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The Sleepless Sentinel

‘Species life’ pushed by human
Clouded status of Clouded Leopard

NINB, Darjeeling: Various degrees of forest clearance are the foremost threat to Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa. The problem coupled with wide hunting for its teeth and decorative pelt, and the bones for the traditional Asian medicine trade. Two decades back, it was not an uncommon sighting that a Clouded Leopard or in pair are resting on the tree top, gradually disappeared. Once, the animal was frequently sighted, especially at Chumong and Pankhabari range of Darjeeling forests and Buxa forests of Jalpaiguri district. Now it is not even reported by the locals or forest dwellers!

The ‘species life’ perhaps comes to an end, not by ‘nature’s selection’ but due to human activities only. Although in early times, Clouded Leopard confused the scientists because of its appearance and skeleton structure. It was what seemed to be a cross in between a big cat and a small cat. The scientific name that is referred is Neofelis nebulosa; where ‘neo’ means new and ‘felis’ means small cat, so it literally means new kind of small cat. For more than fifty years, the Clouded Leopard was regarded as a monotypic genus with four subspecies, i.e. Neofelis nebulosa brachyura: Taiwan (presumed extinct in the wild) Neofelis nebulosa diardi: Borneo, Sumatra, (Java - absent since Neolithic times), Neofelis nebulosa macrosceloides: India, Nepal to Myanmar (Burma) and Neofelis nebulosa nebulosa: Southern China to eastern Myanmar. Clouded leopards are remarkably secretive creatures for their size. Four animals turned up in different areas of Nepal in 1989 after more than a century’s hiatus in official observation, having last been recorded in the country in 1863. The records extend the western limit of the range to central Nepal.

Little forested habitat remains in Bangladesh and parts of north-eastern India, and numbers are probably very low outside protected areas; though it has a wide range in southern China. The status of the clouded leopard is probably healthiest on the island of Borneo, possibly because of the absence of tigers and leopards. The clouded leopard perhaps a less diurnal cat has tremendous arboreal talents. It probably does some foraging in trees, but mainly uses them for resting. There is some controversy as to whether the clouded leopard is an arboreal species or not. The answer is probably somewhere between—the terrestrial cat can hunt both in trees and on the ground. It uses roads and trails of logged tropical evergreen forests. Their dietary list includes Primates mainly; although they hunt smaller deer’s’ like Muntjac, hog, slow Loris, even porcupine and other smaller mammals and birds too. An immediate attention is badly required to protect the species as it already comes up to Schedule-I status of WLPA; declared Vulnerable by IUCN and Appendix-I by the CITES.