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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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: