Clouded leopards undergo night acclimatization in Assam

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Kokrajhar (Assam), Mar 19 (ANI): Moving to the next phase in the ongoing rehabilitation of the two clouded leopards in Greater Manas, the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has now initiated their night acclimatization.

Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is among the least studied felids,(members of cat family) due to their nocturnal and far-ranging behaviour.

It was reported that only about 10,000 individual clouded leopards remain in the wild, which generally occur in low densities in dense forests and remote areas within their habitat.

According to WTI Wild Rescue Programme Assistant Manager Bhaskar Choudhury this is first time in the country that orphan leopard cubs are being raised and rehabilitated in the wild.

"This is perhaps the first time that orphan clouded leopard cubs are being handraised and rehabilitated in the wild in India. As the clouded leopard is a predominantly nocturnal felid we have started night acclimatization," Choudhury said.

The two cubs which were rescued by the Assam Forest Department a year ago were raised by humans at the BTC-IFAW-WTI mobile veterinary service field station in Kokrajhar for six months, before being moved to the wild.

Before moving them into the wild the cubs were taken for daily walks to make them acclimatize to the wild, while at nights they were confined in spacious enclosures installed in the release site.

About a month later, the cubs were shifted to a more isolated area, even as the duration of their daily walks was steadily increased.

According to the WTI, these walks presented the cubs an opportunity to familiarize themselves with their natural habitat and also provide them opportunities to hone their predatory instincts that would ultimately help them survive in the wild on their own.

The night acclimatization of the cubs began mid-February 2010. In contrast to daytime acclimatization, the cubs are now being taken for walks in the forest at nights, accompanied by a keeper, the WTI said.

Initially, the keeper kept a close watch on the cubs. However, the cubs have grown more confident now, and are not as dependent on the keepers as before. The cubs spend about 18 hours per day in the wild.

The WTI further stated that nylon leash has been fitted on the cubs to habituate them to the idea of radio-collars which will be fitted on them before they are completely independent of the keeper. The radio-collars will be used in post-release monitoring of the cubs.

Krishnendu Basak, a biologist deputed to observe, record and analyse the behaviour of the cubs said that as the cubs mature, their dependence on the walker decreases

"As the cubs mature, their dependence on the walker decreases. Even now, they do not appear very keen to follow the walker, which is a good sign. Efforts to procure radio-collars to be fitted on the cubs, are on," Basak said.

"The cubs are rapidly gaining their natural instincts. Since their first relocation in the wild, their behaviour has changed. They climb trees; they have attempted to predate on a barking deer, hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel, red jungle fowl, and even golden langur among others. We have found hair in their scat, a clear indication to predation," he added. (ANI)

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