The view from the Wildlife Release Station is always beautiful, especially today !
Leaving the Station, Director Nick Marx and Program Manager Roth Buntheoun spotted something : Clouded Leopard prints! The prints were fresh, made in the sand since the motorbike journey of the day before, meaning the wildcat had passed by the Station that very evening!
Clouded Leopards were last spotted around the Wildlife Release Station on camera trap in 2014. The species is notoriously elusive, making the prints a heartening sight. What’s more, the presence of Clouded Leopard is a good indicator of habitat health, meaning the forest is making a good recovery since the opening of the Wildlife Release Station in 2008.
What is a Clouded Leopard?
Despite the name, the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosi) is not actually not a leopard. The species take its name from the distinctive nebulous or cloud-like spots that pattern its coat. It’s defined as a small cat, weighing in around 11 to 25 kg.
Its larger big cat cousins, the Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus) and Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), no longer roam the Cardamoms. While this is a sad state of affairs, evidence suggests Clouded Leopards might benefit from it; in the absence of big cats, the species can be more numerous. That said, Clouded Leopards are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and the latest assessment suggests that globally there could be less than 10,000 Clouded Leopards left in the wild, so every cat counts!
Clouded Leopards in Cambodia
When it comes to big cats in the country, tigers are gone from all of Cambodia, with the species last recorded in 2007 and declared functionally extinct in 2016. Wildlife Alliance is working hard to bring tigers back to the Cardamoms, through our law enforcement efforts. Our tiger reintroduction plan is gathering momentum – watch this space! In the meantime, Clouded Leopards are the biggest cats around. They are considered a keystone species, meaning they play a vital role in stabilizing ecosystems.
What’s more, the species has some distinctive features which make them the new king of the jungle!
What’s special about Clouded Leopards ?
Clouded Leopards are masters of the trees! They have adapted an exceptionally long tail for the purpose of arboreal activity. Unlike your house cat, Clouded Leopards can climb up – and down- trees successfully! one of few cat species to be able to descend trees head first, along with the marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata) another small wild cat species found in the Cardamoms. They are primarily nocturnal, stalking their prey through the trees in the dark.
What do Clouded Leopards Eat?
Thanks to their tree climbing abilities, Clouded Leopards are one of the few species that hunt down primates in the canopy. A study from Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary in central Thailand found a variety of prey in the diet of Clouded Leopards, including Hog Deer, Slow Loris, Bush-tailed Porcupine, Malayan Pangolin and Indochinese Ground Squirrel , to addition to Muntjac and and Argus Pheasant. These species are found throughout the Cardamoms, however poaching throughout the landscape is a threat to all wildlife in the landscape.
Our rangers patrol 1.3 million hectares of rainforest in the Cardamom Protected Forest Landscape night and day. The Cardamoms is one of the last unfragmented rainforests in Southeast Asia, and is a hotspot for biodiversity. The rangers keep the forests free from threats to wildlife like snares and chainsaws by stopping poachers and loggers in their tracks. What’s more, rangers rescue wildlife found in snares, or left behind by poachers. To date, they have saved over 6,500 animals from the illegal wildlife trade. If uninjured, animals can be released back into the forest right away. Animals who require medical attention are brought to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre for rehabilitation and where possible, later release.
Did you know?
Clouded Leopards have the longest canine teeth relative to head and body size of any cat species; their canines can measure four centimeters or longer.
Unfortunately, evidence suggests that their teeth are turning up in the wildlife trade, often as a substitute for tigers and other cats. Just as in the trade in ivory where mammoth ivory is increasingly sold alongside elephant ivory, only a specialist can tell the “real thing” from the substitute.
Clouded Leopards: Small Cats Facing Big Threats
In addition to habitat loss, Clouded Leopards face direct threats. They are poached for their distinctive skins and other parts which are increasingly used in traditional medicine as a replacement for big cat, for example tiger bone.
Remarkably, Clouded Leopards are even being sold into the pet trade, to attract tourists offering direct cat encounters. Researchers noted a 42% increase in the commercial trade of live Clouded Leopards from 1975 to 2013. Forget Joe Exotic, Clouded Leopards, like all wildcat species, do not make good pets! In addition to being illegal and threatening wild populations, Clouded Leopards are known for their aggression- even towards each other.
Clouded Leopards are kept in captivity around the world. Many zoos and wildlife rescue centres around have recorded incidences of individuals killing each other, including during mating. In the 20 years to 2013, there were at least 25 recorded male-on-female attacks in captivity resulting in death. Such incidences are a double blow: the loss of a precious individual and the loss of future breeding opportunities to boost wild populations.
Clouded Leopards at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
At the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, we have two Clouded Leopards, male Popork (meaning ‘cloud’ in Khmer) and female Evening. Thankfully, there hasn’t been aggression between them, but there hasn’t been chemistry either! We hoped that Popork and Evening would hit it off, and go on to produce cubs for release but sadly they are not a match! Nonetheless we are also protecting their wild counterparts in their natural habitat in the Cardamoms where they may be thriving!
New neighbours: Clouded Leopards at the Wildlife Release Station
In terms of habitat, Clouded Leopards are most at home in primary tropical forest, which is rapidly disappearing from across the cats’ range as forest is cleared to make way for agriculture and development. Therefore, the prints are a positive sign that our hard work to protect the area is paying off – wildlife is returning to the once degraded area of forest around the Wildlife Release Station. This sign is all the more welcome considering that Clouded Leopard appears less able to adapt to human encroachment than other large predators.
Clouded Leopards in the Cardamoms
Elsewhere in the Cardamoms Protected Forest, Clouded Leopards have been caught on camera traps dating back over a decade. The Cardamoms is an important stronghold for the species in the region. According to the species Redlist Assessor and former Wildlife Alliance director of Science, Thomas NE Gray, the Cardamoms is likely home to one of the largest populations in Southeast Asia, alongside Virachey National Park in Northeast Cambodia and Nam Et Phou Louey National Park in northern Laos PDR (personal communication, Thomas NE Gray).
Due to the species’ arboreal habitats, however, Clouded Leopards are challenging to camera-trap. Captures of these elusive wildcats point to the success of the Wildlife Alliance Cardamom Forest Protection Program to protect this precious landscape for Clouded Leopard and other threatened species.
WILDLIFE RELEASE KOH KONG
Visit the Wildlife Release Station
Leave the beaten path, follow the local sandy trails and enter our protected forest where animals are being returned to the wild!
This is not a 5 star resort or zoo experience, but a true escape to nature! We promise fresh air, a quiet remote location to relax, beautiful forest and rain-fed streams to explore. While you won’t see tigers or elephants, you can meet some of Cambodia’s other unique wildlife up close, like Great Hornbill Joa and Sunda Pangolin Roux
You might even be lucky enough to follow in the footsteps of a Clouded Leopard!
Learn more and book your stay here: https://www.wildlifealliance.org/wildlife-release-koh-kong/
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