Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on 2008

While many of you have no doubt already rung in the new year, we are still about six hours away from 2009 here in the Pacific Northwest. My big party plan for this year is staying up until 10pm instead of my usual 9:30! (In my defense, I do get up very early for work...those cloudies get don't like to sleep in.)

It's also the traditional time for looking back on the passing year, so here are a few thoughts on clouded leopards in 2008.

  • The Clouded Leopard Project receives its federal non-profit status and establishes itself as a non-profit corporation. The CLP's following continues to grow with record donations, merchandise sales, and visits to the website.

  • CLP grants provide funding for five projects studying and protecting clouded leopards in Thailand, Malaysia, and Nepal.

  • The Clouded Leopard Project spearheads the organization of the first-ever Clouded Leopard and Small Felid Summit meeting that will take place in January '09 in Bankok. Sponsors have rallied great support for the meeting, allowing us to bring field researchers and conservationists from all over the world to assist in the conservation planning process.

  • Andy Hearn and Jo Ross working in the Danum Valley capture and radio collar a Borneo clouded leopard for the first time ever. Unfortunately, they lose her signal when she travels to a more distant location. They will be trying to capture additional animals for their study in early 2009 so we wish them great success.

  • The Great Cat and Rare Canids Act passes in the House of Representatives and awaits a Senate hearing. If passed, this Act will provide critical funding for clouded leopard conservation efforts.

  • The clouded leopard breeding project at Khao Kheow Open Zoo finished the year with a grand total of 39 cubs born since 2002!


  • Clouded leopards and other rare felids of Southeast Asia continue to be victims of the escalating illegal wildlife trade as well as the destruction and fragmentation of habitat through logging and conversion of habitat to palm oil production and other agriculture.

  • Our attempted artificial insemination breeding of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's clouded leopard Josie fails after it initially appears she is pregnant. We'll try again in '09!

Wow, that's all the bad things I can think of...not a bad result to show for a whole year. Of course, the threats facing clouded leopards can definitely eclipse all the positive things we experience in our efforts, but we remain optimistic that with your support we can achieve great conservation success in 2009.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Trying for Cubs Again
Some of you may have followed our efforts at the Zoo to breed our female clouded leopard, Josie, using artificial insemination. We plan to try again this year and have been monitoring Josie for signs of estrus. Clouded leopards in the temperate U.S. typically come into estrus seasonally. Estrus can be difficult to detect, but because Josie is so tractable we can handle her to check for signs. This week she has been showing some of the classics: she's been especially friendly, squatting, flicking her tail, and treading with her hind feet. Mostly, though, she's just enjoying the extra attention!

We plan to try insemination at her next estrus which should occur in three weeks or so. I'll keep you posted. Check the blog archive for detailed posts about last year's procedure and more about breeding clouded leopards. Josie is nearly ten years old now and with each year the odds of a pregnancy decrease. But we are anxious to try...anything to get some of those amazing cloudie cubs around again!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to all the friends and supporters
of the Clouded Leopard Project!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow Leopards?

Every now and then our Northwest clouds bless us with something a bit more exciting than our usual drizzle. The last few days has brought on and off snow showers, but not much stickage until today. In mid-afternoon it started to accumulate so of course I ran out to photograph the cats!

Despite her lack of snow-coordinated camouflage, Josie went on a prowl for a Yeti to subdue. Raja, however, stuck with his more tropical tendencies and just wanted back in!

So much for his photo op...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reality Check

Today was the latest installment of our clouded leopard exhibit design process and as you can see by my face, the news wasn't good! We have reached the point in the concept phase where we receive our first cost estimation and needless to say, it came in a bit high. So most of the meeting was spent looking for ways to scale the project down to match our budget. This is a completely anticipated and normal development as one always shoots for the moon and settles for something more Earth-bound. We have come up with a good compromise that will serve both the Zoo's goal of housing two breeding pairs and providing a great educational and fun experience for our visitors. We are working on some fun exhibit features that will show off the cats' natural talents and hopefully bring them close to visitors for an intimate encounter.

We spent some time working out the details of the transfer system that will be necessary to move the cats around. We need to have all five indoor holding areas communicate to the exhibit and to both back outdoor holding areas. The cats will move in transfer chutes overhead that form a network connecting all these areas. This will (should!) make it easy to provide each cat access to each area without having to move other cats around to accommodate the transfers.

Now the designers take all of our comments back and will present the result at the last meeting of our concept phase at the end of the month. It's great seeing some progress, even if the compromises are a little painful.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thai Cubs

We just received the first photos of the newest litter of cubs born at the breeding program at Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand. Project Manger Rick Passaro shared these adorable shots of the babies - 28 days old in the photos. The litter is one male and two females and they are all doing great! Andy Goldfarb, CLP Vice President, will be heading to the zoo in February to relieve Rick for a couple of months so he'll get to take over raising these guys. And, if all goes well, there may even be more cubs on the way! Stay tuned...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Daily Dose
As an antidote to the stress of holiday preparations, I give you the daily dose of incredibly cute... You're welcome!

Friday, November 28, 2008


She may be only 30 pounds, but don't forget about those teeth! Josie went to town overnight completely disemboweling a 5-gallon water bottle. It is made of thick, tough plastic but crumbled like a cookie under her amazing jaw pressure. She also played can opener with her canines - check out the punctures along the bottom. This bottle started as one piece; Josie decapitated it with surgical precision. These same teeth have no problem dispatching a monkey, deer, or wild pig - yikes!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Our Exhibit is On Its Way
After many years of waiting, the development of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's new clouded leopard exhibit, Cats of the Canopy, is finally underway! The Zoo has selected John Swanson Design Studio of Seattle as the architects for the project and they have assembled a great team to design both the exhibit structure and accompanying interpretive messaging. Today was devoted primarily to discussion of the overall purpose, goals, and main ideas of the new exhibit.

Led by Carly Mendelssohn, the team began with a lively discussion as we determined the "Big Idea" for the exhibit - in other words, what we want our visitors' take away message to be. This idea will form the basis for the interpretive plan of the exhibit that will be carried out through the exhibit graphics and interactive elements. In addition to the discussion of messaging content, we also examined the overall look and feel of the exhibit. To help the team come to a consensus on this, we underwent an exercise where each person provided input on a sliding scale of possible graphics content and components such as the amount of text, use of interactives, layering of messaging, and sense of place.

We also discussed specific ideas for elements of the exhibit that would support our messaging plan. These included everything from placement of exhibit "furniture" (branches, heaters, etc.) for optimal visitor viewing to interpretive elements such as interactive devices to demonstrate the clouded leopard's vocalizations or climbing skills. This is the fun phase, when we can just throw ideas out there regardless of cost! Ultimately, our grand plans always end up scaled back somewhat (or a whole lot!) In the case of this exhibit, we have submitted a grant application that would provide additional funds beyond our current budget to enhance the interpretive graphics. So if that comes through, we might get to implement some of our fun ideas!

Finally, the last hour of the meeting was our first peek at very rough sketches from the design team. We have some significant slope issues with our site so that strongly drives the exhibit design. We also have a major emphasis on the "back of house" areas that will be so crucial for this exhibit to fulfill its role as a clouded leopard breeding facility. John presented three different sketches for us to evaluate. We told him what we thought worked and what didn't, and now he'll go back and revise the sketches. This will be an ongoing process until we have it just right!

As I said before, this whole project is completely dependant on our budget and until we get some rough cost estimates we won't really know what we can actually afford. Hopefully we will be able to get most of what we want! Our ultimate goal is to have an exhibit that is great for seeing the amazing beauty and grace of our clouded leopards, tells the story of clouded leopard conservation and inspires visitors to help protect them, and provides a safe and comfortable home for our cats where we can develop a successful breeding program. I am confident that our great team can work together to make that all happen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Cubs in Thailand!

The clouded leopard breeding program at Thailand's Khao Kheow Open Zoo is celebrating the birth of three cubs - two females and one male. Since the program's inception in 2002 there have been thirty-nine cubs born! Six of these cats have been imported into the U.S. Most recently, young pairs joined the breeding programs of the Nashville Zoo and Smithsonian's National Zoo, both sponsors of the Thai project. Hopefully, as these young cats reach maturity they will have cubs of their own, contributing a much-needed infusion of new bloodlines into the North American zoo population.

Note: We're still waiting for photos of the new cubs. The photo above is one born at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Clouded Leopard and Small Felid Conservation Summit
The Summit is fast approaching! Registrations have come in and it looks like we will have 40-50 people attending the meeting from a wide variety of countries, disciplines, and organizations. We are also very appreciative of the generosity of our sponsors including Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Smithsonian's National Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Aspinall Foundation, Thailand Zoological Parks Organization, the Thailand Department of National Parks, and Clouded Leopard Project donors. Because of this sponsorship, we will be able to provide funding for clouded leopard range country participants to attend the meeting. Having conservationists from these regions contributing to the meeting is absolutely critical for the long-term success of any resulting initiatives.

We have asked participants as well as other researchers unable to attend to share their data on clouded leopards and other felids prior to the meeting. This information will be compiled by Dr. David Reed at the University of Mississippi and will contribute to updating range maps and be used for some preliminary population modeling at the Summit. We have lots more planning to do before we head to Bangkok at the end of January and I look forward to sharing the meeting outcomes both on the blog and with an in-depth report published on the website.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Crazy Climbers
For a fun clip of young clouded leopards showing off their amazing arboreal skills, check out the video on the National Zoological Park's website. This footage is of adolescent cats in the breeding program at the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand. Here they live in an incredible, super-tall enclosure that provides unlimited opportunities for the cats to climb and go crazy!
Lax Laws Little Hindrence to Illegal Trade
Clouded Leopard Project partner, PeunPa, has spent years campaigning in Thailand for tougher wildlife trade laws with stronger enforcement and greater penalties. While greater surveillance of trade in markets and training of wildlife officials has resulted in more arrests, penalties remain so low that wildlife traffickers continue their trade with impunity. The police are now much better trained to go after wildlife criminals, but are frustrated that lax laws mean violators usually avoid punishment. PeunPa hopes that by continuing to focus on changing the attitudes of judges, prosecutors, lawmakers, and the general public, laws will toughen as the impact on the environment is recognized. Visit this link for more on the story.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Climbing for Clouded Leopards

We are grateful to the members of Cincinnati Zoo's Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers for hosting a fundraising event to benefit the Clouded Leopard Project. The public is invited to the event, Climb for the Clouded Leopard, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, at Climb Time rock climbing gym. We appreciate their support and hope for a great turn out. If you're in the Cincinnati area, stop by for a climb!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Tragic End
The research team of Siew Te Wong, a University of Montana PhD candidate studying sun bears in Sabah, Borneo, found the body of this large, male clouded leopard last November. The cat had been shot, but because the body had not been taken it does not appear to have been directly targeted for the wildlife trade. This same cat had been frequently photographed by camera traps used in a carnivore survey. Here he is in better times:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Halloween!
Pumpkin carving isn't just for people as Raja demonstrates with his Halloween treat.

Is it really October again?? Yippee!

MY pumpkin!

Planning the design...

Getting a little carried away...

A born carver!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Russian Cat Artist

We've received this beautiful painting of a clouded leopard cub from Tania, a young woman living in Moscow. Tania has been sketching and painting nature and animals since her childhood. She sent us other examples of her fine work, including drawings of cheetahs and leopards. Tania's talent has been recognized with several exhibitions in Moscow as well as ones in Japan and Norway. She is obviously a gifted artist and we wish her great success with her work. Thanks for sharing, Tania!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cats of the Canopy

After years of aniticipation, staff members at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium are embarking on the planning for a brand new clouded leopard exhibit as a component of the Zoo's Asian Forest Sanctuary. This will be one of the few exhibits in North American AZA-accredited zoos custom-designed specifically for the special needs of clouded leopards. The image above is a schematic used for fund-raising purposes during the current capital campaign managed by The Point Defiance Zoological Society. The actual exhibit design process should begin in mid-November. We hope to open the exhibit in 2010. Despite the "herd" of clouded leopards represented in the schematic, the exhibit will house two breeding pairs. The Zoo's two clouded leopards currently reside in off-exhibit housing so we are excited for the prospect of once again having these amazing cats on display. The exhibit will greatly enhance opportunities to engage visitors about our conservation efforts. I'll share updates as the project progresses.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bone Day!
After having been out of large bones for the cats at the Zoo for a while, we received a shipment of giant leg bones. As you can imagine, the cats enjoy them very much! One look and Josie was a drooling maniac, pleading with her eyes to be served first!

Unable to resist that face, we placed Josie's bone up on her branch and let her have at it.

And before anyone could try to steal it, Josie made a beeline for the security of her den box where serious munching ensued!

Everyone loves bone day!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Aly is Found!

Andy Hearn and Jo Ross report some good news from Borneo's Danum Valley. After many months of not receiving a signal, the team has once again located Aly, the first-ever radio-collared Bornean clouded leopard. To track her down, Andy and Jo hired a helicopter to better search for signals over the rough terrain and forest cover of Danum. Aly was found 3km from the edge of her previous range. This positive development has a downside - the signal was very weak, suggesting that the collar's batteries are running low. Hopefully the collar will transmit long enough to gain more valuable data on Aly's movements.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's Driving the Wildlife Trade?

A report issued by TRAFFIC and the World Bank examines the factors influencing the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade in Southeast Asia. Most of the experts consulted in the study cite the rising affluence of Asian consumers as a major driver in the demand for wildlife products. The results of the study show that expert opinion is mixed on the best ways to solve the complex problem. Some believe that greater enforcement is key, while others believe that reducing demand by influencing buyers' perceptions is the way to ultimately reduce trade. The entire report is available for download on the TRAFFIC website.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Storybook Art Update
I realized I haven't provided an update lately on our progress with The Clouded Leopard's Secret, the bilingual storybook we are producing for use in Thailand. Our artist, Heather Hudson, is making good progress with the illustrations. Isn't she doing a great job?! I can't wait for the finished product. After meeting with conservationists in Borneo this summer we now hope to produce the book in Malay too for use in Sabah. It will be exciting to get the book into the hands of students in Asia to help teach them more about the science of wildlife research.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Wild Cat Trade in Myanmar

Photos by Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

A new report issued today by TRAFFIC Southeast Asia documents the trade in wild cat parts in four markets in Myanmar. The results of twelve surveys of these markets from 1991-1998 uncovered 1320 items representing all eight of the wild cat species found in Myanmar. These items represented a minimum of 1158 individual animals. The most frequently found items were whole skins followed by canine teeth and skulls. The majority of the cat parts were found in the notorious Tachilek Market at the border of Myanmar and Thailand. This has long been a hot spot of illegal wildlife trade. Among the cat parts identified were 301 from clouded leopards, representing a minimum of 279 individuals. The entire report, The Wild Cat Trade in Myanmar, can be downloaded on the TRAFFIC website.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Mysterious Bay Cat

Exciting photos from CLP-supported research in Borneo reveal a glimpse of one of the world's least understood felids, the Borneo bay cat (Catopuma badia). Andy Hearn and Joanna Ross have been fortunate enough to obtain a half dozen photos of bay cats representing at least three individuals in their study site in the Danum Valley. This photo documentation is critical as the bay cat is one of the world's least understood felids. Until recently, the only images of the bay cat in literature were of dessicated, preserved specimens or crude drawings from long ago (likely based on skins or mounts). These representations did nothing to capture the athletic grace and beauty of this species that can be seen in the recent photos.

Bay cats occur in two color phases: the more common reddish and gray. They resemble the Asian golden cat with which they share their genus, Catopuma. Golden cats are absent on Borneo and bay cats are found nowhere else, suggesting the bay cat may have evolved from the golden cat in isolation in Borneo over the past 10,000-15,000 years that Borneo has been separate from its neighboring island of Sumatra. Genetic analysis indicates that the two species are closely related.

We anticipate that recent data on bay cat sightings will be compiled as a result of the workshop we are coordinating in Thailand in January. This will be an important first step toward identifying other research and conservation priorities for this mysterious cat.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spreading the Word in San Francisco

We had a great time at this year's Wildlife Expo organized by Wildlife Conservation Network. We are so grateful for all the hard work it takes them to put on such a unique event bringing together a wide-ranging group of grassroots conservationists and people interested in learning about and supporting our causes. This is always our favorite event of the year as we re-connect with old friends and make new contacts with people who share our vision for improving the plight of endangered species and habitats. In addition to visiting all the organization's booths we were able to attend many of the fascinating presentations about projects to preserve species as varied as African wild dogs, snow leopards, saiga antelope, sun bears, and elephants. Thanks again WCN and we'll see you next year!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wildlife Conservation Expo
Just a reminder that the Wildlife Conservation Expo is taking place this weekend in San Francisco. Three of us from the CLP will be there with a booth discussing our conservation efforts and selling cool clouded leopard merchandise. We will also be selling a limited number of handicrafts from Borneo. We'd love to meet some of our Bay Area supporters so please stop by for a visit. The event runs Saturday, Oct. 4 from 10 am to 6 pm at the Mission Bay Conference Center. Please visit Wildlife Conservation Network's website for more information.
Conservation's Next Generation
One of my favorite things about this website is hearing from all the great folks who support our efforts, especially kids. We just received a wonderful letter from thirteen-year-old Maggie in Illinois who says that she is "obsessed with" clouded leopards. Maggie is president of her school's environmental club and has helped her friends also become clouded leopard experts. Best of all, Maggie says she wants to work with clouded leopards when she grows up to "help with conservation and educate people about them." I can't think of a better career path and hope that she can achieve her goal!

Here is Maggie's fantastic clouded leopard portrait. She tells us she is also working on a story so hopefully it will make its debut here too!

Thanks for sharing, Maggie.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Borneo Cat Names
It's been interesting when traveling to clouded leopard range countries to see how local people often don't really differentiate between the types of wild cats found in their area. For example, in Thailand most people refer to all the wild cats as seua, or "tiger." The situation is similar in Malaysian Borneo. Except for the clouded leopard, all the Borneo cat names include "kucing," or cat, pronounced "kuching" - the name of the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. While many people recognize the Malay name for leopard cat, kucing batu, using the other Malay names for cats will be met with glazed faces. There are likely many different names in the local dialects, but here are the Malay names and translations for the five species:

Clouded Leopard - Harimau dahan (branch tiger):

Photo by Andrew Hearn and Joanna Ross

Marbled cat - Kucing dahan (branch cat):

Photo by Andrew Hearn and Joanna Ross

Leopard cat - Kucing batu (stone/rock cat):

Photo by Andreas Wilting

Flat-headed cat - Kucing hutan (forest cat):

Karen Povey

Bay cat - Kucing merah (red cat):

Photo by Andrew Hearn and Joanna Ross

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sabah Fable
While in Sabah, I picked up a neat little book entitled "Animal Tales of Sabah" by P.S. Shim. This book contains contributions of charming tales from communities all over Sabah. Since clouded leopards are the largest predator in Borneo, several stories reflect human fears of them. Here's one to enjoy. (Harimau is from Harimau Dahan - tree tiger - the local name for clouded leopard. A bungkau is a jaw harp carved from a thin piece of bamboo or other wood.)

Why the Harimau is Afraid of the Bungkau

Narrated by KK Jabil bin Bahiri

A newly married man took his bride back to his hut in the jungle somewhere near Ulu Malagatan. The very next day, the man went hunting. When he returned in the afternoon, he found to his horror the bones and skull of his wife lying on the ground. On looking up, he saw a huge harimau on a branch of a tall tree. The harimau was taking a siesta after its full meal.

The heartbroken husband resolved to kill the harimau. He sat down and thought up a plan to destroy the large cat. Soon an idea came to him. He went out and killed a wild boar. After cutting a huge chunk of meat, he buried his bungkau in it. He then placed the meat in the jungle where the harimau would see it. Sure enough, the harimau, after digesting its previous meal, came down and swallowed the bait. Alas, the bungkau got stuck in its throat and killed the animal.

The man swore aloud, "If ever a harimau were to eat a human being with a bungkau, it would suffer the same fate as this dead harimau." Since then, clouded leopards have been afraid of the bungkau and people of the Mangkaak tribe carry one with them whenever they go into the forest. Should they meet a harimau, they have only to play their bungkau and the animal will either keep still or flee.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Great Cat and Rare Canid Act Moves Forward
A hopeful step forward for clouded leopard conservation took place on September 17 when the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously voted to pass the Great Cat and Rare Canid Act. This act would provide funding for conservation efforts on behalf of a variety of wild cat and wild dog species around the world. Clouded leopards and Borneo bay cats are the Southeast Asian felids specifically targeted for receiving resources under this legislation so there is exciting potential for funding new projects if passage occurs. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on May 20 and will be moving to the full Senate for a vote. Because of a change made to the bill, if it passes in the Senate it will return to the House for another vote. This highly anticipated legislation was originally introduced in the fall of 2006 and was modeled on other legislation already supporting the conservation of tigers, rhinos, great apes, elephants, and sea turtles. You can read the full text of the bill here.
Calling All Artists

Thanks to 11-year-old Lizi from Lakewood, Washington for her wonderful collage of a clouded leopard. Lizi honed her wildlife artistry skills while participating in Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's Wild Artist Summer Camp. Her work will be featured in the CLP' website's Kids For Clouded Leopards Art Gallery. Send us your art, poems, or stories and we might feature them too!

Thanks, Lizi, for your beautiful work.