A clouded leopard is not a true leopard, although it is related to leopards, as well as tigers, lions, and panthers. It has similar markings to the leopard, but is much smaller. Clouded leopards inhabit only Borneo, Sumatra, and a few countries within southeast Asia. Little is known about the clouded leopard’s behavior in the wild, but researchers have studied clouded leopards in captivity for some time. The physiology of clouded leopards has developed to allow specialized tree-climbing skills.
Usually brown or gray, clouded leopards live in both lowland and mountainous regions of southern Asia. They inhabit dry wooded areas, tropical rain forests, and the Himalayan foothills. Clouded leopards can be found in Borneo, Thailand, China, and Nepal.
The clouded leopard's diffuse cloud-like spot pattern gives this wild cat its name. Male clouded leopards weigh up to 50 pounds (23 kg), while females are closer to 35 pounds (16 kg). These cats have an equal-sized body and tail, each at about 3 feet (.9 m) in length. Clouded leopards have unusually long canine teeth, proportionally longer than any other modern carnivore. Due to the unusual structure of the clouded leopard’s skull, some researchers theorize that the clouded leopard may have genetic ties to the saber-toothed tiger.
In addition to a unique skull structure, the clouded leopard has several physical differences from other big cats. Its highly articulated ankle joints, short, sturdy legs, and wide paws allow this arboreal cat to climb trees better than any other cat. Clouded leopards can descend a tree head-first and even walk or cling upside-down from tree limbs. Wildlife experts originally thought clouded leopards used these skills for hunting in the trees, but now generally agree that most hunting is done on the ground. Clouded leopards typically sleep or rest in trees during the day.
Little is known about the clouded leopard’s mating behavior in the wild, because they are solitary and secretive in their forest habitats. Study of captive cloudeds has shown that this species is typically sexually mature by 2 years of age. Attempts to breed clouded leopards have met with mixed success, since the sexes tend to fight, often ending in the death of a female. When breeding is successful, females have litters of up to five young after a three-month gestation period. The cubs remain with their mother until the age of 10 months.
Though no accurate population count exists, wildlife experts generally believe that clouded leopards are endangered. Extensive habitat loss and illegal poaching to obtain the clouded leopard’s pelt is thought to have caused a significant decline in the wild population.