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Neofelis nebulosa

Meet the modern-day sabretooth ... Neofelis nebulosa, the clouded leopard. A resident of the rain forests of southeast Asia, this cat has the largest canines in relation to its total body size of any modern cat. The name derives from the unique fur pattern of cloud-like rosettes.

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The clouded leopard's very distinct fur pattern makes it one of the most beautiful of the wild cats and also one of the easiest to identify. Large irregular rings of black partially surround brown patches against a paler background. The chest and belly is typically a mottled white, while the head and legs are streaked and spotted in black or dark brown. Males can weigh up to 55 pounds and reach a length of 6 feet including a very long, full tail that may be equal in length to the rest of their body. Small adult cats weigh around 35 pounds. Their long tail is an adaptation to a life balancing along tree limbs. Their legs are relatively short with broad paws for clinging to trees. The adaptation of their jaw to enlarged canines with a larger space behind these teeth enable these cats to bite with tremendous penetrating power. Their heads are also much flatter than most cats. Clouded leopards are so distinct compared to other felids that they have been classified with their own genus: Neofelis meaning "new cat". Their species name nebulosa refers again to the cloud-like patterns of their coat. (Occasionally, the clouded leopard is listed as Panthera nebulosa placing it in the same genus with lions, leopards, jaguars, tigers, and cougars.)

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The clouded leopard lives in the dense tropical forests of southeastern Asia and on the islands of Malaysia. A born tree climber, the clouded leopard may well spend most of its life off the ground. These cats prey on birds, boars, small deer, rodents, monkeys, fish, and sometimes domestic livestock, though they generally avoid human contact. As with a few other cats, the clouded leopard has specialized ankle bones enabling it to climb down trees headfirst. In captivity, they have been observed to hang from tree limbs by only their back feet. Because of this cat's reclusive nature, very little is actually known about their life in the wild. Largely nocturnal, they are thought to hunt both from the trees, dropping down on their prey from above as leopards sometimes do, and from the ground, stalking their arboreal prey. They are most likely solitary cats, coming together only to mate with the female raising her cubs alone.

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Females give birth to litters of 1 to 5 cubs (more commonly 2 to 4) after a gestation period of about 90 days. These female may even have her litter in a "nest" off the ground in the hollow of a tree! The cubs are born blind, their eyes opening after 10 days. At 5 to 6 weeks of age, they will begin hunting with their mother, honing the instincts they will need to survive.

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Clouded leopards are an endangered species whose numbers are thought to be declining in the wild. They prefer to live far from human settlements and are generally reclusive creatures, making accurate assements difficult. Along with loss of habitat to human expansion, these cats are greatly prized for their unique pelts.

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Ironically, it is the black market for furs that provides the clearest sign that clouded leopard numbers are declining. The availability of pelts has dropped in recent years, suggesting that these shy cats are becoming fewer in number. Four subspecies of clouded leopards have been identified: N.n.brachyurus - Taiwan (thought to be extinct), N.n.diardi - Borneo and Malaysia, N.n.macrosceloides - Burma and Nepal, and N.n.nebulosa - southern China and Indochina.

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