Copyright Smithsonian National Zoological Park flickr album, 1996-2015.

Little is known about the development and life histories of clouded leopards outside of captivity, as they are very skilled at remaining concealed and difficult to observe in the wild.


Clouded leopard kittens are born in the summer after a gestation period of three months. The kittens are fully active at 5 weeks of age but are not fully weaned until they are 9 months old, at which point they leave their mother and establish a territory of their own. Adults have been known to live up to 17 years of age in captivity but little is known about their age range in the wild due to their shy nature.

Photos of clouded leopards born at the Smithsonian Zoo’s Conservation Biology Institute of Front Royal, copyright to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park flickr album, 1996-2015.


Arboreal locomotion and the complex behaviors it entails (climbing, balancing, jumping etc), require much practice at early stages of development to perfect them.  Playing has been frequently hypothesized as a way for immature animals to practice adult motor and sensorimotor skills such as hunting and locomotion (Bekoff and Byers, 1981).  Martin and Bateson (1985) studied the locomotor play behavior of kittens and found that they attempted newer and more difficult activities, as they got older and their capabilities increased. Maternal behavior also positively influenced the amount of time the kittens played on the climbing frame. Early weaning also positively affected play behavior in kittens (Martin and Bateson 1985).

The following video was captured at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, and it depicts how clouded leopard infants get comfortable in trees and “get their tree legs”.

Studying the ontogeny of the clouded leopard has proven to be difficult as they are nocturnal creatures, and thus any analysis of their behaviors (even with video recordings) is limited to the time of day and accessibility to the environment. Therefore, we can only infer the ontogeny of their climbing behavior by looking at studies done on other, more accessible cat species.