Range:

Southeast Asia

Habitat:

Mostly tropical rain forest, sometimes in grassland, scrubland, and wetlands

Clouded taxonomy

Few people have seen a clouded leopard, either in its wild rain forest habitat in Southeast Asia or in a zoo. Officially recorded as a species in 1821, the clouded leopard remains just as mysterious today as it was nearly 200 years ago. Most of what we know about these cats comes from observing them in zoos.

Named for its cloud-like spots, recent genetic studies have shown that clouded leopards are a separate genus of cat and not just a type of leopard. “Cloudeds” are most closely related to snow leopards and are now in the same taxonomic subfamily, Pantherinae, as tigers, lions, jaguars, and true leopard species.

Some cat biology

Clouded leopards are interesting cats. They have a stocky build and are larger than small cat species and smaller than the large cats! Male clouded leopards are generally twice the size of females. Cloudeds can purr like the small cats, but they also have a low, moaning roar, a soft chuffle, a growl, a hiss, and meows as part of their calls.

The pupils of the clouded leopard’s eyes are different from any other cat’s pupils: they never get fully round like a big cat’s pupils do, yet they never shrink to vertical slits like a small cat’s pupils do. Instead, they stay in an oblong shape. And then there’s that amazing tail—the longest, in relation to body size, of any cat's tail, which gives the clouded leopard great balance when strolling along tree branches.

Male clouded leopards can be more than twice the size of females. This is the largest gender size difference in the cat family.
Clouded leopards are good swimmers and may have populated small islands off Vietnam and Borneo in this way.
In Malaysia, the clouded leopard is known as the tree tiger.
In China, the clouded leopard is called the mint leopard because its spots look like mint leaves.
The canine teeth of the clouded leopard are the longest, relative to body size, of any feline.

The San Diego Zoo’s first clouded leopard arrived from Singapore in 1940. We continued to house single cats until 1974, when we received a pair of cloudeds. In 1978, that pair produced our first clouded leopard cub.

Currently, the Zoo has two clouded leopards trained as animal ambassadors—Haui-San and Kya—and a youngster, Ganda, who has just started her ambassador training. They make appearances on television and can often be seen during the Zoo’s Backstage Pass encounter or out strolling Zoo grounds on leash with a trainer for some exercise. We are proud to be able to share these beautiful cats with our guests, giving them some insight about the behaviors of a vulnerable species.

Considering its size, the clouded leopard is very secretive and has been difficult for researchers to study in the wild. Never common, its population numbers are dropping outside of protected areas. Its rain forest habitat is often divided into small, unconnected patches of forest by industrial logging and the development of agricultural areas, including vast palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

As is true of all rain forest dwellers, the clouded leopards’ main threat to survival is continued habitat loss from a growing number of farms. And although protected by law, the cat is still illegally hunted for its beautiful coat, and some Asian cultures mistakenly believe clouded leopard bones and teeth have healing powers.

A new species!
Clouded leopards living on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra were re-classified as a separate clouded leopard species in 2006: the Sunda or Diardi’s clouded leopard Neofelis diardi. This “new” species is a bit darker and has longer upper canines than the clouded leopards found on Asia’s mainland, Neofelis nebulosa. We still have much to learn about these fascinating felines!

Join us
San Diego Zoo Global supports the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for clouded leopards. You can help us bring cat species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.