Journal of Threatened Taxa | | 14 December 2020 | 12(16): 17229–17234


ISSN 0974-7907 (Online) | ISSN 0974-7893 (Print) 


#6504 | Received 31 July 2020 | Final received 29 October 2020 | Finally accepted 30 October 2020



Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa (Griffith, 1821) (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) in illegal wildlife trade in Nepal


Yadav Ghimirey 1  & Raju Acharya 2


1, 2 Friends of Nature, PO Box 23491, Sundhara, Kathmandu, Nepal.

1 (corresponding author), 2



Editor: Angie Appel, Wild Cat Network, Bad Marienberg, Germany.        Date of publication: 14 December 2020 (online & print)


Citation: Ghimirey, Y. & R. Acharya (2020). Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa (Griffith, 1821) (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) in illegal wildlife trade in Nepal.  Journal of Threatened Taxa 12(16): 17229–17234.


Copyright: © Ghimirey & Acharya 2020. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.  JoTT allows unrestricted use, reproduction, and distribution of this article in any medium by providing adequate credit to the author(s) and the source of publication.


Funding: None.


Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests.


Author details: Yadav Ghimirey has been working on small wild cats in the Nepal Himalayas since 2008. Raju Acharya is interested in conservation of Himalayan wildlife with a particular focus on owls.


Author contribution: YG and RA collected the data and wrote the article.


Acknowledgements: We thank Rufford Small Grants, Bernd Thies Stiftung, Rural Reconstruction Nepal, Panthera, CEPF Grants in Eastern Himalaya, WWF Nepal for funding our field research during which we encountered Clouded Leopard pelts.  We also thank Prof. Karan Bahadur Shah, Prabhat Pal, Chiranjeevi Khanal, Badri Vinod Dahal, Mahesh Poudel, Suman Ghimire for providing Clouded Leopard trade related information, and Suman Sapkota for helping with the map.  Three anonymous reviewers and Angie Appel are thanked too for constructive comments on the manuscript.




Abstract: We document trade of the Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa in Nepal based on pelt seizure reports published in wildlife trade reports and in newspapers.  Just 27 cases in three decades seem little to suggest targeted illegal trade of the species, the seizure information in recent years indicate that illegal trade of Clouded Leopard body parts is still taking place.  Hence an in-depth assessment is necessary to understand properly the intensity and magnitude of illegal trade on Clouded Leopard in the country.


Keywords: Kathmandu, pelts, seizures, skin trade.







The Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa is a medium-sized felid native to southern and southeastern Asia from the Himalayan foothills in Nepal to China in the east and the Malay Peninsula in the south (Grassman et al. 2016).  It inhabits primary forests (Ghose 2002; Grassman et al. 2005; Borah et al. 2010; Gray & Phan 2011; Shafi et al. 2019), but was also recorded in secondary and logged forests (Azlan & Sharma 2006; Mohamad et al. 2015; Grassman et al. 2016).  In the Himalaya, the Clouded Leopard has been recorded up to an elevation of 3,720m (Sathyakumar et al. 2011; Than Zaw et al. 2014; Penjor et al. 2018; Can et al. 2019; Letro & Duba 2019).

In Nepal, the Clouded Leopard was photographed for the first time in Chitwan; the individual was radio collared and monitored for a few days before it was lost (Dinerstein & Mehta 1990).  The first camera trap photographs were obtained in Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park in 2010 (Pandey 2012).  It was also photographed in Annapurna Conservation Area (Ghimirey et al. 2013, 2019), Chitwan National Park (Lamichhane et al. 2014), Parsa National Park (Poudel et al. 2019), and Langtang National Park (Can et al. 2019).

The Clouded Leopard is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List (Grassman et al. 2016).  In Nepal, it is protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973 and Forest Act 1993 (Aryal 2004) and listed as Endangered in the National Red List of Nepal (Jnawali et al. 2011).  Until at least 2006, a person found guilty of killing protected wildlife in Nepal was punishable with imprisonment from five to 15 years, a fine of 50,000–100,000 Nepali Rupees, or both (Aryal 2004; Banks et al. 2006).  The fine was increased to 500,000–1,000,000 Nepali Rupees in 2017 (Government of Nepal 2017).

Body parts of Panthera species felids detected in the illegal wildlife trade between 1996 and 2008 constituted about 26% of mammal product seizures during this period (Rosen & Smith 2010).  China was identified as one of the major destinations for the illegal trade in body parts of Tiger Panthera tigris and Leopard P. pardus (Banks et al. 2006; Oswell 2010; Nijman & Shepherd 2015; Nijman et al. 2019).  Body parts of Clouded Leopards were also found in wildlife markets in Myanmar (Oswell 2010; Nijman & Shepherd 2015).  In Nepal, occasional seizures of Clouded Leopard skins and other body parts were reported indicating the presence of an illegal trade (Shakya et al. 1999; Shrestha 2012).  China is considered to be the possible destination for body parts of many other species (Shakya et al. 1999).

Here we present a compilation of cases of Clouded Leopard pelts found in Nepal.



Materials and Methods


We carried out a search of both published and grey literature on illegal wildlife trade in Nepal. Newspapers and digital portals were also searched for relevant information on illegal trade of Clouded Leopards.  Photographic evidence was sought to confirm the seizure of the target species.  Publications on illegal wildlife trade like Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN)’s newsletters and South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) Bulletin were also searched.  Any information available was cross-checked with available photographs and also by contacting relevant people related with the cases.  We also contacted experienced field biologists regarding any possible Clouded Leopard related trade incidents.  We were not able to contact the convicted poachers and relevant law enforcement personnel for individual cases due to the logistical difficulty at the time of COVID-19 pandemic.





We found a total of 27 cases of Clouded Leopard traded between November 1988 and March 2020 (Table 1; Figure 1).  Eight of these were reported in newspapers and digital news portals, four in trade survey reports and five in trade related newsletters.  Two records involved trade of six live cubs, and the remaining cases involved the trade of Clouded Leopard pelts.

Clouded Leopard pelts were seized in a total of nine districts in Nepal, including Dang, Kanchanpur, Kathmandu, Kavrepalanchowk, Lamjung, Sankhuwasabha, Siraha, Tanahu, and Taplejung districts (Figure 2).  In two cases (8% of all), Clouded Leopard body parts were offered for sale, and three pelts (12% of all) found in rural houses were not explicitly offered for sale.  In 21 cases (80%), body parts were seized, and poachers and traders arrested.





Our search yielded 27 cases of body parts encountered in Nepal in 32 years.  Assuming that at least three skins were needed to make one coat, we reason that these 27 cases comprised at least 51 individual Clouded Leopards.  This result indicates that the Clouded Leopard may be threatened in the country by illegal hunting.  The figure is not extremely high, however, it is thought that seizures happen only in less than 9% of total cases in wildlife trade (Niraj 2009), which points to the fact that the actual number in the trade might be much higher than the cases presented.  While our collation of data seems to be a small sample size, the true number of Clouded Leopards poached in Nepal is possibly grossly under-estimated.  Furthermore, it is difficult to assess the temporal trend of this trade as the seizure data is dominantly consistent across most years.  In view of three pelts detected in rural houses, we surmise a lack of awareness among rural people about the Clouded Leopard’s legal status as protected species and the penalties in place against poachers and traders.

The low frequency of observations of Clouded Leopard body parts might be due to our opportunistic survey or to actual low intensity of trade in Clouded Leopard in Nepal.  Nepal Police only recently established a special wing that exclusively deals with illegal wildlife trade.  The non-existence of an enforcement agency in the past decades might explain the low frequency of Clouded Leopard seizures in the past.  In contrast, open sales of Clouded Leopards and pelts in wildlife markets of Myanmar and Laos are fairly common (Shepherd & Nijmann 2008; Oswell 2010).  During surveys in 1991 to 2006, Shepherd & Nijman (2008) observed 301 Clouded Leopard parts in wildlife markets in Myanmar.  Oswell (2010) observed 149 Clouded Leopard pelts at Mong La and Tachilek markets in Myanmar between 2001 and 2010.

We did not find any report of a Clouded Leopard pelt and body part openly displayed for sale in a market or in the vicinity of an international border.  Banks et al. (2006) neither reported a case of Clouded Leopard parts confiscated in India, Nepal and Tibet.  We, however, stress that the lack of evidence for cross-border smuggling of Clouded Leopard parts between Nepal and Tibet is not a proof for the absence of such a trade.  As described by Li et al. (2000), illegal trade of body parts of mammals and birds continued in China’s Himalayan region across the borders with Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Myanmar at least until the late 1990s.

The detection of Clouded Leopard cubs apparently brought from India seems to be an exceptional case. However, with only two incidences of live trade and no live seizures after 1996, we assume that the trade in live Clouded Leopard is opportunistic.  Understanding the origin of pelts will be an important step forward in understanding the spatial pattern of the trade in the country.  The origin of most pelts, however, is difficult to trace due to the logistical difficulty to track down convicted poachers.  One pelt seized in Dang District in 2019 was supposedly brought from Pyuthan District based on the statement provided by the person arrested with the pelt.  Provided this statement is true, the westernmost occurrence of the Clouded Leopard in Nepal would be around 100km farther west of Annapurna Conservation Area.  This protected area is currently the northwesternmost known area with photographic records of the species in Nepal (Ghimirey et al. 2018). In 2011, one pelt was confiscated in Kanchanpur District, the southwesternmost district in Nepal, but the origin of the pelt could not be determined.  One pelt observed in Sankhuwasabha District was presumably bought in a village of the same district, which indicates a possible trade within Nepal.  We do not have any information regarding price dynamics of Clouded Leopard pelts and body parts.

Illegal trade on Clouded Leopard and its body parts is not a well-researched topic in Nepal.  In 2017, all seized wildlife trophies were destroyed including two Clouded Leopard pelts, 4.5kg decayed pelts and 0.19kg of bones (Dhakal et al. 2018).  This action was supposed to ensure that these products do not enter the market in any way and served as a message to wildlife traders that wildlife derivatives have no value (Dhakal et al. 2018).

Other aspects of this trade like origin, price range of pelts and body parts and people involved in the trade are equally important to understand the dynamics of this trade.  Hence, we strongly recommend to keep track of trade related records of Clouded Leopard to understand the trend of this trade, possible trade routes and destinations in order to guide strategic enforcement efforts on the species in the future.  Further concerted effort on status survey of the species is also essential.



Table 1. Details of Clouded Leopard trade documented between 1988 and 2020



Circumstance and location of case

Source of information


Four coats and one hat

Shop catering to tourists in Thamel, Kathmandu

Barnes (1989)


One pelt

Discovered with a hunter in Sunumla, Sankhuwasabha District

Ghimirey & Acharya (2017)


Two coats

Shop catering to tourists in Thamel, Kathmandu

Van Gruisen et al. (1992)


Three live cubs

Confiscated at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu; trader was arrested.

Shakya et al. (1999)



Three live cubs

Confiscated at Bagbazar, Kathmandu; offender was sentenced to five years prison and a fine of 100,000  Nepali Rupees.

Shakya (2004)


One pelt

Killed in retaliation at Zhongim, Taplejung District; skin was kept in private house.

Badri Vinod Dahal in litt. 04 February 2010


One pelt


Wildlife Conservation Nepal Seizure Database (2017)

One pelt

Seized in Malekhu on the highway to Kathmandu; three people were arrested.

WCN (2008)


One pelt


WCN (2017)


One pelt

Found in a local house in Chyamtang, Sankhuwasabha District

Ghimirey et al. (2012)


One pelt

Found in a local house in Hatiya Village, Sankhuwasabha District (Image 1)

Ghimirey et al. (2012)


One pelt

Confiscated in Shuklaphanta, Kanchanpur District; four traders were arrested.

DNPWC (2011)


One pelt

Seized in Kathmandu; one person was arrested.

Shrestha (2012)


One pelt

Seized in Manamaiju, Kathmandu; one person was arrested.

WCN (2017)


One pelt

Seized in Khadbari, Sankhuwasabha District; one person was arrested.

Prabhat Pal in litt. 13 February 2014

One pelt

Seized in Bhakundebesi, Kavrepalanchowk District; two poachers were arrested.

Adhikari (2014)


One pelt


WCN (2017)


One pelt

Confiscated in Gongabu, Kathmandu; poacher was arrested.

Baral (2015)


One pelt

Seized in Kirtipur, Kathmandu; one person was arrested.

Baral (2016)


One pelt

Seized in Besisahar, Lamjung District; one person was arrested.

Mahesh Paudel pers. comm. 28 July 2020


Three pelts and bones

Seized in Aabukhaireni, Tanahu District; two people were arrested

Paudyal (2018)


One pelt

Found in a local house in Topke Gola, Taplejung District

Sandesh Lamichhane pers. comm. 27 October 2020


One pelt

Seized in Boudha, Kathmandu; three people were arrested

Baral (2018)


One pelt

Seized in Mhepi, Kathmandu; trader was arrested.

Koirala (2018)


Two pelts

Seized from poacher in Lahan, Siraha District; one person was arrested.

Yadav, S. (2019)


One pelt

Seized in Bhalubang, Dang District; three people were arrested.

Sharma (2019)


Two pelts

Seized in Phaktanglung, Taplejung District; one man was arrested.

Koirala (2020)




For figures & images - - click here





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