January 07, 2022: Named for its spotted coat, this cat species has largely remained hidden, until now. Researchers have for the first time spotted a clouded leopard in a community forest in Nagaland. The animal, known to inhabit low elevation primary evergreen rainforests, was spotted at an altitude of 3,700 meters along the Indo-Myanmar border.
The images captured in the camera trap laid by researchers confirm the highest records ever of a clouded leopard in India.
"’Local communities in Nagaland own and manage a large majority of the region’s forests, with a range of village-specific management regimes. Our surveys found these community forests to host a high diversity and abundance of several globally threatened taxa," researchers said in a report.
Known to be avid climbers, the best in their class, clouded leopards have short, powerful legs equipped with rotating rear ankles. This makes them capable of not just climbing up fast but also hanging upside down using their large paws and sharp claws. According to National Geographic, scientists believe that they do most of their hunting on the ground, feasting on deer, pigs, monkeys, and smaller fare such as squirrels or birds.
Their large canines help in hunting, however, evidence about their behaviour in the wild remains to be seen. This species is found in Asia from the rain forests of Indonesia to the foothills of the Himalayas. They are considered a vulnerable species since little is known about their population size.
The findings have been published in the Winter 2021 issue of the Cat News, a biannual newsletter by the IUCN/Species Survival Commission (SSC) Cat Specialist Group. The research was led by a Delhi-based Non-Profit Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) in the 65 square kilometer wide forests.Known as Khephak in the local Chirr dialect, the clouded leopard is the largest wild feline in the area in the absence of Tigers and common leopards, which are regionally extinct.
Researchers said that clouded leopards are known to occupy a variety of habitats including primary, secondary, and selectively logged forests and are believed to prefer close, forested habitats. Their previous sightings have been reported from an elevation of 3,720 meters in Sikkim, 3,600 meters in Bhutan and 3,498 meters in a protected area in Nepal.
The new evidence shows that the cat species is able to exploit high altitude habitats in the eastern Himalayas.
Researchers conclude that they spotted at least two adults and two cubs. Other species photographed at this camera location include Asiatic black bear, yellow-throated marten, and potential prey such as stump-tailed macaque, the Assamese macaque, among others.
The camera trap surveys were conducted between January and June 2020 in which 37 camera traps were laid covering the entire community forest.
"We urge that more scientific studies be conducted ethically, equitably and collaboratively with local people in non-state forests, especially in parts of North-east India where local communities own, manage and, in many cases, protect the majority of forested lands. These landscapes hold potential for more scientifically unregistered populations of the clouded leopard and other threatened species of wild felines," the researchers said in the paper.