The Clouded Leopard

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar/ FlickrCC

The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is one of nature’s shyest creatures. The smallest of the big cats, they prefer to remain hidden and out of sight. This presents significant challenges when studying the species, and as a result, much of their behaviour remains a mystery.

Their range includes the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, into Southeast Asia and China, and a population exists in the southeastern parts of Bangladesh. There is also a separate species, the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Both species are considered vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN.

Deforestation and the wildlife trade present the greatest threats to the clouded leopard. They prefer closed forest and dwell mostly in primary, undisturbed forest, although they have been found in secondary forest in some locations. Forest areas where they are found are currently facing some of the fastest rates of deforestation around the world. They are also hunted for their body parts and uniquely patterned coat, which is covered in distinctive cloud-like markings.

Read more S.P.E.C.I.E.S.’s work on the clouded leopard at Project Neofelis.

The Ocelot

Photo by Tom Smylie

Distributed extensively across the Americas, the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is somewhat similar to the bobcat, with fur not too different from the clouded leopard or jaguar. The ocelot likes to live in places with thick vegetation, so they are found in tropical forests, mangroves, and savanna regions.

Ocelots are primarily solitary animals; males scent-mark territories which can span up to 46 square kilometers while females range up to 16 square kilometers. Within these territories, the ocelot preys on small mammals, birds, fish, insects, and reptiles.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S works with ocelots on the island of Trinidad where the most isolated population dwells. The Trinidad Ocelot Project is the first effort to study this population, which despite the species’ overall designation as Least Concern by the IUCN, may be in decline due to human activities. The project investigates how human impacts through deforestation, hunting, and urbanization are affecting ocelot habitat suitability.

The Jaguar

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest cat in the Americas and the third-largest feline in the world, behind only the tiger and the lion.

The jaguar roams a variety of habitats. Although it prefers densely wooded areas and thick rainforests, it can also be found in scrublands and deserts. Its range stretches from Southwestern United States down through Mexico and Central America to the South of Paraguay and Northern Argentina.

As an apex predator, the jaguar is at the top of the food chain. Within its habitat, it isn’t a particularly fussy eater . Known as a dietary generalist, the jaguar will eat a wide range of species including large animals such as caiman, deer, peccaries and tapirs, and smaller critters like monkeys and sloths.

Unlike other felines, the jaguar employs a particularly distinctive method to dispatch its prey. Along with the common deep throat-bite, which other cats use, the jaguar pierces the skull of its prey with a sharp bite between the ears, thus piercing the brain and killing their target.

Throughout its range, the jaguar is considered “Near Threatened”. Despite still being considered an abundant species, the loss and fragmentation of habitat, conflict with farmers, and illegal hunting are all contributing to its decline in the wild. Within its range, studies have shown that the area best suited to jaguar survival is the Amazon basin rainforest and parts of the Pantanal and Gran Chaco.

For this reason, S.P.E.C.I.E.S launched the Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project in 2008, the first and only program committed to the long-term conservation of the species across the Gran Chaco. The project seeks to map the jaguar’s range, reduce jaguar-human conflict, and raise public awareness of jaguar conservation issues and more.