The clouded leopard is insufficiently protected and is being illegally traded as a consequence

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A study published in 2015 paints a damning picture of the protections afforded the clouded leopard which are clearly insufficient. The clouded leopard population is decreasing and they are arguably gradually heading towards extinction in the wild. This is unsurprising because of this cat’s uniquely attractive coat. This medium-sized wildcat is also quite tame and purrs like a domestic cat. The species is classified as ‘Vulnerable’. The study is cited at the base of this article.

The study finds numerous instances of a breakdown in conservation of the clouded leopard. Here’s a list of the irregularities, discrepancies and insufficient protections afforded the clouded leopard under existing legislation and treaties et cetera. This is not a complete list but provides a flavour for the weaknesses in clouded leopard conservation.

  • CITES is an international treaty to stop the illegal trade in wildlife. But the study “found CITES records contradictory and incomplete, with data on source country particularly lacking”. Comment: I am unsurprised.
  • There is weak enforcement of legislation to protect the clouded leopard and “The illegal trade in derivatives can openly be observed online and at wildlife markets in range countries where enforcement is weak.” Comment: “range countries” means the countries where the animal is meant to live i.e. where they are native.
  • And there are legal loopholes according to the study.
  • International and domestic trade regulations although being in place can be circumvented because “in exceptional circumstances trading Asian big cats is legally permitted”.
  • There’s been a shift towards commercial farming of clouded leopards despite the difficulties in successfully breeding this species of cat. This may be due to the tightening up of regulations. Captive breeding programs lead to a slackening off of conservation of wild species. Captive breeding programs muddy the water. They undermine the protection of the clouded leopard in the wild.
  • There is continued consumer demand for the clouded in terms of exotic pets and wildlife tourism. This encourages wildlife traders and encourages circumvention of conservation rules.
  • The greatest number of clouded leopards traded for commercial purposes come from Thailand and China. They both have large captive populations of large wild cat species other than the clouded leopard.
  • Captive breeding populations stimulate demand for the cheaper more preferable wild caught specimens. Note: it is hard to believe but wild clouded leopards are cheaper than the captive specimen.
  • Captive breeding programs create legal loopholes for the illegal laundering of wild animals and their derivatives.
  • Tiger farms have been cited for the illegal trade in live tigers and their body parts. It appears that these tiger farms are also engaged in trading clouded leopards on my understanding of the report.
  • Japan was the largest importer of live clouded leopards for commercial purposes. There was a consignment of a hundred live specimens to Japan from South Korea which is a country where clouded leopards do not live (a non-range country). But there were incomplete records regarding the country of origin and contradictory import and export figures with respect to this shipment. CITES
    do not “currently monitor, or report on, the final or subsequent destination of illegally traded Appendix of ESM 1 specimens “.
  • America is the most active exporter of clouded leopards and it is because there is widespread private ownership in America of big cats of various species.
  • Update: the Big Cat Public Safety Act has since been introduced into America which will make a severe dent in the ownership of big cats in America over the following years. They will gradually be phased out completely in private ownership.
  • Clouded leopard body parts are still popular in traditional medicine and illegal poaching is still a threat to clouded leopard conservation. Illegal trade in skins for decorative purposes still takes place. This is due to insufficient enforcement. You can find clouded leopard body parts at marketplaces in countries where the clouded leopard lives.
  • You can see illegal activity involving clouded leopards online on social media.
  • The study reports that “Despite widespread illegal trade concern, we found specific information (both quantitative and qualitative) regarding the direct impacts on clouded leopard welfare and conservation to be virtually non-existent.”
  • It is impossible currently to assess fully the amount of trade in live clouded leopards and their body parts because the information is not available.

Study: SD’Cruze, N., Macdonald, D.W. Clouded in mystery: the global trade in clouded leopards. Biodivers Conserv 24, 3505–3526 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-015-1010-9

Below are some more articles on the precious clouded leopard. Please see the pagination for many more pages on this cat.

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