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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leopard or Not?
Hi everyone, my name is Corinne and I'm a Seasonal Animal Care Technician at Point Defiance. I've worked at PDZA with Karen for 4 years now and I've definitely fallen in love with clouded leopards. I was reading a newsletter put out by the Snow Leopard Trust which briefly stated that snow leopards are not true leopards. I've heard this said about Cloudies as well, and I set out to research why this is. I started by looking up the definition of a leopard. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a leopard as, "a large strong cat of southern Asia and Africa that is adept at climbing and is usually tawny or buff with black spots arranged in rosettes." I was a little disappointed with this definition because clouded and snow leopards are both found in Asia, are both adept at climbing and have black spots arranged in rosettes. So I went on to look up cat morphology. San Diego Zoo's website, www.sandiegozoo.org, had fact sheets on all three of these cats.


Leopard, Wildlife Conservation Society



Snow Leopard, International Snow Leopard Trust



Clouded Leopard

Clouded leopards are generally smaller in size with larger, uneven rosettes. Snow Leopards are known for their thick fur coat that keeps them warm in freezing climates. Leopards are unique in that they have eight subspecies. I also found quite a few similarities; all three of these cats are considered agile, are endangered, and they are among the top predators in their various habitats. Finally I read an article, "The Evolution of Cats," by Stephen J. O'Brien and Warren E. Johnson about the genetic connections between wild cats. Leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards are all grouped in the Panthera lineage which also includes lions and tigers. Clouded leopards are unique in Panthera because they lack the ability to roar due to the bone structure in their throat. By studying the clouded leopard's genome, scientists have found that clouded leopards and snow leopards are actually more closely related, while true leopards are linked more closely with jaguars. We really have to look beyond the spots to understand the connections between these wild cats.

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