Palm Oil is Threatening the Elusive Clouded Leopard

Nice Portrait of a Male Clouded Leopard by Emmanuel Keller (Tambako the Jaguar). CC BY-ND 2.0

Clouded leopards are some of the most elusive and understudied cats on the planet. They comprise two species: the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) and the Indochinese clouded leopard (Neofilis nebulosa). The latter felid (cat) inhabits portions of mainland Southeast Asia, China, and the Himalayan foothills – whereas the former is restricted to parts of Borneo and Sumatra. Both species are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and both are threatened by palm oil.

An article recently published by Mongabay explores this problematic relationship. The Sunda and Indochinese clouded leopards both need dense forests to survive. These cats are highly arboreal, and have even been recorded hunting monkeys in trees (Hunter, 2015). As palm oil production expands in clouded leopards’ range, more forested land is being cleared to make way for plantations. This fragments the cats’ habitats, forcing them to make dangerous journeys across human-dominated landscapes to move between forest patches. It also makes them more vulnerable to poaching.

As the Mongabay article explains, the poaching of clouded leopards is often correlated with the growth of palm plantations. Roads built for palm oil production make it easier for poachers to access clouded leopard habitat, endangering the cats and their prey. Live clouded leopards are also captured and sold into the pet trade. The decline of tiger numbers is likely fueling increased demand for other large cat species, such as clouded leopards and jaguars. But it might be possible to reduce the negative impacts of palm oil on these elusive cats.

As tiger numbers are depleted largely due to poaching for the traditional Asian medicine trade, the demand for “substitute” cat species increases. Machali by Christopher Kray. CC BY 2.0

The Mongabay story also describes ways to make palm oil less harmful for clouded leopards. One solution is to make it easier for the cats to move through palm plantations. A few clouded leopards have been known to successfully traverse them, so conservationists might be able to work with plantations to establish biological corridors. This will make it easier for the cats to travel between forest fragments – which will prevent inbreeding and increase the species’ genetic fitness. Palm oil production is not going away any time soon, so it is necessary to work with the industry to develop better practices. It is also crucial to scale up anti-poaching efforts, and to make more people aware of the plight facing clouded leopards.

Along these lines, Mongabay’s original article contains a wealth of additional knowledge. It has information about clouded leopards, quotes from clouded leopard scientists, news about how palm oil companies are supporting conservation efforts, and more. For all these reasons, I highly suggest you follow the link to the original article.

Click here to read Mongabay’s original article: written by Sean Mowbray

15 Thoughts

    1. Very true, Maggie. One of the things that many people in the US, Europe, and parts of Asia don’t recognize are that our consumeristic lifestyles are behind many of the world’s environmental woes. We need to be mindful of how our decisions impact the bigger picture.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Nice article, Josh! The plan oil problem is a real challenge for us all. I spent a few years living and working in Asia. It was heart-breaking to see how Malaysia is carpeted with dead forests. Palm plantations as far as the eye can see, devoid of wildlife. The problem is that some of these plantations are providing work for remote communities, lifting some people out of poverty. The real winners are the mega-rich plantation corporations, of course. Palm oil is in so many everyday products in our lives. It is a duty on all of us to ensure we buy products made only from responsible palm oil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the insightful comment, David. Buying responsible palm oil would certainly be helpful. I’m not sure if many people in industrialized countries realize how impactful our consumer choices can be. If enough people only bought products made from responsible palm oil, that might change the way plantations are run in places like Malaysia: to the benefit of animals like clouded leopards. An all-out boycott would be difficult to pull off, and might backfire by engendering too much hostility from the workers who depend on oil palm plantations for their livelihoods.


  2. Pingback: The Jaguar – ben

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