The clouded Leopard is about the size of a small leopard but, in my opinion, it’s tail relative to its overall size is perhaps the longest of all the felids except for perhaps the snow leopard’s (see below). Fiona Sunquist in her book Wild Cats of the World modestly states that “The tail is long, nearly as long as the head and body”.
The reason for the extraordinary length of the rope-like tail is because this is a secretive, arboreal and nocturnal creature that likes to live in dense primary forest. The description might be a slight exaggeration because this cat species also operates on the ground. However, physically they are very well suited to a life climbing in the trees of primary and secondary forest.
In addition to the long and thick tail, which is essential in order to maintain balance, the legs are short and strong at the end of which are large feet which allow it to move easily through the trees.
Observations of this cat tell us that it can descend slowly, vertically, down a tree trunk headfirst. Not many cats can do that. Also, they have been seen to move along branches while underneath the branch travelling a bit like a sloth. And they have been seen hanging from branches by their hind feet.
There is perhaps only one other cat species which can match these skills, which is the margay of South America and a much smaller animal.
It hunts in the trees. A German zoologist/scientist, I. Weigel, observed that “the clouded leopard can move so skilfully it can seize monkeys, squirrels and birds in the treetops”. Its Malaysian name also supports its abilities to hunt in trees: harimau-dahan, which means “branch-tiger”.
That said, in a 1986 survey in Sabah and Sarawak, Borneo (an island being deforested) there were 161 first hand reports of clouded leopard sightings of which 82% were of cats travelling on the ground. There are usually seen on trails and roads in either selectively logged secondary forest or primary forest.
So, this cat is built to travel in the trees but often travels on the ground where they are more vulnerable. It appears that many were shot back in the day when they were the target of sport hunters no doubt for their stunning coat. The prettier the coat the more vulnerable an animal becomes. Shame that. Shame that humans didn’t evolve with pretty coats themselves as it would have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of wild cats.
Here is the tail of the snow leopard which is equally impressive.