Those too-cute-to-be-real cubs in the photo come from a pair of female clouded leopards who gave birth in March at the Nashville Zoo, the zoo announced today (April 6).
Jing Jai, one of the zoo's two breeding female clouded leopards , produced a litter of three cubs on March 19. One of the cubs died shortly after birth.
Three days later, Lom Choy, the zoo's other breeding female, delivered a single male cub. Weighing about a half pound each, the cute baby animals are healthy and being hand-raised together by zookeepers.
Clouded leopards are an endangered species because of deforestation, poaching and the pet trade. Since 2002, the Nashville Zoo has been working with other groups to develop a clouded leopard conservation program that includes a self-sustaining breeding program.
Introducing clouded leopards to potential mates is difficult due to the cat's reclusive disposition. Male clouded leopards are often aggressive and have been known to attack and kill potential female partners. To reduce fatal attacks, cubs are hand-raised and introduced to mates at a young age.
For Jing Jai, who is just over 5 years old, this was her third litter. Both she and her mate, Arun, came from the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi, Thailand, in 2008 as part of an effort to save the species from extinction.
This was the first birth for 2-year old Lom Choy and her mate, Luk. Lom Choy was imported from Thailand in spring 2010 and introduced to Luk, one of three cubs born to Jing Jai and Arun at the Nashville Zoo in 2009.
The three new cubs are feeding on a special feline milk diet and will put on about a half pound each week for the next few months. When they are about 6 months old, each will be paired up with a potential mate.
Clouded leopards are native to the dense forests of Southeast Asia and parts of China. They grow to about 5 feet long (1.5 meters; half of that is tail) and weigh 30 to 50 pounds (14 to 23 kilograms). With short legs, large paws and a long tail, clouded leopards are well adapted to spend much of their time high in trees.