Record breaking Himalayan altitude record for the clouded leopard

December 20, 2019

Academics are teased for having their heads in the clouds, but for 10 years we at WildCRU have had our heads full of clouds – said David Macdonald, referring to the beautiful clouded leopards which WildCRU has studied across South East Asia as a biodiversity flagship for forest protection.

Now, led by Dr Emre Can, we report on those clouded leopards actually living amongst the clouds –  at 3,500 metres asl in Langtang National Park, Nepal. This is the highest altitude for a clouded leopard population ever recorded in the world. Furthermore, this species was not known to exist in this region of the Himalayas.

The results of this high altitude study are published this week in the scientific journal ‘Biodiversity and Conservation’ based on an intensive camera-trapping survey, involving 6,591 camera-trap days, that was carried out in 2015 at a site along the Nepal-China border. The camera-trapping survey lasted three months and was conducted during the height of winter in one of the most challenging field sites in the world – due in part to the rugged terrain where the highest peak is 7,234 meters above sea level.

These findings, which describe the factors affecting the distribution of the clouded leopards, and their likely prey, are part of a wider study of the habitat associations of both species of clouded leopard led by David Macdonald and published in Biological Conservation and Diversity and Distributions.

Dr Emre Can, who led the very arduous fieldwork in Nepal said, “On one hand, this record-breaking altitude record for the clouded leopard is welcome news as it suggests that this threatened species is more widespread and adaptable than we once thought. On the other, it suggests that climate change may be altering how and where this big cat can survive”.

Read more about our Clouded Leopard Programme.

Macdonald, D. W., Bothwell, H. M., Kaszta, Ż., Ash, E., Bolongon, G., Burnham, D., … & Hearn, A. J. (2019). Multi‐scale habitat modelling identifies spatial conservation priorities for mainland clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa)Diversity and Distributions25(10), 1639-1654.

Macdonald, D. W., Bothwell, H. M., Hearn, A. J., Cheyne, S. M., Haidir, I., Hunter, L. T., … & Cushman, S. A. (2018). Multi-scale habitat selection modeling identifies threats and conservation opportunities for the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi)Biological Conservation227, 92-103.

  • A clouded leopard on a trail
  • A view from the study area