The Conservation of clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa (Griffith, 1821) in Bhutan
Author Ugyen Penjor
Classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Endangered Species Commission (IUCN 2006, Srivastav and Nigam 2009), the clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa is one of the world’s most enigmatic wild cats (Austin et al., 2007) and faces many conservation challenges (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Compared to other species of the Panthera lineage, the clouded leopard has attracted little scientific and conservation attention (Wilting et al., 2007). The cat’s secretive arboreal behavior and forest habitat (Nowell and Jackson 1996) has eluded study, thus very little is known about its conservation and status in the wild (Gordon et al., 2007; Povey et al., 2009; Wilting et al., 2007). Most information about the clouded leopard in south Asia comes from anecdotal sources (Grassman et al., 2005; Rabinowitz et al., 1987; Selous and Banks 1935), descriptive accounts (Selous and Banks 1935), sighting reports (Davies 1990; Mohamed et al., 2009) and captive individuals (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Similarly, their taxonomy and phylogenetic status remain obscure (Wilting et al., 2007).
Bhutan has the mammalian composition of two faunal regions, the Palearctic and the IndoMalayan ranging from sub-tropical to temperatealpine forest ecosystems (Sangay and Vernes 2008). Bhutan has been recognized as part of a biologically diverse conservation priority network (Tempa et al., 2013), yet few efforts have been made to document the country’s biodiversity in a scientific manner, let alone study the clouded leopard. Astoundingly, 11 felid species are found in Bhutan (Wangchuk et al., 2004), which represents the richness of predator faunal diversity. Bhutanese efforts have detected common and large mammals, but missed rare and elusive felids like the clouded leopard. A camera trap study in Royal Manas National Park revealed the diversity of the felid species and provided insights as well as opportunities to further study of these species (Tempa et al., 2013).
Specific natural history information vital for conservation of wild felids include habitat requirements, spatial-use patterns, social organization, reproduction, mortality, activity, and food habits (Lekagul and McNeeley 1977; Nowell and Jackson 1996). This information can form specific criteria for effective management and to begin population viability analyses of these poorly known carnivores (Austin et al., 2007; Grassman et al., 2005).