Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Leopards of the higher Canopy

Cats from the clouds

Right from the beginning of evolution of Felidae, it is believed that the cats have gradually evolved from a life style that best suits them in the trees. With the ever occurring climate change, arose the grasslands and less-covered forests, when about cats started evolving into the grounds, while still possessing the instinct of climbing. Prehistoric extinct bigcats such as Smilodons and other saber and non-sabertooths, and today's bigcats lions and tigers have become fully or semi-land dwelling ones. While leopards and jaguars still are very much capable of ruling the third dimension of the jungle. There remains another bigcat even more agile in the trees, as well as have also evolved enough to be adaptable in further dimensions of forests. The cat I am describing here actually comes from the clouds, which is why they are also called as Clouded Leopard. Basically, cloud like spotted patterns in their beautiful fur have given them the name, but it has also very much coincided with the interpretation of the cats from high above the clouds.

Very highly arboreal among all Pantherinae cats, clouded leopards genus comprise of two species. The mainland clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa distributed along the mainland south-east asia into as west as himalayan foothills of mid-western Nepal in south asia, while Sundaland clouded leopard Neofelis dairdi are distributed in the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in south-east asia. These cats are meduim-sized, although being much closer to Panthera bigcats than to any other Felinae small cats species. Highly believed to be dependent on dense rainforests, they have already gone extinct from Taiwan in last decade. Their habitat is very much fragmented throughout their range. Their main threat being the destruction of their habitat, where the south-east asian regions are facing today's fastest deforestation rate. Besides, due to their wonderful patterns, the demand for their pelt in the south-east asian illegal trade have worsened their status further, making them one of most illegally poached wildcat species in the region. 

Their elusive and very secretive nature have made most scientists almost impossible to study their ecology and behaviour in their natural environment, so most knowledge about the cat comes from studies in captive facilities. Very agile and skilled climber, they are believed to spent most of their time in the canopy regions of forests. Their prey ranges from small mammals to birds and to even some small deer species, monkeys, wild boars etc. So if the forest has a very healthy population of all these animals and less human disturbances, these cats are believed to be found in higher densities. Clouded leopards can hunt animals in the trees, stalking, chasing, as well as jumping through the trees. Their hind ankle joint can rotate horizontally allowing them to use their hind paws to grab the branches while descending or hanging upside down. They are the only bigcats which can descend headfirst efficiently like a squirrel, and move through fragile branches of lianas in the canopy of the forests hanging upside down as efficiently as monkeys. Like real leopards, they carry their prey high up in the tree to feed upon in order to avoid any disturbances from other competitors of the forests.

Very rarely able to see one in the wild, there is not a single documentary of the bigcat filmed in the real wild settings. A documentary Return of the clouded leopards attempts to document a rewilding measure of two orphaned clouded leopard cubs in a north-eastern part of India near Bhutanese border. My opinion on the sightings of the cat is somewhat in similar interpretations like that of the ghost cat from the mountains, the snow leopards. Snow leopards are regarded very elusive and majestic ones, one should be really lucky to see one in the wild. Almost same is for clouded leopards, maybe very few people have got the chance to see one in the wild. Here I report some sighting footages posted on youtube by such lucky person, Richard Howard. And I really praise them for sharing the rarest footage with us. The footage as mentioned in the description is captured in the forests of Borneo, so its the Sundaland clouded leopard species. The leopard is seen moving through branches high up in the tree, and also possibly carrying a monkey kill on its powerful jaws as it jumps from the branches to branches. It is in fact a very wonderful footage even if not in a very good quality, but very much worth it. 

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