- A team of researchers have recorded photographic evidence of clouded leopards at an elevation of 3,700 metres in a community-owned forest along the Indo-Myanmar border in Nagaland — arguably one of the highest reported altitudes where the animal has been sighted in the world till date.
- It is said to be one of the highest reported altitudes where the wild cat has been sighted in the world to date.
- The findings have been published in the Winter 2021 issue of the Cat News, the IUCN/Species Survival Commission (SSC) Cat Specialist Group’s biannual newsletter.
- The tree-climbing clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), a medium-sized felid (wild cat), is the smallest of the large wild cats and is categorised as ‘Vulnerable’ under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- Since they are largely known to inhabit low elevation evergreen rainforests, the sighting is significant.
- 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.
- 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.
- It is also known as Khephak, greyish big cat, 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.
Where it found?
- The researchers, led by the Delhi-based non profit Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), recorded camera trap images of the clouded leopards at an elevation of 3,700m in the community forest of Thanamir village in eastern Nagaland’s Kiphire district.
- The forest, measuring 65 sq km, houses Nagaland’s highest peak, Mount Saramati.
How survey is conducted?
- The survey was part of a collaborative initiative between the WPSI and Thanamir village to document the area’s bio-cultural diversity.
- The team, which includes five resident villagers from Thanamir, placed over 50 camera traps in the village community forest — first between January and June, 2020, and later between July and September, 2021.
- Since majority of the research on clouded leopards is restricted to state-protected areas, the researchers have encouraged more surveys, conducted “ethically, equitably and collaboratively with local people”, within non-state forests, especially in the Northeast.
Findings of the survey
- 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.
- “All high elevation records are from summer months suggesting that clouded leopards may seasonally expand their range upwards as snow recedes and higher ridges attract prey” stated the paper.
- It added that as the climate warmed further, species were “likely to experience range shifts, expansions or contractions” and further investigation was needed to “understand which species benefit and which lose out.”
- Scientific Name: Panthera pardus
- The leopard is the smallest of the Big Cats (Of genus Panthera namely the Tiger, Lion, Jaguar, Leopard, and Snow Leopard), and known for its ability to adapt in a variety of habitats.
- A nocturnal animal, the leopard hunts by night.
- It feeds on smaller species of herbivores found in its range, such as the chital, hog deer and wild boar.
- It occurs in a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa, in small parts of Western and Central Asia, on the Indian subcontinent to Southeast and East Asia.
- The Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is a leopard widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent.
- As per a recent report ‘Status of leopards in India, 2018’ released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, there has been a “60% increase in the population count of leopards in India from 2014 estimates’’.
- The 2014 estimates placed the population of leopards at nearly 8,000 which has increased to 12,852.
- Poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts.
- Habitat loss and fragmentation
- Human-Leopard conflict
Which of the following animal is known as the ghost of the forest?
- Asiatic Lion
- Bengal Tiger
- Melanistic Leopard
- Melanistic Fox