Corner image home
Carnivore Conservation Project paw
Clouded Leopard Conservation and Research in ThailandThe Carnivore Conservation Project

Wild Clouded Leopard Conservation in Thailand


An important element in conserving clouded leopards is the understanding of the status of this species in the wild. Thailand's Department of National Parks oversees a network of national parks and nature reserves and has partnered with Smithsonian's National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center and Wildlife Alliance Thailand to develop a comprehensive conservation program in this biologically rich country. These partners have developed an integrated project in Khao Yai National Park, the oldest and best-known national park in Thailand.

The goals of the project are to:
  • Increase the wildlife monitoring technical capacity within the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest complex
  • Facilitate the establishment of a long-term monitoring program for carnivores
  • Develop a carnivore monitoring database and reporting system that will assist protected areas in management of these populations
  • Using the carnivore monitoring project, further strengthen Khao Yai National Park's function as a regional model for biodiversity monitoring, protection and management
This project has several components:

Forestry Staff Training

At the invitation of the Thai government, Smithsonian and Wildlife Alliance staff members have conducted training courses for Thai forest rangers. Rangers are trained in field techniques for wildlife monitoring including surveys, the use of motion-detection cameras, animal sign identification, and the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) units.

Wildlife Monitoring

A high priority of the Department of National Parks is to assess all carnivores, including clouded leopards, for their status, distribution, and density across Thailand 's wild areas. Smithsonian scientists will use Geographic Information System technology to generate a map of land use and habitat types in Thailand and to identify critical remaining clouded leopard habitat. The staff training and technical assistance will allow Thai scientists and forestry staff to compile the first ever, detailed surveys of clouded leopards (and other carnivore species) in the wild, including on-the-ground data of their presence and density in protected areas throughout the country.

In 2004, survey work began in Khao Yai National Park . Remote infrared motion-detection cameras are placed on a rotating basis in grids throughout the Park's twenty-two zones. Cameras will remain in each zone for one month. The cameras are positioned to obtain a side view of the photographed animal. Photographs of wild cats will be examined for unique coat patterns and markings to estimate the number of each species photographed.

So far, the cameras have yielded photographs of a variety of wild cat species including:

Marbled Cat Golden Cat

Clouded Leopard Leopard Cat

Additionally, elephants, civets, dhole, black bear, gaur, and jackals have been photographed - 31 species, including 12 carnivore species have been photographed. Unfortunately, there have also been many photographs of poachers as well, indicating the need to enhance anti-poaching patrols. The poachers also have destroyed or stolen many of the motion detection cameras.

Camera trap photos of poachers in Khoa Yai

Developing and Studying Field Monitoring Techniques for Clouded Leopards

Clouded leopards in the breeding program at Khao Kheow Open Zoo are assisting scientists in developing research techniques that will be useful for studying clouded leopards in the wild. In one study, six clouded leopards living at the zoo were fitted with radio collars to determine the impact of these collars on reproductive and stress hormones examined through fecal hormone analysis. This information will allow scientists to learn whether wild study animals wearing radio collars behave in a natural manner or are unduly stressed. Hormone data from this study are still being analyzed, but observations of the animals showed that they behaved normally while wearing the collars.

Clouded leopards under anesthesia are fitted with radio collars for study at Khao Kheow Zoo

In another study, clouded leopard fecal samples from the Zoo were collected and aged in a variety of field conditions (dry season, wet season, sun, shade). The resulting samples will be analyzed to determine how these conditions affect the degradation of hormones and DNA in the feces. This information will allow scientists to assess the accuracy of samples obtained from the wild in uncontrolled conditions.