By Tim Tetzlaff, Director of Conservation
Clouded leopards have the distinction of having the longest canines for their body size of any cat - about the same length as felines many times their size. But these toothy wonders pose no threat to people. On the other hand, our taste in sweets – along with about half our packaged goods – pose a threat to these elegant cats. Luckily, there’s an app for that.
The Cats in Question
Clouded leopards live in the dense forests of Southeast Asia – think of the jungles from Lara Craft: Tomb Raider. Weighing between 25 and 50 pounds, these Asian felines are wonderfully agile in those trees aided by a long, heavy tail for balance. They can climb upside down like a sloth and even use their flexible ankle joints to hang by their back legs. On the ground or in the trees, their cloud-like spots provide ideal camouflage as they hunt animals like birds, deer, and monkeys.
At Naples Zoo, we have four clouded leopards: one-year-olds Jean and Janet, as well as their parents, Tika and Masala. As clouded leopards are classified as Vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Tika and Masala were selected for breeding by the Species Survival Plan® coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Lipstick and Leopards?
Although they are protected by national law in many countries and given the highest level of protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), clouded leopards are in decline. Surprisingly, what winds up in our shopping carts plays a part in them losing their homes along with many iconic species like orangutans and tigers. That’s because about half the packaged products at the grocery contain palm oil – from toothpaste and soap to chocolate and crackers. Sustainably grown, palm oil allows rare wildlife a place to live. But some companies still buy palm oil from plantations that clear-cut and burn rainforests contributing to the direct and indirect deaths of untold numbers of endangered species.
Not Just Animals
The smoke from the burning forests reach far and wide into cities causing air conditions classified as Very Unhealthy. During the worst weeks of 2015 alone, things were even worse as children were directed to stay inside and sometimes schools and even airports were even shut down. The many open-air businesses closed causing financial crises for families. In one area of Indonesia, air quality reached over three times the Hazardous threshold causing an evacuation of all babies less than 6 months. All told, likely more than 100,000 people faced an early death from these effects.
Supporting the Solution. Use the App.
As palm oil production expands outside of Asia to meet demand, African forests are already being cleared meaning these tragic impacts could soon be replicated with Africa’s people and wildlife. The good news is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is helping to transform world markets to make sustainably grown palm oil the norm. Naples Zoo is a dues-paying member of the RSPO. You can play your part by downloading an easy-to-use, free app linked from www.napleszoo.org/palmoil. With its barcode reader, the app quickly enables you to distinguish sustainable from unsustainable companies allowing you to support the many products that line up with your ethics as a caring person. And the next time you're lathering up or grabbing that snack, you’ll know you’re doing your part to keep a world where children can safely breathe and leopards still walk jungle paths.