OKLAHOMA CITY − After welcoming flamingo chicks and a red panda cub to the Oklahoma City Zoo this spring, the state’s conservation community has welcomed a leopard cub to strengthen another endangered species.
The OKC Zoo announced on social media that clouded leopard Rukai had given birth on July 18 after a 90-day gestation period.
The kitten is healthy and doing everything a newborn should be doing, according to zookeepers.
A male kitten will eventually be transferred to another Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoo for breeding as he continues to grow and thrive. Additionally, he will serve as a demonstration animal, raising awareness and promoting conservation efforts as an ambassador for his species.
AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP) for clouded leopards has been an active involvement of the OKC Zoo in ensuring the species’ survival.
During the kitten’s first year at the zoo, the animal care experts will ensure the kitten’s well-being and optimal growth.
Why are clouded leopards so rare?
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance lists clouded leopards as one of the oldest cat species, native to South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the eastern Himalayas.
The name clouded leopard was given to them because of their cloudy spots, although genetic studies have shown that they are a separate genus of cats and not just a form of leopard. “Cloudeds” are most closely related to snow leopards, and they belong to the Pantherinae subfamily, which includes tigers, lions, jaguars, and true leopards. The fact that they cannot purr or roar means they are neither a great cat nor a small cat at all.
As one of the best climbers, clouded leopards are extremely secretive and elusive. Its impressive arboreal skills are attributed to its flexible ankle joints and stout legs, large paws, long tail, sharp claws with specialized padding that conforms to branch shape, and flexible ankle joints that can rotate backward. Climbing upside down, hanging from branches with its hind feet, and climbing down trees headfirst is all abilities of this species.
All wild cats, including the clouded leopard, are carnivorous, hunting gibbons, macaques, slow loris, small deer, and wild boars, which they ambush from trees or stalk from the ground. Its strong legs, large canines, and ability to open its mouth to about 100 degrees enable it to eat large prey even though its size is relatively small.
‘Endangered’ clouded leopards: how rare are they?
According to the World Wildlife Fund, clouded leopards are becoming extinct due to poaching and habitat loss. Their average lifespan is 12 to 15 years, but they may survive as long as 17 years if they are taken care of by humans.
Clouded leopard populations are declining due to habitat loss and poaching, according to WWF, but the exact number is unknown because the animals are so elusive.