Cats are like Puzzle Boxes::Clouded Leopard

I am the smallest species of Pantherinae. My long canine teeth have earned me the title of being a “modern-day sabre-tooth” [1]. Although the forest floor is my hunting ground at night, I sleep in the tree tops during the daytime. I am an excellent climber with the longest tail you’ve ever seen! If you’re lucky enough to have me as your Spirit Animal I will teach you much about the power of seclusion and elusiveness for I am the Clouded Leopard.

August 4 is
International Clouded Leopard Day

Nocturnal and solitary, Clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa) inhabit dense forests from the foothills of the Himalayas through mainland Southeast Asia into South China.

Named for the irregular blotches on their flanks which resemble clouds, they have the longest tail-to-body size ratio of any cat. This long tail helps with their balance as they climb through the trees. Speaking of which, Clouded leopards are able to climb upside down beneath tree branches, use their hind feet to hang from branches, and can fully rotate their ankles which allows them to descend trees head-first.

They also have impressive canines…

Another distinctive feature of the clouded leopard is its long canine teeth and unusual skull. The clouded leopard has the longest upper canine teeth for its skull size of any modern carnivore, causing some people to compare the cat with the extinct saber-toothed cat. In fact, studies by Dr. Per Christiansen of the Copenhagen’s Zoological Museum have revealed connections between the two groups. Dr. Christiansen’s research into the skull characteristics of both living and extinct cats has revealed that that the structure of the clouded leopard skull bears distinctive resemblance to primitive saber-toothed cats such as Paramachairodus (before the group became highly specialized and developed enormous upper fangs ). Both saber toothed cats and clouded leopards have an enormous gape, around 100 degrees, and various adaptations to support such a gape. In contrast a modern lion can open its mouth about 65 degrees. This could indicate that one lineage of modern cats, of which now only the clouded leopard is still present, evolved some adaptations in common with the true saber-toothed cats.

It also indicates that the clouded leopard may hunt large prey in the wild in a slightly different manner from other great cats. Saber-toothed cats would bite prey through the neck, using their elongated teeth to sever nerves and blood vessels and strangle the windpipe, which would instantly kill the prey. This was a very different hunting technique from living big cats, which use a throat or muzzle grip to suffocate the prey. It is possible that clouded leopards use a similar technique.


Like many of the big cats, Clouded leopards cannot purr but they do have a variety of vocal stylings: mewing, growling, hissing, spitting, chuffing, and a low moaning sound. The Clouded leopard is the state animal of Meghalaya.

The Clouded leopard belongs to the genus Neofelis which comprises two cat species in Southeast Asia:

Clouded leopard
(Neofelis nebulosa)
Native to Asian mainland but locally extinct in Singapore, Taiwan, and possibly Hainan Island.

Sunda Clouded leopard
(Neofelis diardi)
Also known as the Indonesian Clouded leopard, Sundaland Clouded leopard, Enkuli Clouded leopard, Diard’s Clouded leopard, and Diard’s cat, it’s fur is darker than Neofelis nebulosa with a smaller cloud pattern.
It is found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra and is protected in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei.

Additionally, there are two sub-species of Sunda Clouded leopard.

Neofelis diardi
Sumatran Clouded leopard
(N. d. diardi)
Native to Batu and Sumatra.
Bornean Clouded leopard
(N. d. borneensis)
Native to Borneo.

Sadly, one species of Clouded leopard is extinct: the Formosan Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyuran). Formerly indigenous to Taiwan, it was was declared extinct in 2013, after it had not been sighted since 1983 and a 13-year-long study by zoologists failed to find even one leopard. Their habitat was largely destroyed by the logging industry and the wild cats had been hunted for their pelts.

All Clouded leopards are listed as VULNERABLE on the IUCN Red List and classified as an Appendix I Endangered Species by CITES (which means international trade is prohibited). They are also listed as ENDANGERED by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the United States Endangered Species Act, prohibiting trade in live animals or body parts.

Clouded leopards are difficult to breed in captivity as there has been a high incidence of aggression between males and females, sometimes resulting in the death of the female. Therefore, Clouded leopards living in North American zoos are collectively managed through a Species Survival Plan® (SSP) administered by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

THREATS: Habitat loss following large-scale deforestation (such as for palm oil plantations); poaching for fur and body parts (for use in Chinese pseudo-medicines – particularly in Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Nepal); illegal pet trade trafficking.

In the end we will conserve only what we love,
we will love only what we understand,
and we understand only what we are taught.

– Baba Dioum

Clouded Leopard Project
The Aspinall Foundation
“Clouded Leopard” – a project done by a student at the Evergreen State College (WA) complete with sketches and animation assignments
“Bear and Leopard” – a tale from indigenous Rukai folklore about two of Taiwan’s most formidable native hunters: The Formosan Black Bear and the Formosan Clouded Leopard

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