Let’s face it. People love cats. Even those on ‘Team Dog’ will stand in awe at the lion or tiger exhibit. But how many go to the zoo to see the Clouded leopard? I do!
To be honest I never even knew the Clouded leopard existed until I saw one at a zoo. It is quite stunning. Clouded leopards get their name from their spots which are more blurred blotches than actual spots. They are the smallest of the big cats but they can definitely hold their own. Found in the Himalayan regions of Southeast Asia they have a surprisingly wide range despite being classified as vulnerable. Two distinct species exist with three subspecies. The Sunda clouded leopard is from Sumatra and Borneo which many people associate with other animals under threat including the orangutan, rhino, and tiger. Considering this separate species of clouded leopard was not classified until 2006 and not caught on video until 2009, so much more research needs to be done to get a full picture of their habits.
Now at this point you may be asking “but how is this more impressive than their bigger relatives?”. Sure they’re nice to look at but what makes them that feature animal material? Like I said earlier they can hold their own. With the longest tail in proportion to body size the clouded leopard utilizes it well when climbing, which it excels at. Not only can they climb head first down a tree (like a squirrel would) but they also go horizontal too! Not only climbing along branches but also underneath branches upside down. Strong claws and legs allow them to grip underneath and cling to branches. They have also been known to hang from their back feet alone, presumably to snatch at unsuspecting prey passing by underneath.
Perhaps the most impressive fact about clouded leopards is hinted to when it’s referred to as the modern day sabre-tooth. If you’re lucky enough to see one open its mouth when you’re at the exhibit you’ll see what they mean. Clouded leopards have the largest canine teeth compared to skull size of all the cats, up to 2 inches. That is the same size as a tigers in an animal ten times smaller! Not only that they can also open up their mouths wider. Clouded leopards jaws can open up to 100 degrees. In comparison the African lion can only open to about 65 degrees.
Clouded leopards are actually quite elusive and biologists do not know much about them. In fact most of what we know actually comes from specimens in zoos. The more we know, the more we will be able to help their wild counterparts. So next time you’re at the zoo stop in at the Clouded leopard exhibit to discover this amazing species and maybe even a behavioural habit not yet documented!