Clouded Leopard

Neofelis nebulosa
A new species, Neofelis diardi (Sunda or Sundaland clouded leopard), has recently been established.

Order: Carnivora

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • These cats are very arboreal and require a lot of places to climb and hide up high. Studies have shown that vertical space of over ten feet reduces cortisol levels. Shelves and nestboxes should be placed well above the ground. Trees and other climbing structures are necessary.

Diet Requirements

  • Obligate carnivores. Feed appropriate commercial carnivore diet. Give bones for tooth condition. High-value reinforcements can include canned chicken, frozen papayasicles or chickensicles, chicken baby food, and beef heart.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Overgrooming due to stress or hormonal changes can occur, especially on the tail. Giving the animal a large stuffed animal with long hair or a furry blanket that it can rip at, instead of pulling out its own fur, can provide a safe outlet for this behavior.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Clouded leopards are challenging cats to work with, and persons with previous clouded leopard training experience should be in charge of their care and training. They should be handled from a very young age and exposed to many stimuli as soon as possible, since they are a very shy species and can be dangerous as adults.
  • Food enrichment can include bones, rabbits, and rats.
  • Walks in quiet areas are very enriching. Choose an area where the leopard is comfortable and minimize distractions such as strangers suddenly appearing.
  • Do not allow leopards to jump on you. Train from an early age – best way is to be ready and if they jump, block them so they drop to the ground, rather than dodging. However, females in heat often want to be carried, and this is okay as long as you invite them to be picked up or to walk onto your back rather than leaping off of a tree onto you.
  • Clouded leopards have sharp claws on both front and back feet, which should be trimmed for safety. Sometimes this can be done free contact if one person feeds or scratches the cat and the other person trims claws, but often the leopard does not allow the front paws to be handled. The nails can be trimmed through a fence if one person feeds the leopard up high so that it rests its paws on the mesh. Chain link is easiest to trim through, but beware untrimmed claws!

Programmatic Information

Tips on Presentation

  • Clouded leopards are great leapers and climbers. Stage elements that allow them to show off these behaviors will really let them shine. Freeze canned chicken or papaya and water into an ice cube tray, and allow them to lick handheld cubes. This will keep them still and occupied so guests can see and photograph them, and sometimes allows their canine teeth to be visible. An open-mouth behavior can be captured and put on cue, as can a vocalization. Young, playful cubs can play with cardboard boxes, stuffed animals, buckets, or other preferred toys on stage, which helps create a positive environment.

Tips on Handling

  • Train polite hand-feeding from a young age. Do not allow leopards to swipe with paws while hand-feeding.
  • Try to reinforce quietness and calmness, rather than grumbling.
  • Always be alert – the leopard may suddenly become startled, or want to chase after a squirrel. Do not allow them to stare at children in a predatory fashion. Distract them or ask them to do something else.

Potential Messaging

  • Palm oil production is the primary threat to this vulnerable species. Palm and palm kernel oil is in many products, from foods and toiletries to commercial applications. The purchase of products made only with sustainably-sourced palm oil can help preserve clouded leopard habitat. Increasingly, certifications of sustainability (such as from the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, RSPO), are appearing on labels.

Acquisition Information

Very difficult to acquire; around 225-275 individuals in zoos around the world. Only 3-4 AZA-accredited institutions in the US breed this species. Successful captive breeding in Thailand as well.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Forests of Southeast Asia, from the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal, to China. Extinct on Taiwan.
Neofelis diardi, the Sundaland clouded leopard, is found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Primarily resides in evergreen tropical rainforests, also have been found in dry and deciduous forests as well as logged and secondary-growth forests.

Physical Description

Extremely beautiful, medium-sized cats with a short, dense, oily, brown coat (white on the belly), with large, nebulous splotches on the sides in darker brown.There is a very large sexual dimorphism. Females average 25-35 pounds with approximately 1-1 1/2″ canine teeth and males are 50-70 pounds with 1 1/2-2 1/2″ canines (have been measured at 1 7/8″ at San Diego Zoo, visible tooth length on adult male. Can be same size as a tiger’s). Jaws can open past 90 degrees. Short, stocky legs, very long and fluffy tail, huge paws, small ears. Hind feet and ankles are extremely flexible and have sharp claws.

Life Cycle

Full size achieved at about 12-15 months. First estrus in females can be as early as 11 months (observed possibly due to close proximity to cycling older female). Mostly cublike behavior for first year, then show gradually less cublike and more adult behavior for another year. Potential breeding pairs should be introduced at less than a year of age in a captive setting, before sexual maturity.


Often very shy and reclusive. Females will show very different behavior during their heat cycle – they eat less and are much more loving. But they can become fierce when they come out of estrus. Adults can be spooky and sometimes look at children in a predatory manner.

Threats and Conservation Status

Listed as vulnerable with numbers decreasing by the IUCN.

Their main threat is loss of habitat to palm oil plantations. They are also hunted for pelts and other body parts.

Did you know…

  • There are now two species of clouded leopard, the mainland and the island species. Based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA, microsatellites and morphology, Neofelis nebulosa is restricted to mainland Southeast Asia, and N. diardi is found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo (Buckley-Beason et al. 2006, Kitchener et al. 2006, Wilting et al. 2007, Eizirik et al. submitted).Clouded leopards are in the same subfamily as lions, tigers, and leopards, but they do not roar. They can meow, chuff, and growl.They can climb down a tree headfirst, and hang from a branch by one hind paw.


Contributors and Citations

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  • Activity Schedule: diurnal, nocturnal, crepuscular
  • Continent of Origin
  • Diet Requirements: carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, etc.
  • General Habitat/Biome: deserts, forests, mountains, etc.