Most Painful (near) Miss of 2018: Mainland Clouded Leopards

I am putting the finish touches to a Google poll which will allow us to vote on the best reports for 2018 (the NUTTER awards). Will hopefully send that out tomorrow.

Meanwhile Jens Hauser just sent me this painfully entertaining account of a recent trip to Nepal for consideration in the “Most Frustrating Miss (or partial miss)” category. I imagine we can all feel some of his frustration. Attention Felinophiles – this seems like it has to be THE place to see Mainland Clouded Leopards by the way….

My worst experience of 2018

I am one of those buffs, like most of you, that just love cats and especially those big ones like tigers and jaguars. My goal is to get a good sighting and a good photograph, or rather print-for-wall-worthy photographs of all of the Big Cats including the Sunda Clouded Leopard and the Mainland Clouded Leopard.

I have photographed all of them except those pesky little clouded leopards. I have been to Borneo three times without success. I think I have the “high score” of spending 24 days searching just in Deramakot without success. But that is another sad story that I will tell you some other day.

The story that I am going to tell happened on one of the last days of 2018 while I visited Nepal searching for the Mainland Clouded Leopard.

I won´t tell you the exact location because the researchers and national park want to keep it a secret until they have done some proper research and also been able to start to have sustainable travels there.

All I can tell you it takes many hours on bumpy roads that has plenty of hairpins turns climbing up and down the mountainside with load noisy Nepali videos playing on the TV set.

I got to the park at went for a trek that took another three hours until I got to the lodge that we had as a base.

As soon as we got there we had dinner and waited for the sun to set. We knew that there had been Sunda Clouded Leopards in the area recently so we got the camera equipment ready, checked all the flashlight and discussed if we should walk up or downhill. We settled on uphill. We just had to check the tree just outside the door. We stepped outside, turned the light on, shone along the tree trunk and suddenly a rather big animal with big shiny eyes, slim body and a really long tail looked at us. We looked at each other and just mimed: – CLOUDED LEOPARD. I had my camera and flash turned on so I just started to fire away. I manage to get some flash photos but I knew that I never got anything useful because the cat run head down fast as a falling star to the ground and took off. A split second later another noise came from another tree. We looked up and another pair of eyes look at us. We just: -Another clouded leopard! I fired some more photos and thought this must be the best place on the planet to find Mainland Clouded Leopard. We had been out for less than five minutes and already seen two of them. My heart and mind were just in a very happy state. Just unbelievable. I didn´t mind too much that I missed the photos. Yes, I moaned a bit but not that much (I think). I knew that there were plenty of more chances because I had nine more days in the area.

We were all pretty sure that both of them was clouded leopard. It actually took some hours until I started to digest what I had actually seen. The second was larger, had a bigger head and were not as agile as the first one. We came to the conclusion that is must have been a binturong eating the fruit in the tree and the clouded leopard was on a hunt for it. Really unfortunate that we disturbed his hunt so that he missed his dinner.

The next morning we went for a trek in the mountain for some hours looking for tracks, pug marks and poo. We saw plenty of all. We also sat on a lookout for some hours watching the mountainside and had sightings of boars, macaques, Gray langurs, muntjac, chevrotain, tahr and even a Yellow-throated marten.

While I sat there for hours I started to think that maybe I had had my chance on the cat. That that is all I got to see. No, I had to stay positive because there are still plenty of days left.

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. Nothing at night. Stay positive!

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. Nothing at night. Stay positive!

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. Nothing at night. Stay positive!

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. That night we actually saw another clouded leopard very quickly quite far away in the spotlight. It was definitely a clouded leopard without a doubt.

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. Nothing at night. Stay positive!

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. Nothing at night. Stay positive!

When we came to the lookout the following day it felt special somehow. We all had that feeling that this is the day when everything will fall into place. It started off really well with a Yellow-throated marten that visited us on the special passage that was a landslide that the earthquake had created between one area with low bushes and another with trees and scrub. Most animals crossed on almost the same spot even if the slide covered a large portion of the mountainside. They stay at the edge hiding, walking carefully, slowly to the other side.

We had that part under constant surveillance. We waited for many hours. You get tired of standing, sitting, crouching and leaning against a tree. Your mind starts to wander off. You think of your family at home, Christmas, that yummy Swedish herring, ice cream, warm food, sitting by the warm fire and bloody hell that is a clouded leopard crossing on the landslide. Where did he come from, he ran like rocket on fire. He was gone into the scrub. You could see it moved now and then. I checked my camera after a while and thought maybe I got that tail that I saw. My guide was so happy that it was a clouded leopard. He saw it properly but I wasn´t fast enough to locate it when he pointed and whispered. Fuck me! I got a bit grumpy that I missed my change even if it was only a split second. Maybe I could have got a photo of a clouded leopard in daylight. Not many people have seen them in daylight let alone photographed on. Just my bad luck and slow reactions. Or rather slow focusing with my eyes on the right spot. Well, stay positive!

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. Nothing at night. Stay positive!

The next day the same. A small bunch of mammals. Nothing at night. Stay positive!

Then we had one of those days. I started off really well with a large troop of macaques, then a mega troop of Gray langurs. They stayed in the area for a long time. Probably a couple of hours and it was so interesting to watch them eat, interact and play with each other.

The hours flew away that day and suddenly it was afternoon, the sun was starting to set and we knew that we had to walk down to the lodge in about an hours.

The valley was almost silent, nothing moved, except for a small family of muntjacs. They slowly walked across the landslide heading for a path behind a tree. We had seen quite many animals walk that path up to the mountain ridge and then disappear.

Suddenly my guide started to make faces and pointing to the tree. I looked and looked but couldn´t see anything except the muntjacs. What is special? I asked with a twist of my hand. My guide took a couple of fast steps towards me, pointed again towards the tree. I looked and looked, moved to my left a bit, moved to my right quickly to change the angle of view but saw nothing. Now my guide was almost jumping up and down, whispering: – clouded leopard. Pointed to the tree, got his mobile phone out, photographed the tree and showed me. Now I saw something. I turned my sight to the tree and saw something behind that to me looked like a cat. Suddenly it moved and was gone. I moved around again but nothing. My guide was calling out: -Hunting, hunting!

I just couldn´t see any cat or anything.

Then my guide said: Gone!

I just realised that I missed a clouded leopard that was hunting a muntjac and killed it. In daylight and I should have been able to see and photographed it if I was faster to locate it. My problem was also that I didn´t understand that it all happened behind the tree I was looking at. The clouded leopard had been hiding and jumped the muntjac from a black spot for me. All I had to do was to take a step or two to the right. I got very upset and started to swear and kicking stones, talking load to myself, and almost throw my camera bag down the mountain. Stay positive! Fuck off. I am a bloody idiot! How could I miss that Nat Geo epic shot?

I haven´t been that pissed off in a very long time and I do apologise to all plants, trees, animals and mostly to the people that to witness my brain meltdown.

I took a long time getting over my worst experience of 2018. I am not sure if I am still over it. Or ever will be. Stay positive my ass!

Jens Hauser

jens@hauser.se
www.hauser.se

9 Comments
  1. Chris Charles 2 months ago

    I experienced all your emotions in the 5 min read & now I am buggered.

  2. Vivek Menon 2 months ago

    Haha. That was hilarious and harrowing at the same time Jens. Seeing one is extremely difficult in South Asia. The only consolation you can have is that it is NOT a BIG Cat. Traditionally at least it is placed away from those that can roar. Panthera and Uncia. Clouded Leopards are Felis (actually Neofelis or new small cat!). Thats only to make you feel better.

    • Profile photo of Yeye
      Yeye 2 months ago

      Vivek, Both of the Clouded Leopards have been added to the Panthera lineage some time ago and that is why I am so eager to photograph them. I also know it should be possible to find them in the highlands of Assam. Have you been trying to find them there?

  3. Laurent Morin 2 months ago

    Jon and Jens, thanks a million for sharing this and posting it here. I have been waiting anxiously for 3 years for a report on Mainland Clouded Leopards and I now feel like a young child at Christmas.

    I feel sorry that you weren’t able to take the picture of the year, but 5 Clouded Leopards sightings is an incredible feat!

  4. Thug Hamster 2 months ago

    Were you following a leopard wearing a collar?

    • Profile photo of Yeye
      Yeye 2 months ago

      Hi Thug, no none of the cats had collars, They were all wild and not included in any research that I know of.

  5. Profile photo of Yeye
    Yeye 2 months ago

    I actually have some more updates to the story because I left out what happend som days after. In the same spot I saw a mother and two cubs just around sunset. I saw all three quite far away in the near dark evening with my eyes but even more in my night vison scope. They looked like grey, but clear shadows with bright eyes. It was great to have the sighting even if I didn´t get any photos. A couple of days later in another valley I saw at least one clouded leopard during spot lighting. I could follow it by running up and down the terraced plantantion. It was so hard but well worth it. So in total the count was pretty good but the photograpic outcome was crap.

  6. Profile photo of Lennartv
    Lennartv 2 months ago

    Well, this all sounds like Mainland Clouded Leopard can finally be considered ‘doable’. Thanks for sharing! I look foward to hearing when they consider themselves open for business over there. Sounds like it could benicely combined with snow leopard!

  7. Vinod Budhathoki 2 months ago

    Wow! It’s great struggle for clouded Leopard.. Just in 5-6 minutes its seems to be perfect movie about wilderness and exciting story of wildlife v/s man in front of me where Clouded Leopard win the game by hiding from camera trapped.
    Heart touching story

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