five hundred - much like Asiatic lions they face extinction unless greater protection of these cats and their habitat is enforced in the wild.
Breeding in captivity is quite difficult owing to the aggressive nature of male clouded leopards who frequently attack females when introduced to them. A new approach though, that employs grouping the animals together before they are one year of age, has proven to be more successful, raising some home for sustenance of this wonderful species of cats!