By Ben Orcutt – email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL — Valentine’s Day was a lot more special this year at the Conservation Biology Institute, just south of Front Royal, with the birth of two clouded leopards.
“That was just good luck for us,” Dr. JoGayle Howard, a veterinarian and reproduction specialist with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo, said during a Thursday telephone interview.
Howard said Jao Chu, a clouded leopard from Thailand, gave birth to the cubs as scientists at the former Conservation and Research Center were making presentations during a public program in another area of the facility.
“It was fun,” Howard said. “It happened in the middle of all that.”
Howard has been working with clouded leopards since she joined the National Zoo in 1980. The endangered species is indigenous to the rain forests of Southeast Asia, and this is the third litter of cubs for Jao Chu and her mate, Hannibal, who were imported from Thailand.
These are the first clouded leopards to be born on Valentine’s Day at the Front Royal facility, and Howard conceded that makes them a little more special.
“Oh sure,” she said. “Every time you have a clouded leopard birth, it’s special.”
According to a news release issued by the National Zoo, the cubs weighed just more than a half-pound at birth and will hopefully grow to between 30 and 50 pounds and roughly 5 feet in length.
“I think they’re extremely unique,” Howard said of the species. “Just their anatomy is unique in that they have this long tail. Their tail sometimes is as long as their body, so they can go straight down a tree. They’re acrobats in the forest and they jump from tree to tree. They love little branches to swing on.”
What also has fascinated and baffled scientists, Howard said, is how to successfully breed clouded leopards.
“They’ve always been the most challenging because in most every other species of cats, we can put males and females together and they’ll either breed or not breed,” she said. “They won’t kill each other and so, this has been a really difficult cat to crack the problems and the biggest problem is this male killing females. The majority of clouded leopards in zoos are not together because the male has traumatized or attacked a female or killed a female.
“So we were always trying to figure out what is it going to take to stop this. What is it going to take for females to be calm enough to raise their babies. We’ve had 76 clouded leopards born at the Front Royal facility, and half of those were traumatized by mom. So this is a huge problem and one that we really wanted to tackle over the years.”
However, the process of pairing male and female cubs at a young age is working, and along with hand-rearing them, scientists are more successful with their breeding, Howard said.
“The whole thing is working really well and we’re very, very excited,” Howard added.
Researchers at the National Zoo also are excited about a fundraising effort for a new clouded-leopard facility to be built in Front Royal.
“The facility at CRC has been good, but it’s old and so we’re on a huge campaign right now to build a new clouded leopard facility in Front Royal,” Howard said.
For more information on the fundraising campaign or to view the cubs on a webcam, visit the National Zoo’s Web site at www.nationalzoo.si.edu and follow the links.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org