Nashville Zoo's clouded leopard cubs mark 13 years of success adding to species that is difficult to breed

Vulnerable species can be difficult to breed in captivity
2022 clouded leopards
Posted at 7:04 PM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-11 20:34:10-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Two new additions at the Nashville Zoo mark the first time their signature species has added new members since 2019.

The zoo welcomed a male and female clouded leopard on June 30th. The brother and sister were born to Jewels and her mate Bruce. Jewels was born at the zoo back in 2019.

When it comes to clouded leopard conservation, the zoo leads the way. The zoo has welcomed 43 cubs since 2009. That is no easy feat. Clouded leopards are one of the most difficult cats to breed in zoos and at conservation centers.

"In the wild, they're solitary, so we know that they only come together to breed and then they go on their way. Well, that's really hard for us to mimic here in a captive situation," said Heather Schwartz, the Nashville Zoo's director of veterinary services.

Schwartz leads the team of veterinarians that are feeding and caring for newborn cubs. Hand-rearing socializes and calms the animals, which helps down the line.

"We found out if they're socialized very young, and hand-reared at a young age, and put together at a young age, they go on to make a great bonded breeding pair and they do well for life," Schwartz said.

Before the decision was made to hand-rear clouded leopards there was an 80-90% mortality rate for reproducing and parent-rearing in captivity.

Like the other cubs born at the zoo, the zoo will pair the new cubs with cubs elsewhere. Possibly cubs in Khao Kheow, Thailand, where the Nashville Zoo helped open a conservation center.

"It's wonderful because we're actually getting breeding and good genetics from that population, plus an education program from where they're from. They're working actively at protecting them in their homeland, so it's great," Schwartz said.