March 26, 2009—Nine lives still intact, two newborn clouded leopard cubs (above) were found Tuesday morning in their mother's enclosure at a Virginia conservation center. Unlike many captive clouded leopard babies, they have not been killed or neglected by their mother.
The half-pound (0.2 kilogram) cubs, which had been eagerly awaited for almost a week, are a victory for scientists working to thwart aggressive behavior in captive clouded leopards.
For reasons still unknown, breeding clouded leopards in captivity usually turns bloody. Males often kill their mates, and females tend to neglect their cubs or inadvertently kill them.
That's why new mom Jao Chu and dad Hannibal were hand raised together from six months of age at the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia.
Now their offspring—the first clouded leopard litter in 16 years at the center—shows that such hand rearing is successful.
"We now know exactly how we raise them works," said JoGayle Howard, a National Zoo scientist.
Since the 1970s the center has overseen more than 70 leopard births in a partnership with the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand.
(Watch a video of clouded leopard cubs.)
Weighing about 30 to 50 pounds (about 14 to 23 kilograms), adult clouded leopards are the smallest of the big cats. The species is listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, mostly due to deforestation and hunting in their Southeast Asian habitat.
The gender, or genders, of the newborns will be revealed during their first exam in about a week. Meanwhile, Howard said, the cubs are "doing excellent."