These toys are made from a PVC pipe, capped at both ends, with one or two small holes drilled into the side. We often hide small meatballs inside as treats. This toy is a great option for the cats because it requires them to think about how to get the food and exert some energy—flipping, rolling and otherwise manipulating the feeder—to reap the benefits of their hard work. Ta Moon’s favorite enrichment is anything that involves food, of course.
Since Ariel and Ta Moon enjoy socializing with keepers, they enthusiastically participate in husbandry training sessions with us. We use positive reinforcement to teach them behaviors that help us monitor their health. Participation is always voluntary, but they know that they will get a tasty treat plus heaps of praise from us for doing the behaviors asked of them. There are no negative consequences if they do an incorrect behavior or choose to walk away.
Ta Moon leaned many of these husbandry behaviors when he was a young cub, so he is a seasoned pro at doing easy and complex behaviors on cue. For example, he will voluntarily enter a small device that is colloquially referred to as a “squeeze.” It doesn’t actually squeeze the cats but has a movable wall that can be used to temporarily restrict their mobility so our veterinary team can conduct exams or administer medications.
Both cats have mastered stationing (standing still) on a scale. Ariel is approximately 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and Ta Moon weighs just over 45 pounds (20.7 kilograms). They are in the process of learning the cue to line up next to the mesh so that we can apply flea and tick medication.
Being able to learn about clouded leopards’ biology, behavior and reproduction is an amazing opportunity. These cats are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat destruction and illegal poaching. Still, there is reason to be optimistic about their future. The knowledge we have gained from studying them has helped inform conservation practices and strategies in their native Thailand.
Since 2002, the Zoo and SCBI have collaborated with Nashville Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo, Thailand’s Zoological Park Organization and the Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan as part of the Clouded Leopard Consortium (CLC). Together, we develop breeding programs and field monitoring projects for clouded leopards in Thailand. SSP coordination with the CLC in Thailand has resulted in the birth of more than 80 cubs!
Collaboration is the key to the conservation of so many rare and endangered species that we care for and study. Consortium scientists continue to develop reproductive management techniques to maintain populations not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world.
The first successful clouded leopard artificial insemination was performed at Nashville Zoo in 1992 by SCBI scientist Dr. JoGayle Howard and Nashville Zoo president Rick Schwartz. In 2015, SCBI scientists contributed to a successful birth using artificial insemination at the Khao Khew Open Zoo in Thailand. In 2017, SCBI and the Nashville Zoo collaborated to produce a female clouded leopard cub at the Tennessee facility using frozen/thawed semen. These accomplishments were a giant step for global conservation efforts.
Here at SCBI’s headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, we have been breeding this species for decades. To date, we’ve welcomed 50 surviving cubs. Our team is looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Ariel and Ta Moon! When the time is right, we hope that they will become parents and contribute to their species’ survival.
This story was featured in the April 2021 issue of National Zoo News.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is temporarily closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.Our whole team works diligently to care for our animals and keep you connected to the Zoo. With your support, our conservation mission continues. If you can, please join us in this important work by making a donation today. On behalf of the animals we care for and work to protect: thank you.