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Clouded Leopard Conservation
Clouded Leopard Conservation

Clouded leopards are endangered. Their tropical forests are being cut down for logging, human habitat and to grow palm oil, a common food product. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium plays a huge role in the conservation of clouded leopards in the wild. The Zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) that keeps zoo populations healthy. Point Defiance collaborates with other zoos in the U.S. and Asia to breed and research the species.

Clouded Leopard Project

It wasn’t until 1998 that Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium even had its first clouded leopard. After its arrival, zookeepers were frustrated by the lack of information available about clouded leopards. In response, a team of keepers that were members of the Point Defiance Chapter of American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) started the Clouded Leopard Project in 2000 in hopes of bringing more attention to clouded leopard issues. Now 20 years later, the Clouded Leopard Project still exists, finding ways to support researchers who are working to protect the animals’ habitat, eliminate poaching and promote environmental stewardship in clouded leopard range countries to ensure that clouded leopard populations will continue far into the future.

banyan and orchid
Banyan, left, and Orchid, right, live behind the scenes at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Assistant Curator Maureen O’Keefe started volunteering with Clouded Leopard Project in 2001. In the years since, O’Keefe has worked with all 13 cubs born at Point Defiance Zoo. She, along with other Point Defiance employees, has traveled extensively throughout Asia to advance conservation for clouded leopards in the wild. They attended and participated in international conferences and workshops and visited research sites.

O’Keefe even helped teach a workshop on how wildlife educators can teach local children about clouded leopards.

“Being able to travel to Thailand, Sumatra and Borneo and visit the natural habitats of clouded leopards has helped me better care for and understand the clouded leopards at the Zoo,” said O’Keefe.

O’Keefe currently works at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater, where 5-year-old clouded leopard siblings Banyan and Orchid live behind the scenes. She says she’s a cat person naturally, and is grateful for the opportunity to work with such a unique and endangered animal.

Clouded Leopard Consortium

In 2002, the Clouded Leopard Consortium was formed among Thailand’s Zoological Parks Organization (ZPO), Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and the Clouded Leopard SSP to develop a clouded leopard breeding and research program in Thailand. The consortium was formed to help ZPO improve the health and reproduction of its large population of clouded leopards.

Since 2002, diets, housing, animal care and staff training have significantly improved at ZPO facility Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Bang Phra Thailand. Point Defiance, along with the other North American partners, provided high-quality meat with vitamin/mineral supplementation for the clouded leopards. Point Defiance and its partners also helped train Thai animal keepers in the daily care of the collection of clouded leopards and with hand-rearing cubs.

This project receives funding from the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Zoo Society’s Dr. Holly Reed Wildlife Conservation Fund.  In 2019, grants funded two studies: one fitting satellite tracking collars to clouded leopards in Borneo, the other capturing their movements via motion sensing cameras in Thailand’s Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary. These studies gave crucial information about saving this species for the future.

How To Help Clouded Leopards

The tropical forests that clouded leopards call home are being cut down at the world’s fastest deforestation rate (around 1.2% yearly) for logging, human habitat and to grow palm oil. You can help by checking products you use for sustainable palm oil (download a palm oil shopping app), and encourage companies to make the switch. 

Support the Dr. Holly Reed Wildlife Conservation Fund.

You can also help by supporting the Clouded Leopard Project and buy items from them such as t-shirts, note cards and other items in the Point Defiance gift shop. People can also symbolically adopt a wild clouded leopard. All proceeds go directly to clouded leopard research and conservation.

Visit Point Defiance’s Clouded Leopards

There are currently eight clouded leopards that call Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium home. Two of them, Banyan and Orchid, live behind the scenes as ambassador animals. They can often be seen at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater for Encounters with visitors. The other six clouded leopards, including Banyan and Orchid’s parents, can be seen on exhibit in the Zoo’s Asian Forest Sanctuary.