Just this past Sunday, the Smithsonian's National Zoo welcomed two
adorable Clouded Leopard Cubs. At just half a pound, these tiny cubs
weigh little more than house cat kittens. But these cubs have more to
offer than just a ridiculously cute little face. Because they are only
two generations removed from wild populations, their genetic stock is
especially valuable to conservation focused breeding efforts.
Photo Credits: Mehgan Murphy / Smithsonian’s National Zoo
A clouded leopard at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s campus in
Front Royal, Va., gave birth to a genetically valuable litter of two
cubs on Valentine’s Day—Sunday, Feb. 14. Staff had been on a pregnancy
watch of the 3 1/2-year-old clouded leopard Jao Chu (JOW-chew) for four
days. Jao Chu gave birth to the first cub at 6:04 p.m. and the second
cub at 6:20 p.m. At birth, the cubs weighed a little more than a half
The birth represents the third time Jao Chu and the
cubs’ father, 3 1/2-year-old Hannibal, have produced offspring. On
March 24, 2009, Jao Chu gave birth to two males—Sa Ming (SAH-meeng),
“brave warrior,” and Ta Moon (TAH-moon), “mischievous child.” Nearly
four months later, she gave birth to a female cub Baylie (BAY-lee) July
9, 2009. Jao Chu and Hannibal were born in Thailand in a collaborative
breeding and research program with the Zoological Park Organization of
The breeding of clouded leopards has been a
challenge, primarily due to male aggression, decreased mating activity
between paired animals and high cub mortality. In 2002, the National
Zoo, in collaboration with the Nashville Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo, the
Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan and the Zoological Park
Organization of Thailand created the Thailand Clouded Leopard
Consortium—the largest population of confiscated clouded leopards in
Southeast Asia. The Clouded Leopard SSP oversees clouded leopard
populations in zoos worldwide and makes breeding recommendations for
potential pairs based on the genetics of each cat. Since the cubs born
in the Thailand breeding program are only one or two generations
removed from the wild, their genes are especially valuable.
Due to deforestation and hunting, clouded leopards
are listed as “vulnerable to extinction.” National Zoo scientist Dr.
JoGayle Howard and colleagues have been working with clouded leopards
at the Front Royal campus since 1978, with the goal of creating a
genetically diverse population. In the past 30 years, more than 76
clouded leopards have been born here.
Little is known about clouded leopards. They are
native to Southeast Asia and parts of China in a habitat that ranges
from dense tropical evergreen forests to drier forests.
adults, clouded leopards weigh between 30 and 50 pounds and measure
about five feet in length. Their short legs, large paws and long tail
(which accounts for half their length) help them balance on small
branches, and their flexible ankles allow them to run down trees head
The clouded leopards at the Front Royal campus need
a new home. They currently live in a facility that was built in 1911.
In 2009, the National Zoo kicked off a campaign to raise $2 million to
build a facility that will include indoor homes with adjacent arboreal
habitats. The habitats for each breeding pair will include a
climate-controlled and quiet indoor area attached to two 20-foot-tall
towers furnished with climbing structures that will simulate their
natural forest environment. For more information about the campaign,
visit the Zoo’s Web site at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/support/annualappeal/cloudedleopards
Visitors may get an up-close treetop view of two
clouded leopards—a male named Tai and a female named Mook—at Asia Trail
at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.