A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
A Sunda clouded leopard, one of the world’s most elusive cats, has been captured in close-up on video shot by a vacationing biologist in Malaysia.
Footage of a young female leopard relaxing in the forests of Borneo is only the second time a Sunda clouded leopard has been captured on film.
Clouded leopards in Southeast Asia are the smallest members of the big cat family (or the biggest members of the small cat family) and the Sunda clouded leopard was only determined to be a distinct species in 2006. The Sunda clouded leopard is rarely seen or photographed, but wildlife videographer and biologist Jyrki Hokkanes was in Malaysian Borneo exploring the forest at night using a flashlight when he spotted something.
Clouded Leopards are so named because of the large, blotchy, cloud-like markings on their body, head, legs and tail. There may also be some smaller, solid spots on the head and legs. The rather long, slim body is usually greyish brown to yellowish brown in colour, and the cheeks and neck are striped with black. The underparts and inner sides of the legs are white or pale tawny in colour. The long and rather narrow head has a broad muzzle; irises of brownish yellow to greyish green; and ears that are short, round, and dark on the backs with white central spots. The legs are rather stout, with the hind legs noticeably longer than the front, and broad paws. The long, well furred tail is marked with rings, is tipped with black or grey and can reach 1 metre in length.
Flexible ankle joints enable Clouded Leopards to climb down trees head first, a trait shared with the Margay Leopardus wiedi, of Central and South America. Their upper canines are relatively longer than those of any other living cat, and may be an adaptation to holding onto prey caught in the trees, a more difficult feat than catching it on the ground.
Clouded Leopards are found from 2,500 metres in the Himalayan foothills in Nepal, though mainland southeast Asia into China. They are strongly associated with tropical evergreen rainforest, but there are records from dry and secondary logged forests.
From 1998-2002, researchers from Texas A & M carried out the first field study of Clouded Leopards in a nature sanctuary in Thailand. Two males and two female cats were radio-collared and tracked 7-17 months.Their annual home ranges were 22.9 -51.9 km2, and there was no difference in the range sizes of the sexes. The cats travelled an average of 1,932 metres per day, and intensively used a 3.6-8 km2 core area of their range.
A further Thailand study a national park in 2003 showed home ranges of females to be 22-25.7km2, while those of the males were 29.7-49.1 km2. Core ranges were smaller, possibly indicating a higher number of available prey species.
In both studies, the ranges of the males overlapped those of the females, and there was some evidence of male overlapping ranges.
In 2006, the Clouded Leopard population was split into two separate species, based on genetic analysis. Those on the island of Borneo were given the new species status of Neofelis diardi, and called the Sunda or Diardi’s Clouded Leopard.
Animals in Thailand showed a strong preference for dense evergreen forest, and were active day and night, with significant activity increases at dusk and dawn. Activity was also recorded in savannah, an abandoned orchard, along streams and main paved road.
An increasing number of camera trap photos show activity both day and night. They are less active around midday, and in predawn hours. These highly arboreal cats use trees for hunting and resting, but use the ground for travelling and also some hunting.
In the Thailand study, researchers found all recorded locations for one male in open forest grassland were at night. The animal would rest along the forest edge until nightfall and then venture out to hunt hog deer and muntjac, which bedded down en masse after sunset.
Births in captivity have occurred from March through August but animals having a tropical distribution often don’t have a well defined reproductive season. Clouded Leopards are thought to give birth in nest-like structures above ground in hollow trees, but ground level dens in thick vegetation have also been found. One to five, usually two, kittens are born after a gestation period of 86 – 93 days. Kittens weigh 140 – 280 grams at birth, their eyes open after 10 – 12 days, they begin to walk at 19 – 20 days, take solid food at about 10 weeks and will nurse for up to five months. Full adult colouration is attained around six months, and independence from the female occurs by ten months of age. Sexual maturity occurs between 24 and 36 months, and captive animals have lived to 17 years.
The illegal skin trade is a serious threat with large numbers of Clouded leopard skins seen in markets, as well as their bones for medicine, meat for exotic dishes and live animals for the pet trade.
These Leopards are sacred to some native populations of South East Asia. The Malaysians call them ‘tree tigers’ because they have been seen resting in the branches of trees. The Chinese call them ‘mint leopards’ because their spots remind them of mint leaves. Unfortunately, none of these names has helped protect them from being hunted.
Clouded Leopards are still widely hunted for their teeth and decorative pelt, and for bones for the traditional Asian medicinal market. In Sarawak, their long canine teeth are used by certain tribes as ornaments in their ears. Clouded Leopard pelts were the most commonly available felid pelts in a survey of black market wildlife traders in China in 1991. They are also featured on restaurant menus in Thailand and China catering to wealthy Asian tourists while poachers capture live animals for the illegal pet trade.
Both Clouded Leopard species are classified as Endangered (2008).
Previously thought to be a small island form of the Asiatic Golden Cat Pardofelis temminckii, genetic testing has revealed the Bay Cat is a unique species, and therefore a highly endangered one.
About the size of a large house cat, Bay Cats have uniform, dark, chestnut red fur faintly speckled with black markings, and spots on the lighter golden brown underside and limbs. A second colour phase of dark, bluish slate-grey has also been recorded. The short, rounded head is dark greyish brown with two dark stripes originating from the corner of each eye, and the back of the head has a dark ‘M’ shaped marking. The backs of the short rounded ears are dark greyish. The underside of the chin is white and there are two faint brown stripes on the cheeks. Their long, tapering tail has a yellowish streak down its length on the underside, becoming pure white at the tip, which is marked with a small black spot. Body proportions and the extremely long tail give it the look of the New World Jaguarundi Herpailurus yaguarondi.
The Bay Cat is found only on the island of Borneo. It appears to be widely distributed on the island, but seems to be concentrated in the interior of the island. They have been reported from hill, lowland and swamp forest, as well as highland areas of rocky limestone situated on the edge of dense jungle, hill forests up to 500 metres. There are also a few reports of Bay Cats in regenerating logged forest.
In 1992, an adult female Bay Cat was brought into the Sarawak Museum, alive but at the point of death, dying soon after. The cat had apparently been caught by native trappers and held in captivity for some months. The appearance of this specimen offered the first opportunity to look at a whole animal.
In 1998, BBC Wildlife Magazine published the photo photograph of a live Borneo Bay Cat. This cat was weighed, measured, photographed, given a physical examination, dewormed and released back into the forest.
During their study of the five felids on Borneo, researchers from the Bornean Clouded Leopard Program obtained camera trap photos of the Bay Cat, which were obtained at midday, early morning and at night.
Outside of protected areas, habitat loss due to commercial logging and oil palm plantations is the main threat to the Bay Cat. A collaborative effort between an Indonesian timber company and the Nature Conservancy is providing sustainable development, which includes monitoring the impact of tree removal (5 trees per hectare) on wildlife.
Scientists from this project observed two Bay Cats at night on the roadside in an area that had been selectively logged ten years previously. Road edges contain dense small trees and high numbers of rodents, making them ideal hunting areas. With the growing number of scientists working on Borneo, the number of sightings of Bay Cats has increased but a detailed field study on the Bay Cat is urgently required.
Wildlife traders are aware of the cat’s rarity, and they have been captured illegally from the wild for the skin and pet markets. The Bay Cat is one of the few small cat species classed as Endangered (2008).
The Asiatic Golden Pardofelis temmincki is a cat of many costumes. Sturdily built with fairly long legs, they are medium sized, with fox-red to gold-brown, black, brown or grey fur. Melanistic examples are not uncommon. The moderate length, dense coat is generally unmarked, but those cats in the more northerly regions often exhibit spots and stripes that closely resemble the markings of the Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis. The most conspicuous features of this cat are the white lines bordered with black running across the cheeks, and from the inner corners of the eyes up to the crown. As with most cats, the underside and inner legs are white, and there is a white patch on the underside of the last part of the long tail, which is roughly 1/2 to 1/3 of the total body length. The backs of the short, rounded ears are black, with a whitish central area, and the eyes are usually greyish green or amber.
The Golden Cat is a nocturnal forest dweller, preferring sub-tropical and tropical evergreen forest, but they occasionally frequent more open areas with rocky tracts. In parts of China they are known as the ‘rock cat’. They are found from Nepal and northeast India through Southeast Asia, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Sumatra, but not on the island of Borneo.
In a protected area in Sumatra, all records were from lowland forest, with none from the montane forest where Clouded Leopards Neofelis nebulosa and Marbled Cats Pardofelais marmorata are found. Hill forests of India also contain Clouded Leopards and Marbled Cats, but no Asiatic Golden Cats.
Camera trap photos of both the spotted form and the more common reddish coat have been taken at 3,730 metres in Bhutan dwarf shrubs and grassland, setting a record for high altitude sightings. In 2009, camera trap photos in Nepal obtained the first-ever picture of a melanistic Golden Cat in the wild.
During a field study in Thailand, one adult female had a home range of 32.6 km2, which was overlapped 78% by a male’s range of 47.7 km2. Asiatic Golden Cat ranges were 20% larger than those of the Clouded Leopard, although the two cats were similar in activity and distance travelled.
The Asian Golden Cat is one of the least studied cats in tropical Asia, and little is known of their ecology.
Activity levels of two radio collared cats in Thailand were found to be diurnal and crepuscular, although some camera trap photos were obtained at night.
The Asian species was once thought to be closely related to the African Golden Cat Profelis aurata although the two are separated by more than 6,400 kilometres. Recent genetic analysis however, has determined they are not closely related, in spite of the many physical similarities.
Although Asiatic Golden Cats can climb well, they spend most of their time on the ground, carrying their long tail curled up at the tip. They are reported by tribesmen in Thailand to have their young in the hollow of a tree.
After a gestation of 75 – 80 days, one to three kittens are born, weighing approximately 250 grams. Their eyes open at around nine days, and they are weaned at six months. Kittens have longer, thicker coats than the adults, but show no pattern. They are slightly darker than the adults. This attractive Asian carnivore has in the past been fairly common in European zoos, although their reproductive rate was not particularly good. Worldwide, there are less than a dozen in zoos, with only four or five females in breeding situations. There is a high incidence of females being killed by their mates, even in well established pairs. Maximum longevity has been reported at 20 years.
Although they are reported to be decreasing in India and Indonesia, no factual information is known of their overall status in the wild.
Major threats include hunting for their pelt and bones. Their meat is considered a delicacy and the whole animal is often roasted on a spit. They are known to prey on poultry, sheep and goats, and it is for this reason that the cats are actively hunted by the villagers.
Local tribal people in Bangladesh traditionally hunt and trap Asiatic Golden Cats. With the extreme rarity of the Tiger Panthera tigris and the Leopard Panthera pardus in the area, people now look to the lesser cats as sources of meat. Their meat is believed to have special ingredients to increase strength and vigour, as carnivores are strong hunters of other animals.
The Asiatic Golden Cat is classed as Near Threatened (2008) due to habitat loss, illegal hunting and depletion of their natural prey base.
Asiatic Golden Cats have long been known in Myanmar and Thailand as ‘fire cats’. Legend says that carrying one hair will give the bearer protection from tigers, or burning the pelt will drive tigers away from the village. Their bones are sometimes ground into a powder to be given to children for fevers.
A young Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis has been rescued from a construction site of a hillside in Taiwan. A woman spotted the orphan wildcat covered in mud near a few working excavators in the vicinity. She thought it was a domestic cat and took it home to her care. Later, she discovered that what she brought home was in fact a Leopard Cat, a small wild cat often seen in East Asia. She contacted the local wildlife rescue center where the wild kitten was checked out by a vet and given the proper care it needs.
The kitten is estimated to be 2 months old and healthy. They are currently rehabilitating the little wildcat and getting it ready before releasing it back to the wild.
Source: Taiwan Environmental Information Center and Lovemeow.com
Photographer and ISEC Canada member Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more beautiful felines. This time he’s been visiting the fishing cats in Newquay Zoo. Don’t you just love the looks on these faces?
Read more about these unusual members of the wild cat family on our Fishing Cat fact sheet.
There are so many different aspects to the conservation of small wild cats that it is sometimes completely overwhelming. Habitat loss, poaching, hunting for fur – these are the standard threats they face, and we are used to hearing about those.
Every once in a while though, something comes across the internet that just flat out makes us nauseous.
Many of the fact sheets on small wild cats mention in passing that the animals are considered food items in some countries. To our North American sensibilities this is just impossible to imagine, but it does happen. I have purposely not included a photograph of the cat species mentioned below – the mental image is bad enough.
A chef in Hanoi was caught red-handed killing an endangered leopard cat to serve at his restaurant. The chef said he killed the cat following a request from his manager, district police chief Nguyen Ba Hung said.
The manager told police an acquaintance in Phu Tho province gave him the cat to look after. He only decided to have it killed when a customer asked him for cat meat. He intended to sell the meat at a price of 41 dollars per kilogram. The animal weighed 3.5 kilograms.
Both the manager and his chef have been arrested and will be punished, Hung said.
The cat, scientific name Prionailurus bengalensis, is slightly larger than a domestic cat and has distinctive leopard-like spotted markings.Vietnam lists the animal as a species in danger of extinction and it is illegal to hunt or sell it.
Last week an Indian newspaper reported the rescue of a wild cat from a well. It was taken out alive by the neighbours with the help of the officials from the wildlife department.
The Rusty Spotted Cat is a very rare species in the cat’s family and the wild life authorities are interested in preserving them. The animal was well grown and was about 5 feet in length. The rescued Tiger cat as it is a rare species was released to a nearby jungle.
The article even had photos of the rescued feline. While the rescue is indeed good news, there are a few things wrong with the story. Rusty-spotted cats never reach 5 ft – the most they ever reach is 19″. Tiger Cat is a generic name for many cat species, used the world over.
Here is a Rusty-spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosus. These little cats weigh 1-2 kg, and never reach a length of more than 19″.
And here is the cat photo from the newspaper article.
Regular readers of this blog will easily identify the bottom picture as that of a Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus. The fact that officials of the wildlife department didn’t even know what this cat was speaks volumes.
Awareness of the small wild cats has improved enormously since ISEC Canada started in 1990. It took us two years to even gather enough information to write our first Feline Facts book, and it was a struggle to get many of the species onto two pages. The increase in field research studies on the smaller cats has generated an enormous amount of knowledge since then.
The highly visual aspect of the internet has also brought a wealth of small wild cat pictures. Unfortunately, many of the pictures available on the web are mis-identified. If you do a Google image search for a species, in fact most of the search results are likely to be mis-named.
I recently watched two wildlife shows on a high quality nature channel. One constantly referred to a leopard cat as a wildcat, and the other kept calling a margay an ocelot. Shouting at the TV did nothing to correct the mistakes.
Clearly, ISEC Canada still has a lot of work to do. Let us know if you want to help the process, or have any ideas for us!
Police and customs heads from 13 Asian countries agreed today to tighten controls and improve cross-border cooperation to curb the illegal smuggling of tigers and other critically endangered species. The accord came at the conclusion of the two-day international “Heads of Police and Customs Seminar on Tiger Crime”, which brought together top Police and Customs Officers from countries that still have tigers living in the wild.
Hosted by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), and organised by INTERPOL, in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO), and with the technical and financial support from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat and the World Bank, the Tiger Seminar objective was for participants to agree on a robust set of law enforcement-based solutions to protect tigers and other rare and highly threatened species.
“The tale of the Tiger is not simply about conservation, it is also about crime,” said Mr. Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director. “It concerns transnational organized crime, high profits, widespread corruption, money laundering, fraud, counterfeiting, and violence.”
The Tiger Seminar brought together 26 delegates from 13 tiger range countries as well as senior representatives from ICCWC members and key partner organisations operating in the field of tiger conservation and wildlife crime. A critical Tiger Seminar activity was to raise awareness among Police and Customs authorities of the impact wildlife trafficking has on wild tigers.
“We must take immediate and urgent action to save these magnificent animals from extinction,” said Mr. Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General. “The global Customs community is firmly committed to working closely with its partners to stop criminal trafficking in endangered species and other environment sensitive goods, by ensuring more vigilant and effective border enforcement among a range of measures.”
Environmental crime is a serious international problem with a detrimental impact on the global economy and security. Criminals violate national and international laws through increasingly sophisticated techniques and highly organised networks. Their activities directly affect human health, and threaten the environment and global biodiversity.
“Our efforts to fight tiger crime must not just result in seizures – they must result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband,” said Mr. John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General. “If we get the enforcement system right for the tiger, we will help save countless other species together with their ecosystems.”
Tiger conservation experts presented an up-to-date situation analysis of wild tiger conservation threats, particularly worldwide and Asian trans-national organized crime links to wildlife crimes, including the trade in tigers and tiger parts.
“Wildlife and other environmental criminals too often operate in remote areas with impunity, evading detection, and circumventing full prosecution under the law,” said Mr. Keshav Varma, Program Director, World Bank Global Tiger Initiative. “The World Bank and Global Tiger Initiative fully support the resolve of the police and customs officials from tiger range countries to collaborate on intelligence. We applaud efforts to intensify pressure on the organizers of criminal networks and corrupt officials who shield them.”
Working with environmental crime experts, participating tiger-range country police and customs senior officials agreed on cross-border action points, opportunities and cooperation strategies, after discussing national priorities, challenges, and reviewing best practices.
“This important seminar has highlighted the environmental crime challenges facing senior law enforcement officers and the need for enhanced international cooperation.,” said Mr. Jean-Michel Louboutin, INTERPOL Executive Director of Police Services. “Criminals cannot prosper from abusing our shared natural heritage.”
Tiger Seminar attendees discussed the need to develop a coordinated response to combat tiger crime.
“We need to work collectively through our respective environmental programmes,” said INTERPOL’s Mr. Jean-Michel Louboutin. “In this context, the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore will from 2014 provide a key platform to fight environmental crimes in the 21st century.”
The Seminar also recognised INTERPOL’s Project Predator, which aims to develop the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies and form National Environmental Security Task Forces.
“If we lose an emblematic species like the Tiger, mankind will be acknowledging that it is prepared to lose any animal on the planet. This must not be allowed to happen.” said Mr. Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC. “By our actions, we must show that we have the capacity, the ability and the commitment to protect other species living on this planet.”
Sometimes you just have to shake your head (or bang in on the table) about the way things work in the world.
A couple of years ago, the government of India announced an ambitious plan to reintroduce cheetahs to India. Cheetahs there had been been hunted to extinction centuries ago, and tiger numbers in that country continue to plummet. The plan sharply divided the wild cat conservation community, but is apparently going ahead. See our previous posts on the subject here and here.
Over the course of the reintroduction, or translocation as the plan should be called, 60 cheetahs will be moved from Africa to three sites in India.
One of the sites choosen is the Kuno Palpur wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Predesh. This also the site that the government has chosen for the translocation of Asiatic lions from Gujurat. The sanctuary already contains tigers and leopards.
In Africa, lions and leopards are direct threats to the cheetah population, killing and eating cubs whenever they find them. Tigers can now be added to the list of predators on cheetahs.
The idea of moving cheetahs to India was bad enough in the first place, a politically motivated plan with more thought towards publicity than cheetah survival. Now they choose to move them into an area where they’re putting lions, snuggling them in next to the existing tigers and leopards.
India also has six small cat species – caracal, jungle cat, Asian wildcat, leopard cat, clouded leopard and rusty-spotted cat – the latter two very endangered. Has anyone thought about looking after the conservation of the cats they’ve already got, before adding the already endangered cheetah to the mix?
You can read more on the Indian cheetah reintroduction here. Let us know what you think of the whole idea.