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clouded leopards

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Clouded Leopards: Best of Luck!

Riki stars in a new video for kids (see below)!

Riki stars in a new video for kids!

Be sure to read Janet’s previous post, Clouded Leopards: Settling In and Getting Wild.

Quarantine was over, and it was time for the nursery staff to say good luck to clouded leopard brothers Haui and Rikki. On January 12, 2013, the boys made the final move forward and graduated into their new life at the San Diego Zoo’s Backstage Pass program. Although we will have a chance to visit them in the main Zoo, we knew our special time of care here in the nursery was over. From the beginning, we knew that Haui and Rikki would be staying with us only for a short while, but it was still sad to see them go. We knew we would miss them even before they left! These boys brought a lot of life and fun into our unit, and the place would seem empty without them.

On the last day the leopards were with us, we took a minute to look back. When Haui arrived in the Neonatal Assisted Care Unit on December 1, he weighed a little over 10 pounds (4.7 kilograms) and Rikki weighed around 13 pounds (5.8 kilograms). When they left us their weights were 19 and 21 pounds (8.6 and 9.5 kilograms) respectively. When we looked back on a video taken upon their arrival, they looked so small!

Since that day, Haui and Rikki have been kept very busy at Backstage Pass. The boys have met lots of people as part of their training to keep them friendly and active. Additionally, the two are now part of the Backstage Pass presentations, are doing well on their collars and leashes, and have even been on TV.

The role of ambassador animals in our collection is to spread the word about conservation and to show the public how important, beautiful, and worthy animals are. It would be hard to find two animals more able to get that point across. These days, a look at the boys just about takes your breath away. They are quite simply gorgeous.

The trainers tell us that the boys are faring well. Rikki is still calm and relaxed and will study a new situation before jumping in. Mr. Howard (Haui) is still active and adventurous, willing to investigate and welcome new experiences. The trainers are pleased and proud of the progress the boys have made.
Caring for these two special animals was a rare treat for our staff. We will always remember our time with the boys, and we feel lucky to have been a small part of their introduction to our collection at San Diego Zoo Global. Who knows the impact these two beautiful guys will make on conservation? Haui and Rikki will spread bread on the water; who knows what will come back!

Janet Hawes is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

The boys recently participated in a video for our San Diego Zoo Kids website. They did great!

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Clouded Leopards: Beautiful Boys Arrive

Clouded leopard cub Riki-san

I sat waiting in the dark, searching the various doors on the gigantic FedEx plane for signs that Nicki Boyd, behavior husbandry manager, was about to emerge. Nicki had safely landed in San Diego on this cargo-only flight from Tennessee, bringing very precious cargo from the Nashville Zoo’s clouded leopard breeding program. Suddenly, one of the security guards approached my vehicle, knocked on the window, and said, “Here they come.” Nicki and a FedEx employee carried a large airline crate across the tarmac. Inside were two beautiful clouded leopard brothers, only 14 weeks old. They were hand raised at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere and were coming to the San Diego Zoo as ambassadors for our Backstage Pass program.

All new animals to our collection must undergo a period of quarantine, necessary to ensure that they not have any infectious disease. So, before the boys could join the gang at Backstage Pass, we had to keep them segregated while our veterinarians cleared them for a variety of infectious agents. Since the boys were young and needed TLC, we decided to quarantine them inside our Neonatal Assisted Care Unit (NACU), known as the nursery by many, facility rather than at our Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine as we usually do.

For the NACU keepers, this was something new and exciting! We hadn’t had a chance to work with clouded leopard cubs since 1990, and these cats had always been a favorite species of ours. We prepared everything in advance: our unit was clean and ready for the boys’ arrival.

The two cubs were surprisingly calm in the transfer crate, curious about their surroundings and greeting me with a shrill chirp. They cried just a few times on the drive to the Zoo but were calm and patient. We carried the crate to the nursery area and opened the crate door. As each cub was released, we weighed him and held him awhile for reassurance, then released him into his new, temporary home. We had constructed a climbing structure for the cubs to play on and placed soft towels, rugs, cat trees, toys, and other enrichment items around the nursery. The cubs sniffed around tentatively at first but were playing with each other and exploring their new climbing structure and toys almost immediately.

NACU keeper Mary Dural prepared their evening diet as directed; she weighed out a portion of raw meat-based zoo carnivore food. Nicki brought some of the meat with her from Nashville, since our zoo does not use the same product. Our Nutritional Services department will change the diet for the cubs, transitioning them from the product they are currently on to our zoo carnivore diet. Since all diet changes are made gradually, we will make the transition slowly, increasing the new diet a little bit on each successive day.

That night each cub ate heartily and drank fresh water. We watched as they played, explored, and attacked each other until they began to tire and flopped themselves down on the floor. It was time to turn out the light and put the cubs to bed. They had arrived safe and sound, but it had been a long day for them.


Janet Hawes is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, No Babies? What Do Nursery Keepers Do?

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Clouded Leopard: Have Box, Will Travel

Norman, one of our clouded leopards that lived at the San Diego Zoo’s Hunte Amphitheater, is one of many animals that have moved their digs to the Zoo’s Urban Jungle zone. He isn’t really a show diva, but he does enjoy his quiet downtime, and I must say we pay close attention to the pleasures we provide for him as he acclimates to his new domicile. His daily schedule includes a crated visit to Backstage Pass (he is getting used to the program in a behind-the-scenes location and one day soon he will make a grand entrance for our Backstage Pass family) and loads of cat naps. It’s the cat-nap part that I’m going to inform you about, just in case you have a cat at home that loves its creature comforts; you might pick up a few new tricks to add to your repertoire!

First of all, Norman likes to visit other animals’ enclosures. He likes to check out their view, their neighbors, but most importantly, their beds. We build sleeping quarters to suit the sleeper. A small animal might get a small den to crawl into whereas a larger animal might get a wooden house to walk into. Upon his various visits to his neighbor’s places in the Urban Jungle zone, we have discovered Norman’s favorites. He likes a corner view with a hammock. This provides some sun, some shade, and lots of activity to watch. We start his morning by walking him to this corner property. He gets his breakfast and a “blood-sicle,” a flavored Popsicle made of the drained blood from meat fed to our carnivores, put into an ice tray to reshape, and then given to animals to lick. Norman loves them! We also make meat-sicles, papaya-sicles, carrot-sicles, etc.

Inside this new enclosure, Norman gets a soft blanket (folded to add cushion) on the hammock, a soft blanket placed inside a separate crate, a soft blanket laid carefully inside a different laundry basket, and a simple cardboard box with the sides folded in to add strength. He loves the box the most! He curls up into a tight ball with his tail wrapped up under his feet and takes a nap. One would think with all the fluff and pile new blankets can provide, Norman would lounge on them as often as he could. No, not this show star; he chooses the absolutely bare-to-the-bones cardboard box to crash inside of. These boxes eventually get wear and tear, but that makes them all the more special because now they have patina. We use them until the sides bust out and then give them to the girl clouded leopards to play with. Next, we find a new box for Norman to start this process all over again.

Before Norman takes his first nap, he likes to watch all the other animals at work in the morning. Some of the critters go for walks, some get exercised, and some also move to other animals’ enclosures. All of this activity parades by him. After about an hour, Norman is done watching, even though we aren’t done with our work, but he needs his beauty rest and will recline in his box until Backstage Pass program time. We have offered him rubber tubs, laundry baskets, doggie day beds, cat cradles, down pillows, but the guy insists on his cardboard. So, that’s what he gets.

Maureen O. Duryee is a senior animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Mr. Ice Man.