JoGayle Howard1, DVM, PhD; Katharine M. Pelican2, DVM, PhD; Rick Schwartz3; Kenneth Lang2; Richard Passaro4; Wanchai Tunwattana5, DVM; Daraka Tongthainan5, DVM; Sumate Kamolnorranath6, DVM; Sophon Dumnui6; Kate Jenks2,7; Kanda Damrongchainarong7,8; Tim Redford8; Peter Leimgruber2, PhD; David E. Wildt2, PhD
1National Zoological Park, Smithsonian, Washington, DC, USA; 2National Zoological Park, Smithsonian, Front Royal, VA, USA; 3Nashville Zoo, Nashville, TN, USA; 4Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium, Chonburi, Thailand; 5Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Chonburi, Thailand; 6Zoological Park Organization, Bangkok, Thailand; 7Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Carnivore Conservation Project, Khao Yai National Park, Nakorn Ratchasima, Thailand; 8WildAid Foundation, Bangkok, Thailand
The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is one of the most charismatic and least understood of Asia’s many beautiful cat species. Little is known about the behavior or status of this shy and elusive cat in the wild. Rampant habitat loss and fragmentation throughout the clouded leopard’s forest habitat in Southeast Asia and active poaching of clouded leopards are causing a decline in their already uncertain population. Breeding clouded leopards in zoos has been a challenge worldwide, primarily due to male aggression, decreased breeding activity between paired animals, and high cub mortality. The Thailand zoos maintain a large population of genetically valuable, wild-born clouded leopards; however, health and reproduction were compromised due to poor husbandry, imbalanced diets, and inadequate enclosures. To address these challenges, the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park began working in partnership with the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand, the Nashville Zoo, and the Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) to develop a multifaceted clouded leopard breeding program in Thai zoos focused on improving husbandry, nutrition, veterinary medicine, and reproduction. Since 2002, 22 clouded leopard cubs have been born, and two cubs have been imported to the USA for genetic augmentation of the North American Clouded Leopard SSP population. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo also has been working with the Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and the nonprofit organization WildAid Foundation to assess the numbers of clouded leopards and other carnivores living in nature. In 2003, the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Carnivore Conservation Project was established to provide continuous monitoring of carnivores in Khao Yai National Park. A major component of this project was the training of Thai forest rangers to monitor wild carnivores and prevent poaching in the parks. From 2003–2006, camera traps were deployed for a total of 6,172 camera trap nights at 215 camera trap locations. Camera traps recorded a total of 906 animal captures with 14 unique carnivore species, including the clouded leopard. A high concentration of poaching activity also was observed, and data was provided to the park management staff. Overall, these international and collaborative breeding programs and field monitoring projects for clouded leopards will serve as a model for conservation programs in Thailand, Southeast Asia, and throughout the world.