The warm weather that heralds the onset of summer brought with it a baby boom at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginiaa. Red pandas, white-naped cranes, scimitar-horned oryxes, tufted deer, and clouded leopards all had recent births, from May 13 through the middle of July. These species represent a few of the endangered species that the Zoo studies and breeds at its Front Royal facility. The species range from vulnerable (red pandas) to extinct in the wild (scimitar-horned oryx), according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The most recent addition to the Front Royal facility is a female tufted deer fawn, born Saturday, July 23. The fawn is the first born at SCBI-Front Royal since 2009 and is the fourth for 14-year-old tufted deer Marilyn. SCBI is currently working on a number of basic reproductive research projects related to the tufted deer, which is considered near threatened by the IUCN.
Low Mei, a female red panda, gave birth to two cubs June 5. As of July 26, the cubs weighed in at 1.2 pounds and 1 pound. According to animal keeper Jessica Kordell, the cubs have since opened their eyes and appear healthy, and Low Mei is also doing well. “These births are vital to keeping genetic diversity in our population in human care,” Kordell said. “Each cub means a chance for the species to survive.” Red pandas are native to parts of China, the Himalayas and Myanmar.
Clouded leopard Jao Chu gave birth to one female cub May 13. As of July 25, the cub weighed approximately 3.6 pounds and has started on a diet that includes meat. The cub is the third born this year at the facility and has access to the older cubs, born March 28. SCBI has been a leader in developing new techniques for successful breeding, including hand-rearing cubs from birth and matching them with mates when young. Clouded leopards in the wild live throughout southeast Asia, in countries such as southern China, Taiwan and the Malaysian peninsula, and are listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN.
The red pandas and the clouded leopards are living at new facilities at SCBI-Front Royal. These facilities have replaced the nearly 100-year-old facilities that previously housed them and are designed to encourage natural behaviors like climbing and jumping. This will enhance the likelihood of natural breeding and give the animals more exposure to natural light. This facility realizes the work and advocacy of the late Dr. JoGayle Howard, an SCBI researcher who worked extensively with clouded leopards and made breakthroughs for the conservation of their species.
White-naped cranes Brenda and Eddie hatched their first chick May 6. The chick, a male, is a result of natural breeding and is healthy, keepers said. The chick is currently one-third the size of his parents and weighs nearly two pounds. “Usually crane chicks are timid and always stay beside one of their parents when keepers are around, but this chick is bold and will often run ahead of its parents to meet the keeper delivering food to them,” said Chris Crowe, a bird keeper at SCBI-Front Royal. “It’s quite alarming to the parents, who prefer to guard their chick by standing between the chick and the keeper.”
SCBI-Front Royal has 14 of the 61 white-naped cranes identified as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ species survival plan, “largely due to the facility’s success with artificial insemination to produce chicks from cranes other zoos failed to breed,” Crowe said. White-naped cranes, listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, breed in China, Mongolia and Russia, and winter in southeast China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.
The scimitar-horned oryxes also produced three male calves in June. The calves, born June 12, June 18 and June 22 are doing well, according to SCBI research physiologist Budhan Pukazhenthi. SCBI has pioneered artificial insemination techniques for the scimitar-horned oryx, and the center’s future goals for this species include establishing a genome resource bank to help their global genetic management.
Lastly, the facility’s five cheetah cubs born May 28 are thriving. For video of the cubs recently interacting with Amani, their mother, visit the Zoo’s Flickr page.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plays a key role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide.