While everyone knows the striking but conservative beauty of the ocelot, the clouded leopardís markings surpass any designs, spots, stripes or shades familiar to cat fanciers, and have to be seen to be appreciated.
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Extremely large males may reach 55 pounds; the much smaller females will average slightly over 30 pounds.
The unusually large front paws, short, muscular legs and the pugnacious lower jaw are strongly reminiscent of another denison of the deep forest in this hemisphere Ė the jaguar.
An important consideration when raising clouded leopards for breeding is to address their psychological need to access height, a part of their arboreal makeup. Enclosures for clouded leopards should be designed at least 10 feet in height.
Another aspect of clouded leopard behavior is their intense need to form pair bonds. In fact in order for clouded leopards to successfully mate they must be in love.
In our breeding career we produced 75 clouded leopard offspring and dispersed 67 of them to other zoos and facilities. These cats form the foundation stock of the American and European zoological collections of present day.
Neofelis Nebulosa, the Ocelot of the Orient
While everyone knows the striking but conservative beauty of the ocelot, the clouded leopardís markings surpass any designs, spots, stripes or shades familiar to cat fanciers, and have to be seen to be appreciated. The large, irregular, never alike marbled blotches are much more definite then in its smaller relative, the mysterious marbled cat. The thick, furry tail (in most instances noted on animals indigenous to high altitude areas) of unusually long proportions reminds one of the snow leopard and adds to a unique picture.
Extremely large males may reach 55 pounds the much smaller females will average slightly over 30 pounds. The conformation of the animals is also extremely odd. The front part of the body is low-sling, compact and powerful. The unusually large front paws, short, muscular legs and the pugnacious lower jaw are strongly reminiscent of another denison of the deep forest in this hemisphere Ė the jaguar. The canine teeth are relatively by far the longest among felines. They invariably astonish the non-initiated. Many scientists have ascertained direct relation in this respect between n. nebulosa and the now extinct but famed Smilodon or Saber-tooth tiger.
I began my feline career many decades ago as a professional trainer, in fact I was featured on Ed Sullivan show in 1961 with an act that consisted of trained greyhounds and monkeys. I advanced to create numerous Siberian tiger acts and was famous for my uncaged leopard acts. A specialty of mine featured one star feline, a male black leopard that regularly jumped 17 feet into my arms without ever causing injury, a feat never duplicated by any other trainer.
It was my great understanding of feline behavior and my intrigue of these wondrous species that lead me to center my energies on the captive breeding of rare and endangered felines. I was alarmed to learn that early zoo efforts to breed clouded leopards resulted in 16 deaths in just one year. These felines were suffering from excessive stress caused by public display, transfers of individuals to new zoos, inappropriate enclosure designs, the breakup of established pairs, or the post-adolescent pairing of adults. This species was never common in captivity and to loose them to such poor husbandry understanding was especially upsetting to me. This was an extremely rare feline. To put this in perspective from a financial aspect, in the late 1960ís ocelots could be regularly imported and purchased for about $150 dollars, while clouded leopards if available, commanded around $2,500.
I felt it was my duty to utilize my experience and knowledge to stop this massacre and help insure the future survival of this extraordinary feline by pioneering successful captive breeding programs. To this end I traveled to Viet Nam, a French-speaking nation, to work with that country and import this species. This was back in the early 1970ís, before the US Congress approved the Endangered Species Act, before the international treaty to regulate trade of endangered species was written. (CITES)
I studied the felines in their native countries, and then made a special trip to the Frankfort Zoo in Germany to see the director, Dr. Grzymek. This European facility was successfully breeding this species and I learned that they were feeding whole animals consisting of freshly killed rabbits, rats, pigeons and chickens and fresh blood.
I imported about a dozen clouded leopards from Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia to form the basis of my breeding stock. All were supposed to be less then 6 months old, however the exporters were not honest about their ages and in fact none were that young and a couple of the females arrived pregnant.
At the Savage Kingdom we bred and raised rabbits for prey as well as purchased live rats for these cats. Based on my observations it is my opinion that clouded leopards cannot properly digest their food without the all-important pre-play. Typically a clouded leopard will kill its prey and then play with its lifeless body for an hour before consuming it. If given access to trees, a clouded leopard will climb a tree and consume the animal there. Another important consideration when raising clouded leopards for breeding is to address their psychological need to access height, a part of their arboreal makeup. Enclosures for clouded leopards should be designed at least 10 feet in height.
The Savage Kingdom facility is located in central Florida and our property is covered with stately and enormous live oaks. During an episode at my compound a large male made a b-line to one of my 100-foot tall oak trees in less then a second the specimen reached the very top where it disappeared completely. I sent a young helper with a short-range capture gun. When my man approached within 6 foot of the animal the clouded performed an unbelievable 45 degree jump towards the ground all legs spread out like a flying squirrel and hit the ground like a rubber cat and in three leaps was up another 70 foot tall tree where we finally tranquilized him with no damage at all. This story illustrates this feline species desire to inhabit the forest canopy and comfort they derive from gaining height.
Another aspect of clouded leopard behavior is their intense need to form pair bonds. In fact in order for clouded leopards to successfully mate they must be in love. When a compatible pair is introduced young they will breed. Once breeding is observed, I note the approximate date for the birth and then remove the male before the female is in labor. We never broke up any pairs, but kept breeding the same couples for their lifetime.
In our breeding career we produced 75 clouded leopard offspring and dispersed 67 of them to other zoos and facilities. These cats form the foundation stock of the American and European zoological collections of present day. Usually we kept the kittens with their mother for about 6 weeks and then pulled them for taming and to enable them to be paired up with others of the opposite sex. Initial diet for a 6-week-old kitten was freshly killed rabbit meat with KMR poured on it. Sometimes cubs were pulled at a younger age and bottle raised. This hand rearing produced extremely tame individuals.
Clouded leopards are extremely vocal and University of Florida students studied our population and their language. I have counted over 40 different sounds made by this species, including sounds that mimic other animals, such as various birdcalls and monkey calls.
Many thanks to Robert Baudy for allowing the use of this article on ExoticCatz.com.com in cooperation with the Feline Conservation Federation. This article is copyrighted 2004 by Robert Baudy, and originally appeared in the FCF Newsletter. All rights are reserved. FCF members receive a bi-monthly newsletter containing a wealth of articles like this one, and I highly recommend becoming an FCF member to learn more about exotic felines.