Rare clouded leopard rehabilitating at Manas field station

It has already started hunting small prey within the enclosure -- a skill the animal needs for survival in a hostile wild environment.

The following is an update by Dr. Bhaskar Choudhary on a clouded leopard recently admitted to the IFAW-WTI field station. 

Clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa) are among the most elusive wild carnivores in the world but those in the western buffer area of Manas Tiger Reserve in India don’t seem to like this ‘elusive’ tag.

How else does one explain the six cases of clouded leopards, given vulnerable status by the IUCN, that we've handled here in a span of five years?

From 2010-2015, the IFAW-WTI Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) field station near Chakrasilla Wildlife Sanctuary in western Assam has handled six cases of clouded leopards. All six encounters were predominantly a result of increased disturbances and unwanted interventions by humans in the animals’ natural habitat, which is not a very encouraging sign.

The latest case involved a juvenile male rescued by villagers in the Kachugaon Reserve Forest. This is a patch of forest in the foothills contiguous with the Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan.

The villagers took the animal to the proposed Bodoland Mini Zoo complex about a month ago where it was looked after like a domestic cat, Apparently, they didn't even identify the species.

Our animal keeper, Subiram Basumatary, accompanied by the range forest officer of Kokrajhar went to inspect and found this ‘cat’ lying under the chair at the office.

They immediately identified it as a clouded leopard and took the animal to the wildlife transit home to begin the rehabilitation process.

I conducted a detailed examination of this weak, anemic and pot bellied carnivore that was visibly dull and depressed. A diet chart, supportive medication and husbandry requirements were put into place with immediate effect.

Examination included measurement of the animal's canine teeth.

We have in the past rehabilitated four clouded leopards back to the wild. When brought to the centre, these clouded leopards were very young and the team hand-raised them following all existing scientific protocols. They were released when they had attained adulthood.

The striking difference from previous cases is that this cub is a single while all other cases came in pairs. This led to more dependence and habituation on the foster parents than we had encountered before. 

Another challenge is to find a suitable habitat where they can be released. Even the post release monitoring will need more efforts as the previous experience and results were not up to our satisfaction. 

Every crisis situation offers opportunities and, for us at the MVS station, the priceless experience to understand the species first hand and document its important behavioural attributes, which otherwise is difficult to observe and document in their natural habitat.

Subiram is confident that this clouded leopard will adapt well. It has already started hunting small prey within the enclosure -- a skill the animal needs for survival in a hostile wild environment.

Subiram’s skill of nursing orphan wildlife back to health, especially small carnivores, has been amazingly successful.

It’s only a matter of time before this one will follow suit and go back to the wild.

--RG

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