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Captive, Clouded Leopard National Park, Sepahijala, Tripura, India

(Neofelis nebulosa)

IUCN status : Vulnerable

Clouded leopards are the most elusive and smallest of the big cats found in India. They can grow up to the size of a small common leopard. It has a warm ochre coat with grey elliptical clouds, edged with black floating on it.

To increase the number of this highly vulnerable species, they were made to breed in captivity. However the program was partially successful. For an unknown reason the males were found to attack the females up to the extent of injuring them fatally.

The most amazing feature of a Clouded Leopard is it’s canine teeth which is the longest in relation to body size of any wild cat. The canines are as long as that of a tiger, even though a tiger is 10 times larger. It can open it’s jaws wider than any other cat and the tooth development is mostly like an extinct Sabertooth Cat. They are the best tree climbers in the cat family. They can rotate the ankles of their hind legs 180 degrees backwards which helps them to climb down from a tree with head first.

The clouded leopard is considered to form an evolutionary link between the Pantherinae and the Zelinae. It is the smallest of the pantherine cats, but despite its name, it is not closely related to the Leopard (Panthera pardus). Phylogenetic analysis indicates that it diverged from the Panthera about six million years ago and hence may be the direct decedents of Sabertooth cat. This also makes them the oldest cat of the world, though the same is yet to be confirmed. Clouded leopards are so elusive, rare and nocturnal that we are able to know very little about them.

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