Species Survival Plan®Clouded leopards living in North American zoos are collectively managed through a Species Survival Plan®, or SSP, administered by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Currently, zoos in North America house only Neofelis nebulosa individuals, the only captive Sunda clouded leopards (Neofelis diardi) are housed at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The overall goals of the Clouded Leopard SSP program are to address captive management issues, stabilize population demographics, improve the population’s genetics, and develop conservation efforts in clouded leopard range countries.
History of the Clouded Leopard SSP
Throughout the mid 1990s the SSP concentrated on improving the genetics of the population by recommending the breeding of 16 individuals whose bloodlines were not overly represented in the captive population. However, these recommended breedings resulted in very limited numbers of young produced.
By 1998, with the population aging, the need to have more young born to stabilize demographics was becoming critical. As a result, all compatible pairs were recommended for breeding with a target level of 11 births per year to keep the population in a state of growth. At the same time, the SSP population was declared a research population. This designation relaxed the need to make breeding recommendations based strictly on the genetic or demographic needs of the population. Instead, the primary goal of the SSP became to carry out fundamental research into clouded leopard behavior in order to improve captive management and artificial reproduction.
Recent changes to the care and introduction of clouded leopard pairs has resulted in a dramatically increased success rate of pairings. Pairing unfamiliar adults is often unsuccessful due to aggression between adult individuals. This is especially dangerous to the females, who may be killed by the male. The new procedure recommends introducing animals at very young ages, usually between four to six months old, and allowed form natural pair bonds. This results in decreased aggression between pairs and greater success at producing offspring. However, since this method is dependent on pairing at young ages (and the North American population mostly consists of older cats), the number of individuals available for this method of breeding is currently low, although the situation is beginning to improve due to the recent increase in the numbers of births resulting from pairs imported from the Thailand breeding program.
2011 Summary of Clouded Leopard (N. nebulosa) SSP Population and Recommendations
Since 2010, the population of captive clouded leopards has begun to rise. Internationally there were thirty-three captive births with only sixteen deaths to offset them, a net rise of seventeen animals. Within North America alone there were nine births and six deaths. This, along with recommended transfers between North American, European, and Asian populations, has increased both the size and genetic diversity of the clouded leopard population.
Clouded Leopard SSP Goals
There is still concern for the demographics of the zoo-based clouded leopard population. The breeding population is unbalanced towards older animals, although the last few years have seen an increase in the number of offspring. In order to assure a viable population in the future, a large number of births need to occur over the next few years.
In addition to the demographic problems of the population, the need to increase its genetic diversity is critical. The majority of the SSP population can trace its ancestry to three individual animals, although progress has been made in introducing new founder animals from zoos in both Europe and Asia.
In 2011, two individuals from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology institute were transferred to Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, England in exchange for two genetically unrepresented animals. In addition, over the last few years, several young pairs have been imported from the breeding program at the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand, most of which have already produced offspring.
Artificial reproduction trials also continue for clouded leopards in North American, however, no offspring have been produced since the only successful artificial insemination at the Nashville Zoo in 1992.