In a first, tree-climbing Clouded leopard were captured on camera strolling through a community-owned forest along the Indo-Myanmar border that is at an elevation of 3,700 metres in Nagaland. It is a rare sighting of the elusive animals on one of the highest reported altitudes in the world till now as Clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa) are largely known to inhabit low elevation primary evergreen rainforests. The sighting of the animals at 3,700m in the community forest of Thanamir village situated in the Kiphire district was recorded by a team of researchers, led by the Delhi-based nonprofit Wildlife Protection Society of India or WPSI, on camera trap images. The forest is spread across around 65 square kilometres and houses Mount Saramati, which is Nagaland’s highest peak.
A Clouded leopard is a medium-sized wild cat and is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is the smallest of the large wild cat species, as per the experts.
The research was co-conducted by the WPSI and Thanamir village as a part of their initiative to study the area’s bio-cultural diversity. Among the researchers were five locals from Thanamir. The team placed over 50 camera traps in the village community forest between January-June 2020, and later between July-September 2021.
The researchers spotted ‘at least two adults and two cubs.’ An excerpt from the peer-reviewed publication read: ‘In total, we have evidence of at least two adults and two cubs. Two distinct individuals were photo captured at a camera placed above the tree line at 3,700 m close to the summit of Mt. Saramati. Another individual was photo captured at 3,436 m.’
Sahil Nijhawan, who is a conservation anthropologist working in Arunachal Pradesh and who co-authored the aforementioned publication, stated the capture was especially significant because the Clouded leopards spotted included breeding individuals. ‘They are residents of the area, and are reproducing there, which indicates that there is enough food and forest cover for them to do so,’ he said, reported Indian Express. He added that these animals are usually found in tropical rainforests ‘but we have found them at heights above where the trees end.’
The findings were published in the Winter 2021 issue of the Cat News, which is the biannual newsletter of the IUCN/Species Survival Commission (SSC) Cat Specialist Group.