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The Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is an intermediate-sized cat found from the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia into China, and classified as “Vulnerable” in 2008 by IUCN. Its total population size is suspected to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a decreasing population trend and no single population numbering more than 1,000 adults.
The scientific name of the genus, Neofelis, originates from neo, which means “new”, and felis, which means “cat”, so it literally means “new kind of cat.”
Clouded leopards have a tan or tawny coat, and are distinctively marked with large, irregularly-shaped, dark-edged ellipses which are said to be shaped like clouds. This unique appearance gave the cat both its common and scientific species name — nebulosus is Latin for “cloudy”. The clouded leopard was confusing to scientists for a long time because of its appearance and skeleton. It seemed to be a cross between a big cat and a small cat.
The average clouded leopard typically weighs between 15 and 23 kilograms (33 and 51 lb), and has a shoulder height of 25 to 40 centimetres (9.8 to 16 in). Females have a head-body length varying from 68 to 94 centimetres (27 to 37 in), with a 61 to 82 centimetres (24 to 32 in) tail, while the males are larger at 81 to 108 centimetres (32 to 43 in) with a 74 to 91 centimetres (29 to 36 in) tail. Clouded leopards have a heavy build and, proportionately, the longest canine teeth of any living felid — of 2 inches (5.1 cm), about the same as a tiger’s. These characteristics led early researchers to speculate that they preyed on large land-dwelling mammals.
The background color of clouded leopard fur ranges from yellow-brown to dark grey, with paler underparts. The sides and back of the animal are marked with numerous dark cloud-like blotches, which may be partly outlined in black. There are black spots on the head, underparts, and legs, and short black stripes on the neck; the backs of the ears are also black, and there are black rings on the tail. A few melanistic clouded leopards have been reported from Borneo, but this color phase is uncommon.
As might be expected from the fact some of its prey lives in trees, the clouded leopard is an excellent climber. Short, flexible legs, large paws, and sharp claws combine to make it very sure-footed in the canopy. The clouded leopard’s tail can be as long as its body, further aiding in balance, giving it a squirrel-like agility similar to the margay of South America. Surprisingly, this arboreal creature can climb while hanging upside-down under branches, and descend tree trunks head-first. In captivity, the clouded leopard routinely hangs by its hind legs using its long tail for balance, and runs head-first down tree trunks. Little is known about its behavior in the wild, but it is assumed from this behavior that a favored hunting tactic is to drop on prey from the trees (info from Wikipedia).