Page 2 of 2   <      

Endangered Leopard Cubs Born at National Zoo Facility

Despite the murderous tendencies of the species in captivity, two newborn clouded leopard cubs were found alive and well at the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center.

The program proved difficult to resume. The zoo's animal reproduction expert, JoGayle Howard, said zoos across the United States and in Thailand found that when a male and a female were put together to breed, the larger male often would pounce on the female and kill her with a fatal bite to the back of the neck.

When a female did become pregnant, she often killed her cubs accidentally or intentionally, Howard said.

Experimentation eventually suggested that if a male and female were raised together, the male would not kill the female once they reached adulthood and mated, Howard said. "You want to put the male in with the female, pair them up as early as possible," she said.

Hannibal and Jao Chu were such a pair. They were imported from Thailand last year, Howard said, and reached puberty together. Lang said experts believed the two mated several months ago at the center but were not certain. About a week ago, curators realized Jao Chu looked as if she might be pregnant.

Several days ago, she was placed on a pregnancy watch, and when she turned down her usual snack of two dead mice Monday morning, Lang said they figured she was pregnant.

Early yesterday, she vanished from the area of her enclosure that is monitored by video cameras, and about 1:30 a.m., Lang was summoned from his home on the center grounds. He unlocked the door of the leopard's enclosure, entered and spotted her in the corner with the two cubs. He left immediately.

"I didn't want to get her upset," he said. "First-time mother. You never know what they're going to do with the babies." His reaction was excitement -- and fear.

"It's excitement that she finally had them, and she really was pregnant," he said. "And then it's the fear, 'Oh my God, are they alive? Are we going to be able to get them out okay?' And now, you're the caregiver. . . . You become Mom."

He said he was worried because the cubs were on a concrete floor and could become chilled. He wanted to get them into the warm incubator as soon as possible.

He said he gathered other curators and, armed with a net, three people reentered the enclosure, separated the cubs from the mother, who backed off, and gathered up the babies.

The cubs were taken to the center's veterinary hospital, examined and found to be a little cold but in good health. One weighed 258 grams (about half a pound), the other 270 grams. Their sexes could not immediately be determined. They will be raised on formula.

Later yesterday, they appeared robust and squeaked loudly as Lang, in green scrubs and rubber gloves, took their temperatures and bottle fed them. "Atta boy," he said, as one cub drained the small bottle. "Big drink."

When Lang was finished, he turned out the lights in the room and locked the big steel door, where there was a sign that read: "Quarantine."

<       2

© 2009 The Washington Post Company