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.
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.