For the second time ever, clouded leopards were born through artificial insemination, a boon for the endangered species. The cubs, born in a Thai zoo, were born in June but introduced to the public for the first time today, the Bangkok Post reports.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are just 10,000 clouded leopards left in the wild and their numbers continue to dwindle. And it doesn't help that getting clouded leopards to mate of their own volition is not an easy task, with males sometimes attacking females in the process.
"Historically," Smithsonian's National Zoo writes, "scientists have had difficulty breeding clouded leopards because of male-female aggressions. Scientists found that males would often kill females during introductions for breeding." This is only the second time the artificial insemination of clouded leopards has succeeded (the first time was in 1992).
The cubs were born at Thailand's Khao Kheow Open Zoo with the help of scientists from the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium, which includes the Thailand Zoological Park Organization and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D.C.
Pierre Comizzoli, a reproductive physiologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D.C., collaborated with Thai counterparts Paweena Thuwanut and Wanly Tipkantha to artificially inseminate the cubs' mother—Kra Ding—with semen from two different male leopards last year. (Scientists are not certain if the cubs have the same father.)
"The birth of these two cubs is a major step forward," Comizzoli said in a statement. "Clouded leopards have been incredibly challenging for us to breed, but this new technique means we have another tool to help keep the population genetically healthy and growing."