Sunda Clouded Leopard

Neofelis diardi

Quick Bio for Sunda Clouded Leopards:

Status: Vulnerable
have from 1-5 cubs, usually 2
Weight: 15-30 kg
Diet: Carnivore

Physical description of Sunda Clouded Leopards

A mid-size cat, the Sunda clouded leopard has large dark blotches on its fur, like its mainland namesake. They are smaller and darker, with a thick black outline and small black spots filling in the cloud-shaped patches.

Life in the trees takes exceptional balancing skills, and it is quite likely the long tail, relatively longer than most cats, has evolved precisely for this purpose. This isn’t their most distinctive adaption for arboreal life though.

Their paws are big, their front legs short, but their most noticeable trait is the flexible ankle joints, a bit like a squirrel, that permit them to twist their hind feet and have exceptional grip when walking down a tree trunk head first.

Like most cats, the male is a bit bigger than the female at a meter long with a tail nearly as long again. The last distinctive feature is the canine teeth, which are extra long (up to 4cm). It is, in fact, one of the only saber-toothed cats, along with its Neofelis cousin, the mainland clouded leopard, though they are not descended from the actual ancient saber-toothed cats.

Do the Clouded Leopards have fangs? No, but people seem to like to think they do, given the relative length of the canine teeth. These have been noted as being culturally important too. In the Western world, the saber-toothed ancestors of clouded leopards are a cultural curiosity. Is it because the fangs (canines) are so scary?

Sunda Clouded Leopard Habitat and Distribution

The Sunda Clouded Leopard is found on the Sunda Islands, though of course these islands are better known by their individual names. The two main islands, Borneo and Sumatra, definitely support the cats; smaller islands don’t anymore. On Java, the cat is only known from fossil records. With the separation of the islands from Mainland Asia due to rising sea levels about one and a half million years ago, the populations of the clouded leopard were separated, and so speciation occurred, giving us today’s Sunda clouded leopard as well as the mainland clouded leopard.

These mid-size cats live in forests, and like all cats, are adaptable and have been known to inhabit other ecosystems, although not necessarily by choice. On Borneo, they live in the low-lying rain forest which is often the most logged and used for palm oil plantations.

Accordingly, they have suffered massive habitat loss and are now frequently (relative to total sightings) seen near plantations and human habitation. This is however, not the preferred habitat of the Clouded Leopard rather a necessity of the ongoing deforestation of Borneo.

Given the islands’ population density, it is likely no surprise that the Sunda clouded leopard is much more abundant on Borneo than on Sumatra.

This is also possibly connected to the tiger population of Sumatra. Tigers are a known predator of the Coulded leopard. It seems that on Sumatra, they depend on trees even more than their similarly arboreal cousin on Borneo. Again, the predation by tigers is potentially a cause of this.

Sunda Clouded Leopard behaviour

It is not just the breeding habits that are kept secret from us. Behavior is difficult to observe in the thick forests of the Sunda Islands.

What follows is, therefore, the best ideas that we have given the evidence and reasonable comparisons to other cats.

The Sunda clouded leopard is a solitary cat. However, when breeding, they do come together briefly, and the mother stays with cubs in a family group until they learn to be independent. More recent studies using camera traps imply that they are not just nocturnal but also active during the day.

Camera traps have been helpful in determining their range. All we can say at the moment though, is that it is quite large, leaving a low population density compared to other cats. Their home range is thought to be much bigger than their close relative, the mainland clouded leopard.

If you want to know more, go ahead and fund a research project. What we do know is that they are somewhat territorial. Marking of territory is probably done with urine like other cats, but I have not found definitive answers.

What do Sunda Clouded Leopards eat?

There are no surprises here. They are carnivorous. As cats, they feed on any mammal they can attack, birds that they can reach, and even fish.

Small deer are not beyond their capability. Being arboreal improves the range of creatures they can prey on. Monkeys, including the well-known proboscis monkey, are preyed upon. Being such great climbers, they can attack in the canopy, though ambushing prey from above is also a common tactic.

Like their namesake the leopard, they drag their prey into the trees to have a more relaxing meal.

Mating and Parental care of Sunda Clouded Leopards

We know that the Sunda clouded leopard mates. This is obvious from the continued sightings. However, the forest dweller is a very private cat, and little is known about its behavior in general.

Maturity is reached around two years. In captivity, breeding can occur year-round and every year, but what happens in the wild, we really can’t say. Like other cats, a litter every year seems reasonable as the cubs become independent at about ten months.

Who are the Sunda Clouded Leopard predators?

Being a mid-size cat, the Sunda clouded leopard doesn’t have many predators. Humans are the most common. The fur is highly prized, and body parts are unfortunately still used by misinformed people for medicine.

On Sumatra, where the tiger still survives, it seems clear that tigers would prey on them given the opportunity. However, I have not seen anybody with proof of this. Given the low population of tigers and the arboreal lifestyle of the clouded leopard, it would be very hard to witness. The clouded leopard does have a lower population density on Sumatra. This is possibly caused by avoiding giving tigers any opportunities.

Their camouflage helps them avoid predation and assists them in their predatory endeavors.

Impact of Sunda Clouded Leopards on the human economy

As mentioned for other cats, the luxurious coat and ingredients for traditional medicine are the primary economic benefits for humans. Their ecosystem role almost certainly outweighs the economic value of killing them. For individuals living in the clouded leopard’s habitat, this can be almost impossible to recognize.

In remote areas with small livestock such as goats and pigs, the Sunda clouded leopard does prey on villagers’ animals.

Conservation status and human impact on Sunda Clouded Leopards

According to the IUCN Red List, Sunda clouded leopards are vulnerable. The biggest cause of this is probably palm oil. The deforestation of both Sumatra and Borneo is primarily driven by the palm oil industry. The ecosystem collapse will be more dangerous to the future of the clouded leopard than the immediate loss of its own habitat.

Both the Sumatra and the Borneo subspecies are endangered. Despite living in a number of national parks on the two islands, deforestation, hunting and trapping are major threats.

Sunda Clouded Leopard vs Mainland Clouded Leopard

Only recently has it been shown that the island cat is a separate species from the mainland clouded leopard. Genetic testing revealed significant differences despite the somewhat similar physiological structures.

The Bornean clouded leopard is often used interchangeably as a name, but to be correct, the Sunda clouded leopard lives on both the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. There is a subspecies on each islands.

Sunda clouded leopards used to be considered a subspecies of the mainland cat. Neofelis nebulosa diardi became Neofelis diardi with its respective subspecies, Neofelis diardi diardi (Sumatran) and Neofelis diardi borneensis (Bornean).

Sunda Clouded Leopard in French, German, Spanish ...

Latin Name
Neofelis diardi
Alternative Names
Enkuli Clouded Leopard, Sunda Islands Clouded Leopard, Sundaland Clouded Leopard
French Names
Panthère Nébuleuse de Borneo, Chat Diard, Diard
German Names
Sunda Nebelparder
Spanish Names
Pantera Nebulosa de Borneo
Swahili Names
Chui Madoa-mawingu Wa Borneo

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