Understanding clouded leopards and their habitats

Before scrolling the Internet for funny cat photos and videos, meet clouded leopards belonging to the same family whose cuteness and grandeur can give your house cat a tough competition. Named after the cloud-shaped patterns on its skin, these medium-sized cats are typical rain-forest dwellers but can also be found in the drier forests of Southeast Asia. Now a research paper published by over 20 researchers from across the globe has helped understand their habitats, migration corridors and laid out the conservation strategies.

By using over 3,000 trap locations spread over 45 sites, the model looked at nine countries (Bhutan, Nepal, India, Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar) and suggested that only 9.44% of the studied region was ‘highly’ suitable for clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa).

In India, the Dampa tiger reserve in Mizoram was chosen as the study site. Dampa has been much in the news lately as one of the tiger reserves where tigers were estimated to be zero as part of the latest all India tiger estimation exercise.

“However, it is an incredible area that supports a very high diversity and numbers of almost every other species expected in this ecosystem. It receives funding from the National Tiger Conservation Authority on an annual basis which helps it maintain over 100 daily wage forest guards, and conduct patrolling, which perhaps allows sustain this incredible biodiversity,” says Priya Singh, a Bangalore-based independent researcher involved with this study published in Diversity and Distributions. “With over 350 sq. km. of prey rich forests, very low human presence, and a terrain that is very hard to access, which generally works acts as a deterrent to human movement, aids the survival of clouded leopards here.”

An interesting find was that Dampa had one of the highest population densities of clouded leopards, from the sites surveyed. In 2018, India added clouded leopards to its Recovery Programme for Critically Endangered Species to aid more research and strengthen conservation efforts.

It was also noted that when the closed-canopy forest cover declined by just 35%, the clouded leopard detection dropped by 25%. This shows that clouded leopard presence was positively associated with forest cover and rain, suggesting that deforestation and reduction in rainfall patterns as a result of climate change may negatively influence clouded leopard distributions.

“We are trying to understand how land-use and development policy can be adapted to facilitate coexistence of people alongside clouded leopards as umbrellas for wider nature,” said Prof. David W. Macdonald from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford in an email to The Hindu. He is the corresponding author of the study.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 5:00:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/understanding-clouded-leopards-and-their-habitats/article29245150.ece

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