Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Two for Two

by Cristina Santiestevan

It had been more than six years since the Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan celebrated a clouded leopard birth in North America and 16 years since CRC had produced a cub. JoGayle Howard is delighted that 2009 marks the end of this dry spell.

Hannibal and Jao Chu, a young and devoted couple, produced their first cubs in March. “This is a huge success,” says Howard. “We’ve demonstrated that clouded leopards that are hand-raised and paired at an early age can breed successfully.”

clouded leopard newborn cubs
Hannibal and Jao Chu produced their first cubs in March. (Jessie Cohen /NZP)

Both clouded leopard parents were born in Thailand during the summer of 2006, and were introduced to each other when they were about six months old. The two grew up together, and are now the only compatible pair among CRC’s ten clouded leopards. Just past puberty, Jao Chu and Hannibal began to behave amorously in December. Keepers were not sure whether they mated successfully until they noticed Jao Chu’s wider girth in March.

Because female clouded leopards sometimes attack or eat their newborns, Ken Lang, mammal supervisor at CRC, rallied keepers, students, and other volunteers to watch over Jao Chu in the final days of her pregnancy. The team used video monitors to watch Jao Chu without disturbing her, all so they could remove the cubs from the enclosure immediately after birth. Perhaps because she is a first-time mother, Jao Chu delivered the cubs outside the warm nestbox. The cubs were quickly moved from the cold concrete floor, placed in a warm incubator, and fed by bottle. The two male cubs will continue to be hand-reared by CRC staff, not only to give them their best chances at survival, but to prime them to be cooperative breeders themselves down the line. The next step is to find suitable mates for these cubs.

Read main story: "Finding the Silver Lining"