“The zoo hopes the small siblings will make a big impression on zoo guests – and eventually offsite audiences during outreach programs – about the needs and perils of this rare and vulnerable species,” the zoo said in a media release.
To get the cubs' training started, zoo staff are currently working to introduce them to a wide variety of different environments. They’re also encouraging socialization and adaptation. The zoo’s pathways and gardens are being used as "classrooms" for the twins' harness training practice.
“Soon the charismatic cats will be taking strolls through the zoo grounds, at various times of the day, for exercise and conditioning,” the zoo promised.
Learning to become animal ambassadors is no easy feat, the zoo said. Before they’ll be considered ready, Aiya and Shigu must “master a number of critical behaviors, as well as exhibit personality traits that facilitate engagement,” the zoo explained.
So far, the process has been quite encouraging, the zoo reported.
“Both have been very eager to participate in training sessions thus far, and enjoy being ‘out and about’ with their trainers.”
The cubs are the first set of multiples born to the zoo’s pair of 5-year-old adult clouded leopards. Shortly after their Feb. 29 birth, their mom stopped caring for them. Zoo staff had to step in to care for the cubs.
Lowry Park takes part in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan. It was through that plan the cubs’ parents Malee and Yim were paired and delivered to Lowry Park in 2011.
Considered vulnerable in the wild, clouded leopards are the smallest of the world’s “big cats.” They weigh between 30 and 50 pounds at adulthood and measure 5 feet long, including the tail. The creatures are native to Southeast Asia and are generally found in rainforests and forests. The cats are known for their reclusive behavior, the zoo noted. Deforestation rates, hunting, and poaching have stressed the wild clouded leopard population in recent years, making the species vulnerable to extinction, the zoo reported.
“Increasingly zoos are the last hope for many species due to the loss of habitat and political instability in range countries,” Dr. Larry Killmar, zoo director, said. “The birth of these cubs is an example of the collective efforts to manage this species within North American zoos to ensure their survival.”
For more information about Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, visit it online.