Trivia Tuesday: Clouded Leopard

clouded leopard

Every Tuesday we'll share a few fun animal facts with you from experts all over the country. This week, we're taking a closer look at the clouded leopard. Our leopard facts come from the Clouded Leopard Project website.

  • The clouded leopard is the smallest of the big cats, the subfamily Pantherinae that includes lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards. Despite its name, it's not more closely related to leopards than to the other big cats. In fact, some clouded leopards aren't closely related to each other! Recent genetic research has shown that there are two species, one on mainland Asia and the other in Borneo and Sumatra. And even though they have a similar appearance, the two species diverged 1.5 million years ago and are no more closely related than a lion and a tiger.
  • The clouded leopard is named for the large cloudlike spots on its coat. In China it's called the mint leopard because of the similarity of the spots to mint leaves.
  • The clouded leopard has the largest canine fangs relative to its size of all the living cats. It is often compared to another feline with similar adaptations: the extinct sabre-tooth tiger.
  • The clouded leopard can't roar, but it does purr.
  • Many cat species are good climbers, but the clouded leopard takes it to a whole other level. It can hang from branches with its hind feet and climb down a tree head first, with the help of specialized paw padding and flexible ankle joints that allow its hind feet to rotate backward.
  • The clouded leopard lives mostly in tropical rain forests and is extremely elusive in the wild, so little is known about its natural behavior, but they are thought to meet only to breed. Its solitary nature causes some problems for captive breeding: When a pair is introduced, the animals may attack each other, sometimes with fatal results. Zoos are now preventing this by raising breeding pairs together from a young age.
  • The clouded leopard is classified as endangered. Because they are difficult to study, their exact population numbers are unknown, but they are threatened by habitat loss and by hunting for use in traditional medicine and for their coats. There are fewer than 300 in zoos worldwide.

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