A couple posts ago, I mentioned creating your own animal totem dictionary. I’ve since had people ask me what my own entries are like. And while I am not currently posting my own meditations and journal entries here, I decided to give you a sample of a totem that I had to do a lot of research and writing for. Clouded Leopard doesn’t have a lot of information out there on it, let alone totemically, so working with him required a lot of motivation and time on my part. The following is a report in my own dictionary that I wrote after research and meditations with Clouded Leopard.
Clouded Leopard is a cat of many attributes and hidden talents. He is shrouded in mystery, leaving his gifts a bit overlooked. In recent years, though, I have seen a rise in people connecting, or wanting to connect, with him via totem work. In my personal experience, he most often takes on the role of a steward or a bridge. These ideals seep into many of the lessons that he has taught me. He ties people of the modern world together, as well as relating the ancient world to the one we live in. We are a part of nature, walking beside him, and he keeps this at the center of all of his lessons.
But, what is a clouded leopard? How is he related to other cats? Well, first of all, he is classified as a medium-sized cat. He can not technically roar; therefore, he can’t be classified as one of the great cats of the Panthera genus. And while he can make a purring-like sound, he technically doesn’t purr, meaning he’s not part of the small cats genus, Felis. This means that like cheetah, snow leopard, and puma, he gets his own genus. Neofelis. This literally translates to ‘new cat.’ I find this really interesting, because he resembles a bit of many cats but is his own species. Here he acts as a bridge between big and small cats and has on many occasions helped me to understand some of the more specialized members of the Felidae family.
His connection to being a bridge continues when you are made aware that he is also an arboreal cat, spending most of his time up in the treetops of the Southeast Asian Rainforests. Trees have long been linked with travel to other worlds as well as to healing, and though I haven’t explored the latter as much, I can tell you that the former has been very important in our work together. Unlike other cats, Clouded Leopard has a couple of attributes that allow him to stay balanced in his treetop home. For one thing, he has short and stout legs to help bring his center of gravity lower, reducing variables with each step. Rotating ankle joints in their back feet give them the ability to climb down trees head first just like a squirrel. They’re also able to hang by their back paws from a branch, ready to pounce in a moment on some unsuspecting muntjac passing by. The last feature that really helps is the tail, which is equal to his body length, keeping him as balanced on a branch as he would be on solid ground. Think about what this means. Being able to walk as gracefully in other worlds as one might here.
His grace is one of the things about him that people in his native countries noticed, too. In fact, the Rukai people of Taiwan take their name from their own word for Clouded Leopard, Rikulau. To them he was their ancestor but also the embodiment of grace, style, and beauty. He is the fairy that connects people’s dreams back to nature, and vice versa. Again, we see him taking on his role as a bridge. Other people have seen him take on the role of trickster and shapeshifter; my experience with this has been minimal, but I have seen it pop up occasionally. What I see much more often, however, which may get mistaken as something tricky, is that he is elusive, and extremely so.
Until 2008, there was almost no actual footage of a clouded leopard in the wild. They remain out of sight. Field zoologists spend half a decade in the forests where they dwell and will never receive more than a blurry snapshot from a camera trap as a reward. How do they breed? Take care of their young? What do they do with their day? All we can do is speculate and rely on what we observe in the sanctuaries and zoos that house these beautiful creatures. In captivity, they’re extremely friendly with their keepers, and in fact are the only big cat for which it is actually recommended that their handlers interact with them. If no,t they can get depressed. Now, how odd is that? In the wild, the clouded leopard will avoid us at all costs, but in captivity they have a need for our interaction. As a totem, I think this speaks heavily about environmental influence and how we rely on the things that we know and become accustomed to them.
There has always been an issue in breeding them in captivity. The males often get very aggressive with the females, which can result in injury or even death. They have found, however, that if a breeding pair is introduced at under a year of age that the aggression is greatly reduced. Why do you think that is? Some have suggested that being in captivity changes their breeding patterns. That in the wild the female would run or escape, much like how betta fish males do from each other. Others believe that maybe clouded leopards have a more monogamous breeding style, which is less likely but totally possible. After all, the fact is we don’t know much about this mysterious cat of the asian wilds.
The last thing that I’ll touch on in regards to this nebulous cat is his teeth, particularly his canines. They are on average two inches in length, the same size as those of a Siberian tiger. Though a clouded leopard is about ½ the length and ⅕ of the body weight of his striped cousin. Teeth are linked to power and truth, as well as what we choose to ingest. Those that walk with Clouded Leopard as a totem must be careful of what they say, remembering that it may be heard with more weight than they anticipate. In addition, they must be wary of becoming caught up in novelty, remembering that this particular attribute is a gift, not a right. It is a skill to be honed and used to facilitate truth and promote understanding.
If Clouded Leopard walks with you along your path, whether it’s for a day or for your whole incarnation, it will be enriched. You will take bridges to places, both external and internal, that you might not have thought to before. You will feel the weight of your words and the power of truth. And you will, above all else, remember that you are a part of nature, a part of the universe, and that everything around you is connected. No matter where you go or where you look, there is a bridge to get you there.