Saturday, March 28, 2009

Update from Thailand - New Clouded Leopard Cub, Crazy Weather

Hey gang, it's me Andy writing from Thailand. Last time I wrote I suspected one of the cats, "Mini," was very close to giving birth. Well, on the 20th of March she started to go into a mild labor (not that I would know if it was really mild – to her could hurt big time.) So that started a birth watch that would last until 8pm on the 21st when she gave birth to one little cub. Mini wasn't so mini, so I thought for sure there would be two cubs in there, but no such luck. Don't get me wrong I'm very happy for the one little bugger but it’s tough raising a single cub. It's great for them to have somebody to chew other than you.

Back to the birth, it went well and the cub looked good. We stay there the whole time and watch the mother with her cub on closed circuit TV. This part of the job isn't great. You're sitting in the building, which is not sealed from the outside, so while hanging out in there throughout the night you are being bitten by all kinds of bugs, and there are lots of other critters that live there as well. While I was driving up to the building (1am) to relieve one of the guys, there was a termite boom. I have never seen anything like this. The wood eating bugs come flying out from everywhere; there were millions of them – it looked like I was driving through a snow storm. I had to use my wipers! It was really cool until I got to the building. You got it, the place was full of them and even turning off the lights didn't help because the TV was on so we could watch the mother and her cub. So I got to sit there with these bugs flying all over and then anything that eats bugs is coming out from everywhere in the building to mac out. It was entertaining for a while but it got old, they get in your hair, ears, up your nose but it keeps you awake. I survived the night with only few dramas. At one point the mother sat on her cub so I had to run down there and shake the gate to get her to stand up, then the cub wasn't moving which always makes your heart stop. But soon things went back to normal.

At 8 am the next day I decided to pull the cub from Mini. Let me explain there are many reasons why we do this, but the most important one is the safety of the cub. The survival rate of cubs raised by their mother is low (in captivity, nobody knows what goes on in the wild). Also the success of the breeding program (this little one makes number 40) is because the cats are comfortable with us. Clouded leopards are very sensitive animals and can be stressed so easily by the simplest things, especially people. So when we are fun and no big deal in their lives it removes a tremendous amount of stress. There can also be a great deal of aggression from the males towards the females when we are introducing them. In cases of hand raised cats we can physically intervene in those situations.

So now I have a little girl who needs to be fed every three hours so sleep isn't much of an option. Well I have help, Maureen is here and a girl name Nok is a great baby raiser and has been a part of this program from the start. When you have this little one it is amazing how much your whole day revolves around if this cub poops and it's such a joy when it happens, but I won't carry on about cub poop.

Well what else has been happening around here? The rainy season is starting and the other day Mother Nature dished out a whopper of a rain storm. I was up at the building working with one of the guys (Plaa) when the thunder started in the distance. I went out to take a look and it reminded me of that scene in the new War of the Worlds movie that came out a few years ago. There was this dark wave storm cloud moving in over the mountain with lighting shooting out in all directions. It was unreal. I ran inside and told Plaa to take off, get on his moped and go now or he was going to be stuck outside when this thing hit. I had to finish feeding some cats, the thunder was deafening and then the rain just started dumping everything it could and the wind was the strongest I've experienced. It was crazy! I was trying to get some of the cats to come inside and they didn't want to move - they were the smart ones. The wind pushed the water inside the building, tools were blowing off the wall, the power went out and it was dark and scary. I always have my video camera with me but it was in the truck not more than 15 feet away out the door. When I went to look out there to decide if I should go get it, I couldn't believe what I was seeing - not only wind that was folding over palm trees, but HAIL!!! I'm not talking some namby pamby fertilizer-sized hail, I'm talking marble-sized hail that was hitting the ground with some serious force. I started to go for it when I started to get pummeled by the ice; I only made it a few feet and had to retreat back inside the building. But being the crazy nut that I am I wanted this shot so I waited for the wind to die down, grabbed a plastic bag to protect my camera and ran out and got it. I was soaked and the truck got heaps of water inside but it was worth it. So I had to do the crazy thing and go out in the storm and act like one those idiot reporters that stand out there for your entertainment, no chance! I ran out there and picked up some of the hail that was still there to show to all the fans out there. Hail in Thailand! Yeah there's no such thing as global warming…….

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Clouded Leopard Cubs Born at National Zoo

Photo by National Zoo
Great news from our friends at Smithonsian's National Zoo! Two clouded leopard cubs were born Tuesday at the Zoo's Conservation and Research Center. This is especially exciting as the cubs were born to parents Hannibal and Jao Chu, imported from the Thailand breeding program, therefore being entirely different bloodlines from the rest of the North American population. The cubs will be hand raised by CRC staff who are thrilled to have clouded leopard cubs at their facility again after 16 years. The cubs' genders have not yet been determined.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Clouded Leopard Physical Exam
While we had our cats under anesthesia for the artificial insemination procedure we took advantage of the opportunity to also perform their annual physicals. Here is a quick peek at some of the steps involved in Raja's physical: blood draw, claw trim, and teeth scaling and polishing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Clouded Leopard Tooth Repair
A six-year-old female clouded leopard at Singapore's Night Safari received dental treatment on her canine after breaking her tooth biting on a log. A human dental specialist fabricated the custom gold crown. Definitely an unusual procedure for an unusual patient!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friday the 13th, Thailand Style
We've received another update from Andy in Thailand. Sounds like his "good" luck continues....

Hey gang, after that first week I figured things would get better for sure and they did for a few days. Stuff always falls apart here; it's just how it goes so that's no big deal. You learn to roll with it, if you don't you go nuts – well you go nuts here regardless but that’s life.

One thing that I have been very proud of during my time here is that I was the only manager that has never smashed up our truck. This truck is very important to the work we do here and it is by far the biggest amount of money we have ever laid down here. So we really need to take care of it. This poor truck has been smashed up a fair bit not just by the managers but the Thai staff as well. I have to admit that I was very proud to say that I've never put a mark on the work horse of the project. That's saying a lot, especially if you know me or have ever had the experience of driving with me in Thailand. Notice I have to say "was." Yes it happened to me! I backed the truck into the light pole at the commissary at the park. I was looking to blame someone but it was me and only me that screwed up and I had to own up to it. This made some people happy that Andy finally couldn't strut around about the truck. But the damage was the least anybody has done… I know I'm reaching.

So I went down the road in my banged up ride with Tong, one of the main guys on the team, who told me that he knew a guy that could fix it real cheaply. We went to this guy and he said he could do it in 2 days and for about 70 bucks. I figured I had to give it a go because Rick (the main manager) was going to be back in town and I wanted the truck to look like her old self. (Don't worry, I was going to tell him about my mishap.)

I needed to get money so I went to town to hit the ATM. I also had to buy supplies and eat at McDonalds, hey why not! I got the money and headed home. Well about 2 hours after I got home I was getting the ATM receipt out and notice that the bankcard was missing. I left the thing in the machine after I got the money. Talk about your guts hitting the floor. This wasn't my ATM card, this was the project’s bank account and this was not the best place to lose it. I was freaking out. I had heard about huge problems with ATM fraud over here so I was panic stricken at the thought of losing all the money that we had in our account. No, it really doesn't add up to a whole lot but it would hurt us. Another problem is the card was in Rick's name so even canceling the card was going to be next to impossible. Nok is the name of a girl who works with us as well and can speak very good English so she took up the task of calling the bank and getting the card scrubbed. I was relieved and I'm lucky that Rick was coming back in a few days so we could go to the bank and get this worked out. So not only did I have to let him know I smashed up the truck, but I also had to tell him I lost our lifeline here at the project, something nobody else has ever done. Later that night I was working on the computer and saw that it was Friday the 13th. I thought to myself… just perfect?

Ok well there are other things going on over here that don't involve big messes and accidents. I have 3 incredible cubbies that are just about 4 months old and I finally got to name them, I wasn't going to let them go through life with names like "Rumpy," "Neck," and "No Mark." That is how we identify them when they are little. We shave a little hair off someone’s bum and neck and in this case leave one unmarked. So here are some pictures. "Taifun" means Typhoon, he the male. Then there is "DawkMai," meaning Flower, and last but not least is "MangPo," meaning Dragonfly. The cubs are doing just great and MangPo got her name because she is the high fly'n girl in the picture. The guys on the team had a lot to do with naming the cubs too.
Also what's going on is we have another cat just about to give birth so I've got to get going up to the building. It's my turn to watch for the next round of Rumpys and Necks and No Marks…..
I’ll keep you guys posted…..
Take care, Andy

Friday, March 20, 2009

Making Clouded Leopard Babies
Today was the big day as we tried another artificial insemination attempt. Raja kenneled up perfectly first thing in the morning. We started off by collecting semen from him to evaluate its potential for the procedure. Everything went smoothly and we got some great sperm! (At least for a clouded leopard.) Next, we gave Josie her anesthesia and packed her in her kennel. (We still handle Josie so we gave her the injection by hand and then just helped her inside.) Up at the hospital she was prepped for surgery. The following is a quick video review of the proceedings. The players you'll see are Dr. Karen Goodrowe, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's General Curator and a reproductive specialist. She is in charge of collecting the semen and prepping the sperm. You will see she gets very excited about her job! Our veterinary technician Julie Lemon is prepping Josie for surgery. Our surgical team consists of PDZA vets Dr. Karen Wolf and Dr. Holly Reed.

Once she was prepped, we brought Josie into the surgery room to begin the procedure. Dr. Holly performed the surgery while Dr. Karen served as anesthesiologist. My job was to document the procedure by photo and video. Here's the annotated result:

Now we will wait about 25 days until we do the first ultrasound. I'm sure it will seem even longer...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Clouded Leopard Kennel Training
In preparation for tomorrow's artificial insemination attempt, I did a brief review of Raja's kenneling behavior. Raja kenneled daily for many years when he was one of our program animals handled for presentations. But that hasn't been the case for a long time. Now, the only time he needs to kennel is when we need to anesthetize him for a medical procedure. Amazingly, despite what should be a pretty negative association with the kennel, he is still always eager to participate. Learn why by checking out this video of our session:

Today we gave Josie her injection to stimulate ovulation. We plan to anesthetize Raja first thing in the morning to collect semen. If all looks good we will start on Josie around noon. I'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Clouded Leopard Artificial Insemination, Take 2
Well, after taking her sweet time, our female cloudie Josie is finally in estrus once again. We've been eagerly awaiting this development as we plan to try artificial insemination once again. I chronicled our attempts last year here on the blog in gory detail (too gory for some, I was told, but check it out by looking under the "Breeding" category if you are interested!) I won't go into such great detail this time, but want to share the steps involved. The first step is evaluation of estrus. On Monday, Josie started exhibiting some of the signs. Tuesday I spent more time with her to see how strong estrus was. Here is a clip of me doing just that with explanation of what we're loooking for. (I know it looks like I'm mauling her, but she likes it "rough" for exhibiting estrus):


After hanging out with Josie in her exercise yard for a while, I brought her in and put our male Raja out to gauge his reaction. When Josie is in estrus he exhibits much more exploratory behavior in the yard, sniffing around wherever she was. He also vocalizes a bunch and also does some marking. You can see (and hear!) all three behaviors here:

As I explained in last year's postings,we have to use AI in trying to breed our pair as they are no longer compatible and Raja would be quite aggressive with Josie. But since we have both cats here together we are perfectly situated to try AI. Tomorrow morning we will inject Josie with the hormone causing ovulation and have scheduled her procedure for Friday. Keep your fingers crossed and I'll keep you posted!

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Clouded Leopard Photos from the Field

We've recently received from great new photos from two different field projects. First (above) comes this nice shot of a female from Andreas Wilting's CLP-supported project in Tangkulap Forest Reserve in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. This is his first photo capture of a cloudie in his new study site.

We've also received a couple of photos from cameras set as part of a ranger training exercise in Thailand's Thap Lan National Park by the FREELAND Foundation (formerly PeunPa Foundation). While a formal research project has not yet been established at this site, it is great that they were able to get confirmation of the presence of clouded leopards. The photos are presumably of a mother and older cub. It's always exciting to get a glimpse at the lives of these gorgeous cats in the wild!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Clouded Leopard Exhibit Messaging Plan

We met this week with a sub-set of the design team to determine the interpretive messaging components for the new exhibit. We already had the messages pretty much determined so this meeting was a discussion of the types of media we'd be using and how to best place those elements at the exhibit. The budget is tight for this portion of the project so we have to keep things pretty simple. This exhibit will also be integrated into the rest of the existing Asian Forest Sanctuary which already has a comprehensive messaging plan. The primary story we want to tell here is about the role that Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is playing in the conservation of clouded leopards, both in the wild and in zoos.

These are the elements we'd like to see, but budget constraints may change our plans.
  • Video "highlight reel" of our programs: cubs at the Thailand breeding program (especially showcasing their amazing climbing ability for times when our are asleep!), range country education efforts, field research in action
  • A case with artifacts relating to research and education efforts
  • A graphics panel with an overview of our support of in situ conservation efforts
  • An fun, interactive donation station to support clouded leopard conservation

Another element that is starting to really gel is our concept of a multi-functional indoor space that can serve as a regular off exhibit holding enclosure but open up for viewing as a climate-controlled cub nursery (we're crossing those fingers). We're currently working on a plan to create a portion of the window where the glass can open to a mesh panel that can be used as a training space for presentations, bringing cats right up to the public to demonstrate behaviors such as paw presents or open mouths. Should be pretty cool!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Andy's Thai Clouded Leopard Adventure

Andy Goldfarb, Clouded Leopard Project Vice President and Staff Biologist at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, is resuming his annual stint as relief project manager for the Clouded Leopard Consortium breeding project at Thailand's Khao Kheow Open Zoo. If his Internet connection allows, he'll send a few updates during his two months there. If the rest of his time is like his first week, it promises to be entertaining. Here is his account:

What a rough first week.

Hey there gang it's Andy again writing to you from the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand. I'm back for my fifth time to work with the clouded leopards for the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium.

Right from the start this trip was going to be special because Ken Lang from the Smithsonian was going to be there along with Rick Passaro, the main manager of the program and the guy I'm giving a break to. This would be the first time that all three of us would be together. Ken Lang was the first person to begin work in Thailand on this breeding program back in 2002.
Now those two guys weren't going to stick around long cause they're on vacation. Still it was cool to talk about all the crazy stuff that goes on at this place. Also to see the reactions from some of the cats that Ken worked with because he hasn't had the chance to return to Thailand for three years. Many of the cats are new to Ken but his first cat "Noname" was very happy to see him.
Unfortunately for me the special part ended very quickly when I started to get sick. This was my first time ever really getting sick here in Thailand. I got this sore throat that was brutal, I had everybody looking at and they said it was scary looking. On the last night that the guys were all here I couldn't go out with them cause I was in rough shape. Finally I did what I would always do when I’m here and get hurt, I went and saw a vet. Hey they're doctors. They said it looked like a type of frog was in the back of my mouth and gave me some antibiotics. I hoped the drugs would work right away.

So even though I was feeling lousy I wanted to start working on a clouded leopard exhibit. Some of the climbing logs had fallen down and we needed to put some new ones in. These logs are about 18 feet long and weigh a couple hundred pounds at least. We have to lift these trees by hand a good 15 feet in the air. Want to know the way that we do this? …Well let me just say it isn't safe and I always seem to get stuck with the heaviest end and in the hardest position. While balanced on the edge of a rock wall holding this log up I was trying to yell something to one of the guys who was going to be securing the pole in place when a beetle flew right into my mouth! It was a good 95 degree humid day and I my mouth was just the nastiest pasty thing around and that bug stuck to the middle of my tongue like a fly on one of those nasty sticky strips. Now you have to remember that both my hands are above my head holding this beast of a log and I was standing ten feet off the ground. My first thought was to just drop the damn thing and hope nobody got hurt, but I didn't. I figured I could cough the wiggly thing out of the trap. No such luck, I didn’t have lung power great enough to dislodge this bug from my tongue and this little guy started to make his way towards the back of my throat. I was gagging at that point and the guys were laughing saying things like "Mr. Andy- he going to vomit!!" They thought this was the best thing ever. So I just swallowed the little bugger, it was gross but I wasn't going to "vomit" for the boys. So we got the log up and everything went alright. I have to say the next day I felt 100%, the guys say it was the beetle I ate that cured me.

The bug fun was just three days after I got here. On the fourth day, a very clear and of course hot day, I needed to paint some metal poles in preparation for another project we were working on. I was getting very hot painting in the sun so I decided to take my shirt off to finish up the job. Now this couldn't be a big deal, a very white guy coming from the state of Washington in the middle of February getting a little bit of sun. Wrong! Holy Cow, was I cooked. You always tend to feel cooked here but it wasn't until I went to my house where three adorable three and half month clouded leopard cubs were waiting for me. At this age the cubs are really starting to climb and jump. Oh boy they love to jump and the best thing to jump on is the barbequed back of their new dad. Naturally they have to use their claws as well because the cubs are in training… lucky me. I about jumped to the ceiling myself when the first cub attached itself to my back. Then I was spinning around trying to get him off my back. It had to look like a scene from a bad movie. To punish myself more I told the guys the story and showed them my back. They laughed and muttered some words in Thai to each other one of which I understood "Crab" they said I looked like a crab, great.

On my sixth day I woke up feeling like I was in the groove of my job here again and things were looking better. I went down stairs to check on the cubs. When I looked inside the cub room there was only two cubs. I got a twinge in my gut. I went in and was looking at the cubs staring up at me from the floor and I turn to look behind me when a furry animal jumped on my face. It was the third cub and she had hooked me in the corner of my mouth and sliced me down to my chin. It wasn't aggression at all. What she had managed to do was climb up the door and find this one spot to sit on but then most likely couldn't figure out how to get down until I walked in and she had her chance. It was just real bad timing on my part that she landed right on my face.
I knew she got me good cause I was bleeding all over the place and then I looked in the mirror and thought this is just wonderful, the guys are going to love this.
I went up to the breeding center and the boys were good they felt sorry for me but then one of them started to laugh and said "Mr. Andy look like the Joker from Batman."
What a first week.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Clouded Leopard Exhibit Landscape Plan

Today we met with the designers of our new exhibit to discuss the landscape plan. This is an important part of the project to ensure that our visitors are immersed in the clouded leopard's tropical forest habitat. However, there are multiple challenges in selecting the correct plants and planting strategy to account for the way the cats will use their exhibit. We're hoping to plant at least one large, live tree with branching that will help the cats utilize the height of the exhibit. However, large trees are very expensive and are difficult to transport and plant. Hopefully we can find something that is small enough to move in a cost-effective manner, but be large enough to withstand the attention of the cats.

The goal is to create a multi-story landscape with some tall elements, but also shorter, large-leafed tropical plants. The challenge here is to provide some cover for the cats to slink around in, but not so much that they won't be visible. We also plan to have numerous plants surrounding the exhibit, including verticals that will grow up and over and eventually obscure the fencing.

I haven't written too much about the exhibit planning lately as we have just been going back and forth with some mundane details that wouldn't translate in any sort of exciting fashion for the blog. We also had some tense moments of scary cost estimates that way outspent the budget, but the good news is that we now have everything under control AND the exhibit is going to be pretty much all we hoped for! That includes six holding spaces for cats (2 pairs and cubs), two off-exhibit outdoor yards and of course the exhibit itself. We are also designing one of the holding areas to have a glass viewing area that we can uncover if we are raising cubs, in effect serving as a nursery area.

Here's a look at the plan right now. We will wrap up this design phase at the end of the month and then get to the nitty gritty of developing the actual construction documents. Fun times!