Zoo celebrates birth of rare baby clouded leopard, part of ‘critically vulnerable’ species

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It’s always a special moment when a new animal is born — there’s nothing cuter than a newborn baby animal. But it’s even better news when the newborn is a member of a rare, at-risk species: each new birth is good news for their survival.

Which is why one zoo is celebrating this week after the rare birth of an adorable clouded leopard!

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden announced yesterday that, after a 90-day gestation period, a two-year-old female named Rukai gave birth to a female kitten on August 6.

They described the arrival as a “significant birth,” and said that animal care experts were hand-rearing the kitten in accordance with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

 “The kitten appears very strong and healthy, and we are thrilled by the progress she’s making,” said Tyler Boyd, OKC Zoo’s curator of carnivores, in a press release from the zoo. “For myself and entire team, the opportunity to care for this offspring, who is incredibly valuable to the conservation of this critically vulnerable species, is a career highlight.”

The staff says that newborn leopard is “eating, sleeping and growing” on schedule, and recently opened her eyes for the first time. Clouded leopards are born with their eyes closed and open them after about two weeks.

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The clouded leopard, named for its distinct pattern of irregular spots and stripes that look like clouds, is listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List, with a decreasing population. Native to forests in the Himalayas, their major threats in the wild include deforestation and poaching.

The baby leopard’s birth is part of a program to help save the clouded leopard: new mom Rukai and her mate JD were paired under the Species Survival Plan.

“The hope is they will continue to breed and their offspring, including this kitten, will contribute to the growth of a genetically diverse population,” the zoo explained.

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And it would be a shame to lose these unique, beautiful animals. The zoo describes the clouded leopard as the “smallest of the big cat species,” growing to about five feet long in adulthood and weighing between 30 and 50 pounds.

But while they may lack in size compared to other big cat species, they make up for it in strength: “They are the world’s strongest climbing cats, which gives them an advantage over the other big cats sharing their territory.”

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The baby leopard is currently out of view from the public, but you can follow the Oklahoma City Zoo for more updates about this beautiful kitten’s growth.

What a beautiful clouded leopard, and a big step forward to helping this vulnerable species. We hope this adorable newborn inspires more people to help save these magnificent animals.

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