Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Rescued clouded leopard recovering in center in Hanoi

AP , HANOI

A rare clouded leopard was rescued in Vietnam from a smuggler believed to be headed to China, and the big cat is now recovering from an injury in Hanoi, officials said yesterday.

The 18kg female was discovered by border guards on July 1 in northern Quang Ninh province when a man dropped a bag before running from authorities. He escaped by jumping into a river along the Vietnam-China border near the town of Mong Cai, said Ngo Ba Oanh, director of the Hanoi Center for Wild Animal Rescue, where the cat is being held.

The animal was found inside the bag sedated and with an injured right front paw, he said.

"Obviously, the leopard was trapped and the man was trying to smuggle it to China," Oanh said.

Uncertain future

The cat will remain at the center for three to six months to allow it to fully recover before officials decide whether to release it back into the wild. No details were given on where the animal could be released

Another clouded leopard that was confiscated from a smuggler in 1996 was taken to the center and eventually housed at a zoo, said Nguyen Van Nhung, an official at the center.

Clouded leopards are found in Asia and are rarely seen in the wild. They are known for their reclusive nature and tree-climbing ability and get their name from their unique spotted markings, making them sought after by poachers.

Not really leopards

The animals are not technically leopards but a separate species of wild cat that's part of the big cat family of lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards, according to the Thailand-based Clouded Leopard Project's Web site.

They are listed under the US Endangered Species Act and are protected in most countries, but no population estimates exist, it said.

The cats remain in four northern mountainous provinces and three Central Highland provinces in Vietnam, Oanh said. They are also found in countries ranging from the Himalayas to southern China, Indonesia's Sumatra island and Borneo island, which is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

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