Nashville Zoo works to help clouded leopards

Part of effort aimed at helping endangered animals thrive

By TIM GHIANNI
Senior Writer

Two pairs of young clouded leopards have begun the trek through international red tape that stands between them and the opportunity to breed here in Nashville and at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Nashville Zoo President Rick Schwartz says the zoos are part of a consortium, here and in Thailand, whose goal is to help the endangered animals flourish.

“All four will come here first, but two of them then will go on to the National Zoo,” according to Schwartz.

The consortium’s work toward this hoped-for breeding project took a big step with Monday’s publication in the Federal Register of the Nashville Zoo’s application for a permit to import the captive-born animals.

That public notice is the first step in the process, according to Timothy Van Norman, chief of the international permits branch of the division of management authority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A 30-day comment period follows that notice. “Then we review the comments we get and make the decision,” Van Norman says.

The process takes about 90 days because after the comment period, Van Norman and his colleagues in Arlington, Va., examine “what reason you want to import the animals, what experience you have, if there’s going to be any scientific research, what is that research, copies of any research protocols you might have. …”

Compatibility is vital

Schwartz says he expects the animals to travel smoothly through the process and arrive in the States when they are between 8 months and 1 year old.

“That’s the real key, to get them when they are young,” he said. “This is a very difficult species of cat to breed in captivity.

“It is very important to get the pair together when they are young; otherwise you have problems with sexual incompatibility or the males can be very aggressive with the females. And it’s not uncommon for the males to end up actually killing the females.”

He says the cats will first be paired up in Thailand, so they should be working through those issues by the time they arrive here.

The newcomers will bring Nashville Zoo’s clouded population to six.

Dao and JoGayle, also from the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi, Thailand, are “behind he scenes” as a part of the Nashville Zoo breeding program.

Two other cloudeds, American-born brother and sister pair Ming and Mei, are on display on the Bamboo Trail. Because they are related, they are not a part of the breeding program.

Schwartz says a primary motivator for the imports is to improve the genetic pool in the U.S.

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