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Zoo ResearchCharacterization and Control of Male Aggression in the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

Heather DeCaluwe, PhD Candidate in Animal and Avian Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC;

JoGayle Howard, DVM, PhD, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC

Clouded leopards are a striking and elusive wild cat species whose secretive nature has made it difficult to gather information on population statistics and behavior in nature. However, it is clear that the clouded leopard is in decline throughout its historic range in Southeast Asia due to habitat loss and poaching. The captive population of clouded leopards serves as a hedge against extinction, but is one of the most challenging felid species to breed in captivity. In the current North American SSP population of ~ 65 animals, there have been only 2 successful breeding pairs in the past 6 years. Although many animals are still of reproductive age, the scarcity of successful breeding pairs is primarily due to male aggression which can be so extreme that attacks sometimes result in death. For this reason, zoos have become extremely cautious about initiating introductions, and males with a history of violent behavior are especially challenging for pairing.

In other species, male aggression has been linked both to circulating testosterone and to personality. In many cases, pharmaceuticals have been instrumental in reducing aggression. Particularly effective have been hormonal therapies that reduce testosterone, such as gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists. Psychotropic drugs that target stress-associated aggression through changes in serotonin metabolism in the brain also have been effective. Through the administration of deslorelin (a GnRH agonist) and clomipramine (a psychotropic drug), a study has been initiated to understand and mitigate aggression in captive male clouded leopards. Behavioral, endocrine, and reproductive data are being collected and analyzed to find the most effective treatment for decreasing male aggression. Ultimately, this information may be useful in forming compatible male- female pairs with the assistance of drug therapy.