Endangered Leopard Kittens Offer Hope to Species

Photo: Christian Sperka

For a species of big cat as endangered and facing as many threats as the clouded leopard -- every little kitten counts. Recently, two female cats from Nashville Zoo's leopard conservation program each gave birth to a small litter of newborns, offering hope that the rare species can avoid extinction as their wild counterparts struggle to survive amidst the presence of human activity which continues to devastate their native habitats.Over the last several years, Nashville Zoo's conservation program received two breeding female clouded leopards from Thailand -- named Jing Jai and Lom Choy -- and breed they have. Within three days of one another late last month four kittens were born between the pair, though, sadly, one newborn died shortly after birth.

Photo: Christian Sperka

Each tiny kitten, weighing in at around 8 ounces, will now be hand-fed by the zoo's conservation staff to ensure they they too are healthy enough to breed one day, adding to the clouded leopard's dwindling numbers. On a special diet of feline milk, the kittens are expected to gain about half-a-pound each week over the next few months.

When the kittens reach maturity, they will be paired with a mate at the facility in hopes that they'll produce more kittens.

In the wild, clouded leopards are among the rarest and most endangered species of cat on the planet. Native to Southeast Asia, the leopards have seen their populations plummet over the last century as human development and deforestation encroaches upon their forest habitats.

More on Clouded Leopards
Meet the World's Newest Cat, the Sunda Clouded Leopard
Super-Elusive Leopard Filmed for the First Time Ever
OMG Cute! & OMG Vulnerable: Clouded Leopard Cubs Born in National Zoo (Video)

Tags: Animals | Endangered Species