UPDATED: Two Clouded Leopard Cubs Await Mother's Return

Editor's note: We've received an update on the two clouded leopard cubs, unfortunately their mother never returned. The Wildlife Trust of India's Sheren Shrestha filed this post from Assam, India.

The two clouded leopard cubs being examimed at Kokrajhar field station in India.

UPDATE 3.25.11: A year after two orphaned clouded leopard cubs were successfully hand-raised and released in the forests along the Indo-Bhutan boundary, two more cubs of these rare felines have been admitted for rehabilitation at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) Transit Home in Kokrajhar.

The cubs, a male and a female, less than a month-old, were found earlier this month by locals in Chirang, Bodoland. Forest Department officials assisted by a local NGO New Horizon admitted the cubs to the Transit Home run by International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India with the support of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

“Locals pick up young animals found alone, often out of goodwill but end up displacing them. This is quite unfortunate. Our first priority with these cubs was to try and find the mother and reunite them,” said Dr NVK Ashraf, Chief Veterinarian, WTI.

The rehabilitation team visited the site at Kuklung Range, Chirang district falling within the Greater Manas landscape, from where the cubs were picked. The cubs were left overnight for three consecutive nights. Camera traps were placed to photo-capture animals visiting the site when the cubs were alone. During the days they were milk-fed and looked after by members of the Forest Department, New Horizon and IFAW-WTI veterinarians.

Although some signs of a wild cat were seen nearby, reunion was not successful.
“We found some pugmarks, but we are not sure if they were of the mother or some other cat. We waited for three days, but eventually had to withdraw as the cubs were growing weak,” said Brahmananda Patiri, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Chirang Forest Division. “The cubs are currently at the Transit Home under the supervision of Dr Panjit Basumatary, IFAW-WTI veterinarian and are healthy. We are now working out a way to best rehabilitate them.”

The cubs will be hand-raised and moved to a suitable release site in the wild, where they will undergo prolonged acclimatisation before being radio-collared and released.
With the addition of these two individuals, the total number of clouded leopard cubs looked after by IFAW-WTI has reached five. The first two cubs were rescued by the Forest Department from local people at Runikhata Reserve Forest, Kokrajhar. The cubs were hand-raised at the Transit Home, moved to a release site selected based on a number of criteria, acclimatised there, radio-collared and released.

The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is a shy nocturnal, tree-dwelling wild cats found in India, among other countries. It is listed as a Schedule I species in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It is classified as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with only 10,000 mature individuals in the wild worldwide. Habitat destruction and poaching are among the major threats to the clouded leopard, which is also the smallest of the big cat species.


A cloud leopard cub hoping to find its mother.

ORIGINAL POST 3.15.11 - We just received news from India where our International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) team is frantically trying to reunite two clouded leopard cubs with their mom. Sounds simple but it’s quite a challenging proposition.

What we know so far is that the Assam Forest Department rescued the two cubs from a man that was cutting wood – illegally - inside Manas National Park in Northeast India. The man stumbled upon and took the defenseless animals but luckily the ‘catnapper” was caught shortly after. The cubs were handed over to our team of experts who are now in a race against time to try and take them back to mom.

By identifying where the cats were first taken from, our colleagues in India are going back to the abduction site, leaving the animal pair, and placing a camera trap (activated through a motion sensor) to ‘see’ if mother clouded leopard returns.

Unfortunately the first few tries have been unsuccessful. The cubs have remained in the same spot, crying out to no avail. Our camera has caught glimpses of an animal and we’ve even seen some clouded leopard pugmarks in the vicinity but no confirmation of mom yet.

The caretakers are closely monitoring the health of the cubs and providing food but if no progress is made soon, we will go forth with a rehabilitation process where the cubs will be hand-raised for several months, taught to be wild and then released.

In 2009, two different clouded leopard cubs were ‘rescued’ by IFAW-WTI and underwent an 8-month rehabilitation that culminated with their successful release in May 2010.

-- MB

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