Life in the Trees
Clouded leopards are well adapted for arboreal living. Their short, flexible legs, large feet and sharp, retractable claws make them very adept in the trees. Their long tail provides balance as they leap from branch to branch. They can descend head first down tree trunks, move along branches while hanging upside down and even hang from branches using only their hind feet enabling them to drop down and ambush prey on the ground. They have highly developed binocular vision resulting in extremely accurate 3-D vision, which helps them gauge the distance to prey as they hunt in the tree canopy. Their arboreal lifestyle also provides protection from larger predators like tigers and leopards.
Creatures of the Night
Clouded leopards are not solely nocturnal as was once thought, but they are most active at night. Their distinctive cloud patterned fur coat provides camouflage enabling them to stalk prey and also hide from potential predators like tigers and leopards. They have excellent hearing that enables them to locate prey at night. They have a tapetum lucidum, a mirrorlike layer in the back of the eye that reflects light back through the eye to help produce a brighter image in low light enabling them to see six times better than humans at night.
What Big Teeth You Have!
Clouded leopards have the longest canine teeth relative to their body size of any cat species. Their canines can reach two inches (four cm) or longer. Their skull is long and narrow providing support for the powerful jaw muscles they use to hold and kill their prey. Unlike most cats, clouded leopards deliver a killing bite on the back of the neck rather than a suffocating bite on the throat.
Can You Spot Me Now?
The color or pattern of most cats’ fur is similar to the color of their primary habitat. Stripes, spots, blotches or rosettes break up the outline of the cats helping them blend into their surroundings and concealing them from prey. The clouded leopards’ distinctive coloration and cloudlike spot pattern provide excellent camouflage in their forest habitat.
IUCN Status: Vulnerable.
There are no reliable estimates for clouded leopard populations in the wild, but their numbers are thought to be in decline. Clouded leopards are endangered primarily due to habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture. They are hunted for their beautiful pelts and their bones, claws and teeth are used in traditional Asian medicine. These beautiful cats are also on the menu in restaurants in Asia. Clouded leopards are difficult to breed in captivity because of a high incidence of aggression between males and females. Recent efforts to introduce male/female pairs before they are a year old have led to more successful breeding.