‘Tropical rainforests support the greatest diversity of living organisms on Earth. Although they cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, rainforests house an estimated 50 percent of all life on the planet’s land masses.’ — Rhett Butler, rainforests.mongabay.com
The magnificent Sunda clouded leopard (neofelis diardi) is but just one of an estimated 3 to 50 million species found in rainforests. Say hi to this Bornean and Sumatran native!
The medium-sized cat weighs about 12 to 25 kg, roughly the combined mass of three to twelve house cats. Despite its small stature, it is more closely related to big cats like lions and tigers, due to similarities in their biological and behavioural characteristics. This has led many to believe that the Sunda clouded leopard could be an evolutionary link between big and small cats!
Notice the markings on its fur? This creature gets its name from the distinctive cloud-like spots on its coat. Its black-edged patches are perfect for providing camouflage, making it easy for it to go on the hunt undetected by unsuspecting prey. Like all big cats, the Sunda clouded leopards are carnivores and have been thought to hunt small animals like birds, squirrels, monkeys, deer and wild pigs.
These Indonesian natives are also great climbers, preferring trees to the ground of their tropical habitat. These creatures were made for climbing; their long tails can grow as long as their bodies, allowing them to balance atop branches with ease. Their relatively short legs and broad paws lower their centre of gravity, providing them with a better grip on trees. This allows them to scale upside down from tree branches as well as climb down trees headfirst… just like squirrels!
Another interesting feature of the Sunda clouded leopard is that its canine teeth are in proportion to its skull — the longest in any living carnivore. Scientists studying this majestic creature have even drawn conclusions that they might have evolved from their prehistoric and famous counterpart, the sabre-toothed cat. Nonetheless, the fact remains: Similarities between their skulls, long front teeth and gape of jaws are the closest one can find in a living mammal. Just imagine that!
These nocturnal cats are also incredibly shy creatures, preferring to be alone and hidden. This makes them incredibly difficult to study in the wild or to even spot one — well, lucky for us, we were able to catch a glimpse of one of them on candid camera!
Unfortunately, these amazing creatures are considered vulnerable and at risk of endangerment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Only about 10,000 mature clouded leopards are currently left in the wild. These animals are quickly losing their homes due to the collateral damage caused by years of forest loss, encroachment and other illegal logging activities.
Thankfully, the team at Restorasi Ekosistem Riau (RER) — an eco-restoration initiative that aims to restore the peat forest areas in Indonesia’s Kampar Peninsula — is working hard to restrict illegal activities and reforest degraded sites. Soon, chances of long-term forest growth and sustainability of endangered animals like the Sunda clouded leopards will increase.
The Sunda clouded leopard is also one of five species of wild cats found in the region to be studied under the Bornean Wild Cat and Clouded Leopard Project. These projects aim to study the cats’ behaviour and ecology, as well as increasing the awareness of Bornean wild cats and their conservation needs.
Fun Fact: The first recorded sighting of the Sunda clouded leopard was by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1822. Yes, the very same person who founded Singapore!
Head and body length: 61 – 106 cm
Tail length: 55 – 91 cm
Weight: 15 – 22 kg