This significant birth contributes to the conservation of this vulnerable species.
The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden announces the birth of a rare clouded leopard kitten. Following approximately a 90-day gestation period, the OKC Zoo’s two-year-old female clouded leopard, Rukai, gave birth to a female kitten on Friday, August 6, 2021, at the Zoo’s Cat Forest habitat. This is the first successful birth of an offspring for Rukai and her mate two-year-old male, JD.
Because this is such a significant birth, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for clouded leopards recommended the Zoo’s animal care experts hand-rear the kitten to ensure she thrives. Immediately following the kitten’s birth, the Zoo’s carnivore caretakers stepped in and began caring for this little cloudie. She was moved to a climate-controlled incubator to help regulate her body temperature and caretakers started round-the-clock bottle feedings of a specialty felid formula and continuous monitoring. Caretakers report the kitten is healthy and doing everything a newborn should be doing – eating, sleeping and growing! Additionally, her eyes are now fully open. Clouded leopards are born with their eyes closed and begin to open them at two weeks of age.
“The kitten appears very strong and healthy, and we are thrilled by the progress she’s making,” said Tyler Boyd, OKC Zoo’s curator of carnivores. “For myself and entire team, the opportunity to care for this offspring, who is incredibly valuable to the conservation of this critically vulnerable species, is a career highlight.”
Clouded leopard parents, Rukai and JD, arrived at the OKC Zoo in December 2019, after being paired together as part of a breeding recommendation through the clouded leopard SSP and the hope is they will continue to breed and their offspring, including this kitten, will contribute to the growth of a genetically diverse population.
The mission of an AZA cooperatively managed SSP Program is to oversee the population management of select species, including the clouded leopard, within AZA member institutions like the OKC Zoo and to enhance conservation of this species in the wild. Each SSP Program coordinates the individual activities of participating member institutions through a variety of species conservation, research, husbandry, management and educational initiatives.
Native to Nepal and Bangladesh, clouded leopards are the smallest of the big cat species. Adult clouded leopards weigh between 30 and 50 pounds and are about five feet long, with approximately half that length being their tail. They are the world’s strongest climbing cats, which gives them an advantage over the other big cats sharing their territory. The species is listed by the IUCN as vulnerable to extinction due to deforestation, poaching and the pet trade. Clouded leopards are protected in most range countries although enforcement in many areas is weak. Precise data on clouded leopard population numbers is not known (they are among the most elusive cat species) but researchers estimate there are around 10,000 clouded leopards in the wild.
As part of the clouded leopard SSP, this kitten will eventually relocate to another AZA-accredited organization to be paired with a mate. This is an important part of the breeding process and making this introduction at an early age is necessary as clouded leopards are often bonded for life. While being cared for at the Zoo, the kitten will remain off public view but we will share updates about her on social media.
Now in its summer hours, the Oklahoma City Zoo is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last entry no later than 4 p.m. Purchase advance tickets at www.okczoo.org/tickets and avoid the entry lines. A summer deal just for you, the Zoo is offering free general admission for guests, weekday afternoons, August 16–20. Advance reservations are required at www.okczoo.org/tickets for all guests and ZOOfriends members wanting to visit, capacity is limited to six people per reservation.
Located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35, the OKC Zoo is a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the American Alliance of Museums, Oklahoma City’s Adventure District and an Adventure Road partner. Regular admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. Stay connected with the Zoo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Linktree and by visiting our blog stories. Zoo fans can support the OKC Zoo by becoming a ZOOfriends member. Starting at $45, memberships can be purchased at ZOOfriends.org and provide access to the OKC Zoo for an entire year plus, additional benefits and discounts. To learn more about Zoo happenings, call (405) 424-3344 or visit okczoo.org.