Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Wildlife Conservation: Clouded Leopards released back to the wild for first time in India

Two clouded leopard cubs have been radio-collared and returned to the wild by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW –, and its partner the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). This is the first known instance of clouded leopards being rehabilitated and radio-collared in India.

The radio collars will help rehabilitators track the movement of the cubs as they become completely independent of human care and begin exploring on their own.

An extremely shy, nocturnal, and tree-dwelling species found in India's northeast region, the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is in peril today with only about 10,000 remaining in the wild. The clouded leopard is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and is classified 'vulnerable' in IUCN Red List of threatened species.

"We are doing everything possible to assure a successful transition back to the wild for these animals," said Dr. Ian Robinson, IFAW's Emergency Relief Director. "We are using expandable collars, and they are expected to remain for a year, if not longer. They will stretch and fall off due to normal wear and tear."

"Apart from occasional conservation surveys, there have been no initiatives to study this elusive and secretive arboreal felid. Unlike common leopards, the clouded leopard is a specialist inhabiting forest canopies and predating on a specific range of prey species," said Dr. NVK Ashraf, WTI Wildlife Rescue Director.

"BTC has been supporting this effort to rehabilitate these clouded leopards in Ripu Reserve Forest –a part of Manas Tiger Reserve- and we are eagerly waiting for the result. The clouded leopard is seen in limited numbers in these forests, and this effort will contribute in the conservation of this rare animal. The Council is very thankful to IFAW-WTI for this venture," said GC Basumatary, Council Head, Forest Department, BTC.

The orphaned cubs, rescued by the Assam Forest Department in March last year, were hand-raised at an IFAW-supported mobile veterinary station. In September 2009, the two cubs were relocated to Manas National Park for in situ acclimatization.

"The cubs have undergone eight months of acclimatization in the wild. Initially, they were taken for walks during the day, while being kept in a spacious enclosure at night for safety. In the past two months, the cubs were allowed to be in the wild 24/7. As the cubs are now free-ranging and no longer dependent on the enclosure, it was prudent to radio-collar them for monitoring," added Dr Ashraf.

Source: International Fund for Animal Welfare

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