IFAW India: Handraised Clouded Leopards Undergo Night Acclimatisation

This post was filed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare's team in Assam, India.

Kokrajhar (Assam), March 19, 2010: Moving to the next phase in the ongoing rehabilitation of the two handraised clouded leopards in Greater Manas, the Bodoland Territorial Council – International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India (BTC-IFAW-WTI) has initiated their night acclimatisation.

Clouded leopard cub with the nylon leash fitted to habituate it to radio-collaring. Photo - Dr Panjit Basumatary, IFAW-WTI “This is perhaps the first time that orphan clouded leopard cubs are being handraised and rehabilitated in the wild in India. As the clouded leopard is a predominantly nocturnal felid we have started night acclimatisation,” said Dr Bhaskar Choudhury, Assistant Manager of Wild Rescue programme, WTI.

The two cubs were rescued by the Assam Forest Department a year ago. The cubs were handraised at the BTC-IFAW-WTI Mobile Veterinary Service field station in Kokrajhar for six months, before being moved to the wild in Sanfan Range, Kachugaon Forest Division for a prolonged pre-release acclimatisation.

The cubs were first shifted to the release site in Kachugaon FD on September 24 last year. Initially, they were taken for daily walks to acclimatise them to the wild, while at nights they were confined in spacious enclosures installed in the release site. About a month later, the cubs were shifted to a more isolated area, even as the duration of their daily walks was steadily increased. These walks presented the cubs an opportunity to not only familiarise themselves to their natural habitat, but also provide them the opportunities to hone their predation instincts that would ultimately help them survive in the wild on their own.

The night acclimatisation of the cubs began mid-February 2010. In contrast to day time acclimatisation, the cubs are now being taken for walks in the forest at nights, accompanied by a keeper. Initially, the keeper kept a close watch on the cubs. However, the cubs have grown more confident now, and are not as dependent on the keepers as before. The cubs spend about 18 hours per day in the wild.

Nylon leash has been fitted on the cubs to habituate them to the idea of radio-collars which will be fitted on the cubs before they are completely independent of the keeper. The radio-collars will be used in post-release monitoring of the cubs.

“As the cubs mature, their dependence on the walker decreases. Even now, they do not appear very keen to follow the walker, which is a good sign. Efforts to procure radio-collars to be fitted on the cubs, are on” said Krishnendu Basak, a biologist deputed to observe, record and analyse the behaviour of the cubs.

“The cubs are rapidly gaining their natural instincts. Since their first relocation in the wild, their behaviour has changed. They climb trees; they have attempted to predate on a barking deer, hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel, red jungle fowl, and even golden langur among others. We have found hair in their scat, a clear indication to predation,” added Basak.

Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is among the least studied felids, due to their partly-nocturnal and far-ranging behavior. Moreover, clouded leopards occur in low densities in dense forest and remote areas within their habitat. Reportedly, only about 10,000 individuals remain in the wild.

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