Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopard

[ Neofelis nebulosa ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 24 to 43 inches

24 to 35 inches

WEIGHT: males: 24 to 44 pounds; females: slightly smaller
WILD DIET: primates, deer, wild boar, young buffalo, porcupines, small mammals, birds
ZOO DIET: meat, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits and bones
DISTRIBUTION: Central and Southeast Asia (India, Nepal, Burma, south China, Borneo, Sumatra, and Taiwan)
HABITAT: tropical and subtropical evergreen forests, occasionally tall grassland, scrub forest, and mangrove swamps


Shadow of the Forest

Mysterious ways
Clouded leopards are among the most mysterious of cats. Not much is known about them in the wild because they are hard to find. They live in some of the densest rain forest on Earth and are well camouflaged. These leopards tend to be solitary, secretive, and strictly nocturnal. Unlike some other cat species, it seems that clouded leopards usually do not mark well-traveled trails with urine or scat, so even signs of them are rare. It is difficult to estimate how many clouded leopards live in the wild, but because of deforestation and hunting, scientists fear that their populations have declined.

Cloudy, with a chance of rain
In a rain forest, almost all the light from the sun is blocked from reaching the forest floor. The light that does filter through the canopy is broken up into slivers and shafts that turn the understory into patches of light and deep shadows. The clouded leopard has almost perfect camouflage against this background. The base color can be yellow-brown, tawny-olive, or almost silver. Against this background are rounded shapes with bold, black margins. The shapes are most apparent on the flanks, and give the coat a billowy, cloud-like appearance. The clouded leopard’s coat breaks up the outline of the body, making it difficult to see against the dark and light of the forest.

Arboreal acrobat
Clouded leopards are skilled climbers, even by cat standards. They can run headfirst straight down the trunk of a tree, climb along the undersides of horizontal branches, and dangle from limbs using only their hind claws. The clouded leopard's long tail acts as a counter-balance while it climbs. But trees are not just places for performing feats of daring. Clouded leopards also rest and sleep almost exclusively in trees.

My, what big teeth you have
All cats have long, sharp canine teeth
, but clouded leopards have proportionately the longest of any feline. These are stabbing teeth, and they are used to deliver a fatal bite to prey. Cheek teeth that work like scissors let the clouded leopard shear through tough flesh once the prey has been subdued. In addition, clouded leopards have broad, powerful paws with sharp, retractable claws. With these formidable weapons, this 30 to 40 pound cat can bring down prey as large as deer and young buffalo.

Big cat or little cat?
There are 37 species of wild cats: seven are classified as "big cats" (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, snow leopards, cheetahs, and clouded leopards) while the remaining 30 are known as "small" cats. What makes a big cat big and a small cat small? It is not all about size. In fact, the largest small cat (the puma) is much larger than the smallest big cat (the clouded leopard). Confused? The difference is that big cats are able to roar because of the presence of a flexible, vibrating bone called the "hyoid," which is found in their throat. In small cats, the hyoid bone is hardened and inflexible. The result is that small cats---even a 200-pound puma---can't roar.

Though it is included in the big cat club, the clouded leopard is actually an intermediate between the big and small cats. It has its own genus, which is called Neofelis. The hyoid bone in clouded leopards is rigid, preventing them from roaring like the other big cats. But the clouded leopard has other vocalizations such as purring, chuffing, and a high-pitched meow-like call. Like the other larger cats, clouded leopards don't spend a lot of time grooming.

Clouded leopards at Brookfield Zoo
Check out The Fragile Rain Forest to see clouded leopards. The entrance to the Fragile Rain Forest is across from the seals and sea lions at Pinniped Point. Once inside, you can play a game of "find the leopard." Here is a hint: check out the big fallen tree first. You may also spot them sleeping on the back shelf of the exhibit.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society