Another one of my favorites!
The Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is considered to be one of the few extant evolutionary links between big cats and small cats. It is the smallest of the "big cat" species and is not related to the larger Leopard (Panthera pardus).
Clouded Leopards are called so because of the distinctive markings on their coats, which unfortunately also makes them targets for poachers. They can weigh up to 51 pounds (23 Kg) and have body lengths up to 43 inches (108 cm), with a 36-inch tail (91 cm). They have one of the longest tails of any cat species, proportionally-speaking.
Their canine teeth are very long in proportion to their body size, which has earned them the unofficial nickname of "modern-day sabertooth." They can be found in the Himalayan foothills in Nepal and India, as well as southern China (south of the Yangtze River), Myanmar, Malaysia, Bhutan, Thailand, and Indochina. Within that range they thrive in a variety of forest habitats, open and closed, but they exclusively prefer forests.
There are currently three recognized subspecies of Clouded Leopard:
- Neofelis nebulosa nebulosa (southern China to eastern Myanmar)
- Neofelis nebulosa macrosceloides (Nepal to Myanmar)
- Neofelis nebulosa brachyura (formerly found in Taiwan but believed to be extinct since 1990)
Up until 2006, the Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi), also known as the Sundaland Clouded Leopard, was believed to be a subspecies of Clouded Leopard. It has since been confirmed that it is genetically distinct from its continental relative. It used to be known as the Bornean Clouded Leopard. It can be found in Borneo and Sumatra and is protected in most of the forested areas in which it can be found.
Clouded Leopards are the best climbers of any cat species. They have been observed to climb down vertical tree trunks head first, hang from branches by their hind legs and tail, and display remarkable flexibility in the rotation of their forepaws that is generally not typical of cats. They can make a variety of vocalizations, like mewing, growling, snorting, hissing and moaning. They are solitary, nocturnal animals that rest in the trees by day and descend to the forest floor to hunt.
Although female Clouded Leopards are generally smaller than males, there is little sexual dimorphism between the genders. After a gestation period of about 93 days, female Clouded Leopards will give birth to a litter of one to five cubs - but most often cubs come in threes. Male Clouded Leopards are not involved in the raising of cubs. The aggressive nature of the males during mating means that it's extremely important for conservation captive breeding efforts to use caution in pairing individual cats.
Both the Clouded Leopard and the Sunda Clouded Leopard are under threat from de-forestation and poaching, and are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.