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Clouded_leopard_cubs_on_exhbit03Two Clouded Leopard cubs born on March 14 are now ready to meet the public at the Denver Zoo.  The male and female cubs, named Pi and Rhu, were not properly cared for by their mother so they are being raised by staff around the clock.

Clouded_leopard_cubs_on_exhbit02Photo Credit:  Denver Zoo

The cubs began their lives in an incubator, but have graduated to a “whelping box.” The large enclosure provides a safe place for the cubs to learn to walk, crawl, wrestle, and play until they have grown enough to have full access to the Clouded Leopard exhibit.

Because they were born on March 14, Pi was named after Pi Day, the date observed to celebrate the mathematical constant, Pi. The date is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. Rhu was named after Einstein’s favorite dessert, rhubarb pie.

The cubs are the first births for their mother Lisu and father Taji. The two were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Fortunately, the couple has proved to be an excellent match.

As Lisu was unable to take care of her cubs very early on, the cubs never developed a strong bond with their mother, nor she with them. Because it is important for these cubs to be exposed to adult Clouded Leopards, zoo keepers will move them to the Clouded Leopard building once it is deemed safe to do so. Their parents probably won’t recognize them as their offspring, but the cubs can develop some valuable behavioral information by seeing adult Clouded Leopards interact and vocalize.

Despite their name, Clouded Leopards are not actually a species of Leopard. Because they are so unique, they are placed in their own genus, Neofelis, which is a combination of Greek and Latin words meaning “new cat.” They are considered a “bridge” between typical big cats, like Lions and Tigers, and the small cats, like Pumas, Lynx and Ocelots. Their body lengths can range from about two to almost four feet long and they can weigh between 24 and 50 pounds. Their tawny coats with distinctive “cloud-shaped” dark blotches provide excellent camouflage in their forest habitat, enabling them to stalk prey and also hide from potential predators.

Clouded Leopards are well adapted for living in the trees. Their short, flexible legs, large feet and sharp, retractable claws make them adept in the trees. They can descend head first down tree trunks, move along branches while hanging upside down and even hang from branches using only their hind feet, enabling them to drop down and ambush prey on the ground. Their long tails provides balance as they leap from branch to branch. Their arboreal lifestyle also provides protection from larger predators like tigers and leopards.

They are found in Southeast Asia in southern China, parts of Nepal, India, Burma, Sumatra and Borneo and live primarily in tropical and subtropical evergreen forests up to 6500 feet above sea level.

There are no reliable estimates for Clouded Leopard populations in the wild, but their numbers are thought to be in decline and the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies them as “vulnerable.” Clouded Leopards are endangered primarily due to habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture. They are also hunted for their beautiful pelts and their bones, claws and teeth are used in traditional Asian medicine.