Precious. Absolutely precious. The two clouded leopard cubs born in the early hours of yesterday morning at the Zoo's research facility in Front Royal, Virginia, are adorable.
But this pair is truly precious, or as Zoo officials tell us, they are "genetically valuable," meaning that they were bred outside of the captive population, and bring new genetic material to the zoo population. These increasingly rare creatures—only as many as 10,000 are estimated to remain in the wilds of Southeast Asia—are notoriously difficult to breed.
"Nothing is as hard as the clouded leopard," says the Zoo's reproductive physiologist JoGayle Howard, because wild-born males usually attack an unfamiliar female, killing her instead of mating with her.
Hmmm. Tough love? Turns out, Howard discovered, the two just needed to get to know each other better. The two and a half year old father "Hannibal" was introduced at six months to the mother "Jao Chu." Apparently, that did the trick because the pair likely mated about two months ago. Read our 2007 story on the Zoo's efforts to overcome these and other breeding problems and stay tuned for our feature story on cloudeds coming later today.
More photos of the leopards are available on the Zoo's Flickr page.